Controlling the passions: passion, memory, and the moral physiology of self in seventeenth-century neurophilosophy

In S. Gaukroger (ed.), The Soft Underbelly of Reason: The Passions in the Seventeenth Century. Routledge. pp. 115-146 (1998)

John Sutton
Macquarie University
Some natural philosophers in the 17th century believed that they could control their own innards, specifically the animal spirits coursing incessantly through brain and nerves, in order to discipline or harness passion, cognition and action under rational guidance. This chapter addresses the mechanisms thought necessary after Eden for controlling the physiology of passion. The tragedy of human embedding in the body, with its cognitive and moral limitations, was paired with a sense of our confinement in sequential time. I use two strands of 17th-century natural philosophy to exemplify forms of the perceived connection between physiology, memory, and the passions. I deal at length with Cartesian mechanism, and more briefly with Restoration natural philosophy in England. These are fruitful historical domains for connecting cognition and culture, since relations of domination, disruption, or accommodation between present and past are in play for both selves and societies. Despite the difficulty of integrating affect with cognition in theories of brain and mind, the capacity to treat passion and memory together is crucial for future cognitive science to address issues which outsiders care about.
Keywords Descartes  Malebranche  Memory
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