Passion

painting entitled Separation (1896) by Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

Epistle 24. Posted on 2019-07-24.

Every Stoic seeks a state of mind that is referred to as apatheia (Greek: ἀπάθεια), which is to be without ‘passion.’ This article is a brief introduction to Stoic passion. A passion is defined as:

A passion (Greek: πάθη or pathê, plural: πάθαι or páthai) is a temporary mental state that is caused by an unreasonable assent to an impulsive impression.

In contrast:

A ‘good passion’ (Greek: εὐπάθεια or eupatheia, plural: eupatheiai) is a temporary mental state that is caused by a reasonable assent to an impulsive impression.

Alternative translations are popular, presumably to escape the implication of a ‘good passion.’ The most popular alternative is to translate a pathê as an emotion or feeling. However, any passion — good or bad — is not itself an emotion, even though an emotion may be involved. For instance, the Stoics regarded hesitation as a passion. When, instead, it is the result of good judgment, it is regarded as caution. Today, nobody would regard caution and hesitation as emotions. The domain of passion is larger than emotion.

Passions are also translated instead as affects (Gellius, Attic Nights, 1.26). When an affect means an affected state, this is a better translation than an emotion. But a passion is more than an affected state, it is a disposition relative to the object of an impulse (Greek: ὁρμή or hormē). For example, when Brave Barry fears a bear, Brave Barry is in an affected state in which he is disposed in relation to the bear, such that Brave Barry has an impulse to flee.

Each passion arises from a perverse condition (Diogenes Laërtius, Lives, 7.110), which in turn arises from bad judgments about contradictions. The perverse condition is a physical state of the mind, and is regarded by the Stoics as a (mental) disease. In contrast, Cicero (Tusculan Disputations, 4.5) translated pathê as a “perturbation” or “disorder.” According to Cicero (Tusculan Disputations, 4.6), Zeno of Citium (c.334 BC – 262 BC) defined a passion as “a commotion of the mind repugnant to reason, and against nature.”

Since each Stoic definition is characterized by a common quality and a peculiar quality, I propose that Zeno’s definition of a passion has “a commotion of the mind repugnant to reason” as its common quality, and “against nature” as its peculiar quality. Put otherwise, a passion is an instance of a commotion of the mind that is contrary to reason, and more specifically, it is also contrary to nature. A commotion is multiple motions, and a mental commotion that is contrary to reason is the proposition “Both p and not p,” which is a contradiction. The experience of a contradiction is a mental conflict. The contradictory proposition cannot be true, and either p or not p must be true.

But the experience of a mental conflict, of a mental commotion that is contrary to reason, must also be contrary to nature in order to have a passion. For example, if Mistaken Misty is taking a math test and answers “x=3” to the problem “2 + 2 = x,” Misty’s mistake necessarily involves a contradiction, but it is not a conflict between her will and her understanding of nature, which is to say, it is not a conflict for her between Stoic ethics and Stoic physics. Instead, there is a contradiction between nature and her understanding of nature, and she is unaware of this contradiction when she answers. However, if Mistaken Misty prefers to have three chances to answer this correctly, when she in fact has only one chance, her will is contradictory to her understanding of nature, and her will is contrary to nature. Mistaken Misty has a passion when her will is contrary to nature.

Years later, Chrysippus of Soli (c.279 BC – c.206 BC) regarded every passion as involving an unreasonable, evaluative judgment. As an example, consider representing the passion of grief in a proposition:

Both a loved one died, and I prefer this loved one had not died.

The above non-simple proposition involves a contradiction between two simple propositions, the natural proposition “A loved one died” and the ethical proposition “I prefer that loved one had not died”; these correspond to a proposition about Stoic physics and Stoic ethics. The ethical proposition, which is a proposition of how the will (Greek: προαίρεις or prohairesis) is disposed relative to nature, may be decomposed as follows:

Both this death is bad and I prefer this loved one had not died.

The first simple proposition is an evaluative proposition. If Mistaken Misty assents to this evaluative proposition, she has a mistaken evaluative judgment because she evaluated the death of her loved one as a bad thing, when it is an indifferent thing. If Mistaken Misty regarded it correctly as an indifferent thing, she would not prefer that which is contrary to nature. Therefore, having good judgment in the context of an evaluative judgment is fundamental to living according to nature; otherwise one has a will that is contrary to nature and which results in passion.

When one evaluates correctly the value of a body, one will have a good judgment with respect to an impulsive impression, and in turn with respect to the impulse toward or away from that body. If Brave Barry does not evaluate a bear as a bad or evil body when encountered in the woods, Brave Barry will not flee from a bear in that situation.

Passion as Excessive Impulse

There is also the Chrysippan reference to a passion as an excessive impulse, and any impulse is excessive (to reason) when it is contrary to nature. The threshold for excessiveness is the judgment. Before one assents to an impulsive impression and properly experiences a passion, one may experience a ‘preliminary passion’ or ‘pre-passion’ (Greek: προπάθεια or propatheia, plural: προπάθειαι or propatheiai), such as an increased heart rate. A pre-passion is an involuntary impulse that affects the body and precedes a passion. However, after a bad judgment gives permission to the impulse associated with the pre-passion, the pre-passion has exceeded reason and has become a passion. Reason has been cast aside, and it may now be difficult to return to it.

Passions Categorized

Stoic passions are categorized according to good judgment (reasonable, good passion) vs. bad judgment (unreasonable), good valuation vs. bad valuation, and in reference to the non-future vs. future.

Non-Future Future
Good Judgment and Good Valuation Joy Wish
Good Judgment and Bad Valuation Caution
Bad Judgment and Good Valuation Pleasure Desire
Bad Judgment and Bad Valuation Distress Fear

For example, shame is a passion that is categorized as a fear because it is caused by bad judgment, involves bad valuation, and regards the future. In contrast, cheerfulness is a ‘good passion’ that is categorized as a joy because it is caused by good judgment, involves good valuation, and regards the present (non-future).

Notice that it is impossible to have good judgment and a bad valuation of the past or present (non-future). If Busybody Betsy’s best friend is distressed, it is never reasonable to be compassionate (meaning ‘with passion’), because that is to err and regard her friend’s distress as a bad thing. Her friend’s bad judgment caused her distress, and Busybody Betsy should not have a bad judgment as a consequence, and also become distressed. Compassion is one category of distress, and compassion is never reasonable. It is, however, reasonable to Busybody Betsy to wish for her best friend to acquire good judgment and end her distress, and it is an “appropriate act” (Greek: καθἦκον or kathēkon, plural: καθήκοντα or kathēkonta) to help the distressed toward good judgment.

Passions as Propositions

Following are lists of passions that are each expressed as a natural proposition and ethical proposition, where the ethical proposition is decomposed to include an evaluative proposition and the will is expressed as a preference (to separate it from a desire and a wish):

Joy

Joy is a ‘good passion’ that is caused by good judgment involving a good valuation regarding the non-future.

Cheerfulness: Something occurs, this thing is good, and I prefer this thing occurs.
Reminiscence: Something is remembered, this thing is good, and I prefer this thing occurred.

Wish

Wish is a ‘good passion’ that is caused by good judgment involving a good valuation regarding the future.

Cherishing: I possess something, this possession is good, and I prefer to possess it.
Good Intent: Acting thus might benefit someone, this benefit is good, and I prefer this one will benefit.
Goodwill: Something might occur, this thing is good, and I prefer this thing will occur.
Love: Someone benefits, this benefit is good, and I prefer this one will benefit.
Welcoming: Something might approach me, this thing is good, and I prefer this thing will approach me.

Caution

Caution is a ‘good passion’ that is caused by good judgment involving a bad valuation regarding the future.

Moral Shame: Something known about good and evil might be destroyed, this destruction is bad, and I prefer this destruction will not occur.

Reverence: I might not revere something, this irreverence is bad, and I prefer this irreverence does not occur.

Pleasure

Pleasure is a passion that is caused by bad judgment involving a good valuation regarding the non-future.

Malice: Someone is harmed, this harm is good, and I prefer this one is harmed.
Ostentation: I show myself vainly, showing myself vainly is good, and I prefer to show myself vainly.
Rapture: One of my senses is pleasured, this pleasure is good, and I prefer this sense is pleasured.

Distress

Distress is a passion that is caused by bad judgment involving a bad valuation regarding the non-future.

Anxiety: Something is present, this thing is bad, and I prefer this thing is not present.
Compassion: (or pity) Someone is harmed (undeservedly), this harm is bad, and I prefer this harm does not occur to this one.
Disgrace: I am disgraced, this disgrace is bad, and I prefer not to be disgraced.
Envy: Someone else prospers and I do not, this prosperity is bad, and I prefer this prosperity does not occur to this one.
Feebleness: I am incapable physically of acting thus, this incapacity is bad, and I prefer to act thus.
Frustration: I am thwarted, this thwarting is bad, and I prefer not to be thwarted.
Grief: A loved one died, this death is bad, and I prefer this loved one had not died.
Jealousy: I share something with someone, this sharing is bad, and I prefer not to share it with this one.
Loss: A possession has been lost, this loss is bad, and I prefer not to have lost this possession.
Pining: I have bodily pain, this bodily pain is bad, and I prefer not to have this bodily pain.
Regret: I acted thus, this act (or its consequence) is bad, and I prefer not to have acted thus.
Rivalry: Someone possesses something I do not, this possession is bad, and I prefer this one does not possess it.

Desire

Desire is a passion that is caused by bad judgment involving a good valuation regarding the future.

Anger: Someone is unpunished for an act, this punishment is good, and I prefer this one will be punished for that act.
Greed: I do not possess something, this possession is good, and I prefer that I will possess it.
Longing: Someone is not present, this presence is good, and I prefer this one will be present.

Fear

Fear is a passion that is caused by bad judgment involving a bad valuation regarding the future.

Hesitation: I might act thus, this act (or its consequence) is bad, and I prefer that I will not act thus.
Shame: I might become disgraced, this disgrace is bad, and I prefer not to become disgraced.
Timidity: Something might approach me, this thing is bad, and I prefer this thing will not approach me.
Worry: Something might occur, this thing is bad, and I prefer this thing will not occur.

Popular lists of passions in Stoic literature occur in Cicero and Stobaeus. The above lists are adapted to English, and are very incomplete. For example, Plutarch (Moral Essay 39: On Being a Busybody) referred to being a busybody as one who desires to be aware of the troubles of others. Being a busybody may be expressed similarly in a proposition:

Busybody: I am unaware of another’s trouble, this awareness is good, and I prefer to become aware of their trouble.

Although Plutarch (c.46 AD – 120 AD) was not a Stoic, his report refers to Aristo of Chios (fl. c.260 BC), who was a follower of Zeno, at least at one time. Being a busybody, noted Plutarch, is being afflicted with a disease that is not entirely free of envy and malice. Everyone has troubles, and the busybody concerns oneself with the troubles of another while ignoring their own troubles. It is bad judgment to value one’s awareness of another’s troubles as a good.

Perverse Conditions

A perverse condition is a mental disposition that was acquired with bad judgment, by erring with respect to contradictions between one’s will and one’s understanding of nature, assenting to one’s will even when it is contrary to nature. A perverse condition is the principle cause of every passion.

For instance, each time that Busybody Betsy values her awareness of another’s troubles, she reinforces her perverse condition of being a busybody; and each time that Busybody Betsy dissents to that evaluative proposition, she weakens the perverse condition and prevents the associated passion. Each time that her unconscious brain perceives an impression that yields an opportunity to become aware of another’s trouble, that impression reveals her perverse condition, and her unconscious brain creates both an impulse and impulsive impression.

Philosophical Counseling

In philosophical counseling sessions, Stoic passion is often the explicit focus, such as when discussing the topic of anxiety, or existential crisis (as a logical interpretation of ‘depression’).

The weakening of a perverse condition is typically the goal in philosophical counseling when passion is relevant. Any perverse condition that resulted from bad judgment may be weakened, but never eradicated fully, as if it had never existed. Just as a damaged frame rail on a vehicle that has been bent may be, at best, mostly straightened, it may never be straightened perfectly; there will always be some misalignment thereafter. Likewise, any perverse condition may be weakened, but cannot be destroyed completely. Some traces of the condition will remain, and one may dissent to any resulting impulsive impression in the future with good judgment.

There are available many methods of weakening such a perverse condition. After studying Stoic logic — both dialectic and katalepsis — and how to apply it toward good judgment, one may introspect with the goal of disconnecting impressions stored as memories from participating in certain concepts. This is an important part of extirpation, of pulling up a passion by its roots. For instance, Brave Barry focuses on disconnecting a particular experience with a bear from the concept of an evil, and therefore disconnecting it from being something to fear. Galen reported that Posidonius referred to a Euripedean method as “Dwelling in Advance,” which is to prepare for possible events. Here, Brave Barry considers that he may encounter another bear the next time he hikes in the woods, and prepares himself to have good judgment by regarding the bear not as an evil, and therefore not as something to fear.

As a philosophical counselor, I am available to work together with you toward good judgment and against passion. If you are experiencing passion, I am here to help.

Vale (pronounced WAH-lay is Latin for “Farewell”),

Ron Hall

Ron Hall



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