Etudes Epistémè

1 - 2002 - Frank Lessay

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Franck Lessay: Sur le Traité des passions de Hobbes. Commentaire du chapitre VI du Leviathan, p. 20


Hobbes did not devote any systematic writing to passions, which is all the more surprising as passions play a crucial role in his philosophy. This paper is a commentary on Leviathan's chapter VI, which comes closest to a complete and articulate exposition of the topic. Starting by an examination of the text's structure and basic vocabulary (English and Latin), it moves on to an assessment of the foundational value of Hobbes's theory of passions in his ethics and politics (religion included). It then analyzes the chapter's innovative implications, given Hobbes's previous statements on the subject (mental representations, which shape our passions, are no longer modelled on the external world and form a separate and autonomous realm, while moral values are now entirely derived from desire). After investigating its literary singularity (the text being part character-writing, part anatomy), it finally argues that traditional interpretations of the image of the self deducible from Hobbes's theory of passions tend to overplay its moral pessimism and to neglect the positive expectations that move men to form political associations.

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