Superphysics Superphysics
Section 4

The Causes Of The Violent Passions

by David Hume Icon
6 minutes  • 1243 words

The causes and effects of the calm and violent passions is a subject of the nicest speculation in philosophy. ◦ Passions do not influence the will in proportion to their violence, or the disorder they occasion in the temper; ◦ but on the contrary, that when a passion has once become a settled principle of action, and is the predominant inclination of the soul, it commonly produces no longer any sensible agitation.

Repeated custom and its own force have made everything yield to it. ◦ It directs the actions and conduct without that opposition and emotion, which so naturally attend every momentary gust of passion. • We must, therefore, distinguish between: ◦ a calm and a weak passion ◦ a violent and a strong one. • When we would govern a man and push him to any action, it will commonly be better to: ◦ work on the violent than the calm passions ◦ take him by his inclination, than what is vulgarly called his reason. ▪ We should place the object in such situations as are proper to increase the violence of the passion.

All depends on the situation of the object. ◦ A variation in this will be able to change the calm and the violent passions into each other. ▪ Both these kinds of passions: • pursue good, and avoid evil. • are increased or reduced by the increase or reduction of the good or evil. • The difference between them is that: ◦ when near, the good will cause a violent passion ◦ when remote, the good produces only a calm passion. • This subject belongs very properly to the present question concerning the will. ◦ We shall: ▪ examine it to the bottom ▪ consider those circumstances and situations of objects which render a passion calm or violent.

It is a remarkable property of human nature that any emotion, which attends a passion, is easily converted into it.

Though in their natures, they are originally different from and even contrary to each other. • To make a perfect union among passions, a double relation of impressions and ideas is always required. ◦ One relation is insufficient for that purpose. • But though this is confirmed by undoubted experience, we must: ◦ understand it with its proper limitations ◦ regard the double relation, as requisite only to make one passion produce another. • When two passions are produced by their separate causes and are both present in the mind, they readily mingle and unite, though they have but one or no relation. ◦ The predominant passion swallows up the inferior, and converts it into itself. • The spirits, when once excited, easily receive a change in their direction. ◦ It is natural to imagine this change will come from the prevailing affection. • The connection is in many respects closer between any two passions, than between any passion and indifference.

• When a person is once heartily in love, the little faults and caprices of his mistress, the jealousies and quarrels, to which that commerce is so subject are found to give additional force to one’s love.
    ◦ No matter how unpleasant and related they are to anger and hatred.
• It is a common artifice of politicians,
• When politicians very much want to affect any person by a fact they intend to inform him, they:
    ◦ first excite his curiosity
    ◦ delay as long as possible its satisfaction before they give him a full insight into the business.
        ▪ This raises his anxiety and impatience to the utmost.
        ▪ They know his curiosity will precipitate him into the passion they design to raise.
        ▪ They assist the object in its influence on the mind.
• A soldier advancing to the battle, is naturally inspired with courage and confidence, when he thinks of his friends and fellow-soldiers.
    ◦ He is struck with fear and terror when he reflects on the enemy.
• Whatever new emotion, therefore, proceeds from his friends naturally increases his courage.
    ◦ The emotions proceeding from the enemy adds to fear by:
        ▪ the relation of ideas
        ▪ the conversion of the inferior emotion into the predominant.
• Hence in military discipline, the uniformity and lustre of our habit, the regularity of our figures and motions, with all the pomp and majesty of war, encourage ourselves and allies.
    ◦ The same objects in the enemy strike terror into us, though agreeable and beautiful in themselves.

• If both passions are present at the same time, they are naturally transfused into each other.
• If good and evil are present at the same time to cause any emotion, evil must acquire new force and violence.

• This happens whenever any object excites contrary passions.
    ◦ An opposition of passions commonly:
        ▪ causes a new emotion in the spirits
        ▪ produces more disorder than the concurrence of any two affections of equal force.
• This new emotion:
    ◦ is easily converted into the predominant passion
    ◦ increases its violence, beyond the pitch it would have arrived at had it met with no opposition.
        ▪ Hence we naturally:
            • desire what is forbidden
            • take a pleasure in performing actions, merely because they are unlawful.
• The notion of duty, when opposite to the passions, is seldom able to overcome them.
    ◦ When duty fails, duty increases the opposite passions by producing an opposition in our motives and principles.
• The same effect follows whether the opposition arises from internal motives or external obstacles.
    ◦ The passion commonly acquires new force and violence in both cases.

• The efforts which the mind makes to surmount the obstacle, excite the spirits and enlivens the passion.

• Uncertainty has the same influence as opposition.
• All the following produce an agitation in the mind and transfuse themselves into the predominant passion:
    ◦ the agitation of the thought
    ◦ the quick turns it makes from one view to another
    ◦ the variety of passions which succeed each other according to the different views

• I think there is not  any other natural cause, why security reduces the passions, than because it removes that uncertainty which increases them.
• When left to itself, the mind immediately languishes.
    ◦ To preserve its ardour, it must be supported by a new flow of passion every moment.
• For the same reason, despair, though contrary to security, has a like influence.

• Nothing more powerfully animates any affection than to conceal some part of its object by throwing it into a shade.
    ◦ It chews enough to pre-possess us in favour of the object yet leaves still some work for the imagination.
    ◦ That obscurity is always attended with a kind of uncertainty.
    ◦ The effort the fancy makes to complete the idea:
        ▪ rouses the spirits
        ▪ gives an additional force to the passion.

• Despair and security are contrary to each other but produce the same effects.
    ◦ Absence is observed to have contrary effects.
    ◦ In different circumstances, it increases or reduces our affections.
• Duc de La Rochefoucault has very well observed that absence destroys weak passions, but increases the strong passions, as the wind extinguishes a candle but blows up a fire.
    ◦ Long absence naturally weakens our idea and reduces the passion.
    ◦ But where the idea is so strong and lively as to support itself, the uneasiness from absence:
        ▪ increases the passion
        ▪ gives it new force.

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