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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


September 20th, 1998.

"On Passion."

Passions naturally arise in persons who possess imagination and who are sympathetic to the world around them. The mainspring that moves passion is self-love. People are passionate towards all things that concern them and are passionate to the degree in which they have an interest in the object of their passion. Passions are what drives a human being; they are what makes life interesting and worthwhile. Passions, as Voltaire said, are the winds which fill the sails of the human vessel; sometimes they sink it; but without the winds of passion a person can not make his way. (Zadig, 1747.)

Voltaire's comparison to passions as winds on the sea is not original. In 1734 there appeared Alexander Pope's essay, "Essay on Man".

Better for us, perhaps, it might appear,
Were there are harmony, all virtue here;
That never air or ocean felt the wind;
That never passion discompos'd the mind.
But all subsists by elemental strife;
And passions are the elements of life.
The gen'ral Order since the whole began
Is kept in Nature, and is kept in Man.

While it may not be evident, passions, it would seem, are all "a-buzz," usually beneath the surface. I make the comparison to our recent day science. Quantum mechanics has disclosed that the solid little atom is but a package of erratic waves of little or no substance: and yet all of our known universe is built out of them.

How often when I was a young catholic boy was I told to control my passions. But short of cutting part of your life away, they are not to be controlled. As Rochefoucauld pointed out, if we do manage to resist our passions, it is likely more due to the weakness of our passions than to our personal strength. Certainly passion cannot be controlled by reason. "We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." (David Hume.)

William Hazlitt in his essay, "On Genius and Common Sense," echoed the views of Pope, Voltaire and Hume. "Reason is the interpreter and critic of nature and genius, not their law-giver and judge." People as a practical matter hold convictions which hardly they understand let alone are they able to trace back to reasonable origins. We are moved by the "dumb and silent pleading" of our passions, our instincts; reason is but a "babbling interpreter." Our instincts, in Hazlitt's view, are often mistaken, but -- "Hasty, dogmatical, self-satisfied reason is worse than idle fancy, or bigoted prejudice." "Both are imperfect, both are useful in their way, and therefore both are best together, to correct or to confirm one another."

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Peter Landry

September, 1998 (2013)