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Passions. Penchants, inclinations, desires and aversions carried to a certain degree of intensity, combined with an indistinct sensation of pleasure or pain, occasioned or accompanied by some irregular movement of the blood and animal spirits, are what we call passions. They can be so strong as to inhibit all practice of personal freedom, a state in which the soul is in some sense rendered passive; whence the name passions.

This inclination or so-called disposition of the soul, is born of the opinion we hold that a great good or a great evil is contained in an object which in and of itself arouses passion. So that when this inclination is brought into play (and it is present in everything that represents pleasure or pain for us), the soul immediately, as if struck directly by good or evil, unrestrained in its opinion that this object is very important to it, believes it for this reason to be worthy of all its attention; it directs all its faculties to its consideration; forgetting in this contemplation, in this desire or fear nearly all other objects: so it is in the case of a man struck down by an acute illness; he is not at liberty to think about anything unrelated to his pain. It is also in this sense that passions are the diseases of the soul.

All our sensations, our imagination, even our intellectual ideas, are accompanied by pleasure or pain, by pleasant or painful feelings, and these feelings are independent of our will; for if these two sources of good and evil could be turned on and off by choice, the will would turn pain aside, and accept only pleasure. Everything that produces in us this pleasant feeling, everything that serves to give us pleasure, to maintain it, to increase it, to ward off or to decrease pain or suffering, we call good. Everything that arouses an opposing sentiment, everything that produces an opposite effect, we call evil.

Pleasure and pain are therefore the pivot around which all our affections turn, known by the name of inclinations, and passions, which are none other than the different degrees of variation within our soul. These feelings are thus intimately bound to the passions; they are their guiding principles, and they are themselves born from a variety of sources that can be reduced to the following four:

1) Pleasures and pains of the senses. The sweetness or bitterness attached to any given sensation, without knowing its cause, without knowledge of how the said objects arouse this feeling, which happens before one is able to anticipate the good or evil that the presence and function of the object can bring; what can be said about it is that divine benevolence attached a pleasant feeling to the moderate exercise of our bodily faculties. Whatever satisfies our needs without going beyond them, gives a feeling of pleasure. The sight of a soft light, of gay, undazzling colors, of objects within our grasp, of clear, sharp sounds that do not deafen us, of scents neither weak nor too strong, of tastes that are distinct without being too sharp, a moderate warmth, the feel of a smooth object; all these are pleasing because they exercise our faculties without fatiguing them. The contrary or excess produces an entirely opposing effect.

2) Pleasures of the mind or of the imagination make up the second source of our passions; such are those acquired by sight or the perception of beauty taken in a general sense, as much for the beauties of nature and of art, as for those which are only seized by the eyes of understanding, that is, those found in universal truths, those that follow from general laws, from secondary causes. Those who have sought the general principle of beauty, have remarked that objects capable of inspiring in us a feeling of pleasure, are those which reunite variety with order or uniformity. Variety occupies us with the multitude of objects it presents to us; uniformity facilitates our perception of them, by placing them within reach of our understanding assembled under a single point of view. It can therefore be said that the pleasures of the mind, like those of the senses, have a single origin, the moderate exercise of our faculties.

Refer to experience: observe in Music that sounds draw their charm from being simple and varied; varied, they attract our attention; simple, they do not fatigue us excessively. In Architecture, beautiful proportions are those which keep a happy medium between a tiresome uniformity, and an extravagant variety which characterizes the gothic manner. This harmony, this balance in the relative proportions between, this variety in the different parts of the body which constitute the beauty of a statue, has it not been discovered in Sculpture? Painting is subject to the same rules.

Tracing back from art to nature, does the beauty of a face not borrow its charms from its soft, varied colors, from the regularity of its features, from the expression that indicates the soul's various sentiments? Are the graces of the body not made up of a proper relation of its movements to the ends at which they aim? Nature herself embellished with her soft and varied colors, with this number of well-proportioned objects, and which are together related to a whole, what does she offer us? A unit wisely assembled from the most pleasant variety. Order and proportion are so endowed with the power to give us pleasure, that we demand it even in the ever varied productions of enthusiasm, in the portrayals of the tumultuous movements of the soul in Poetry and Eloquence. All the more reason that order should reign supreme in works designed for instruction. What is it that makes them beautiful to us? It can but be the unity of their design, the perfect harmony of their parts with respect to one another and with the whole, the depiction or precise imitation of objects of movements, of sentiments, of passions, the suitability of means to their ends, a proper relation between the manners of thought and expression and their proposed ends.

It is thus that the understanding finds its pleasures in the same source of the mind and the imagination; it takes pleasure in meditating universal truths which in their clear expression embrace a multitude of individual truths, the consequences of which are nearly infinite in number. This is what for certain minds makes up the charms of Metaphysics, of Geometry and the abstract sciences, which without this would be merely tiresome. It is this sort of beauty that gives birth to a thousand pleasures of discovery of general laws observed by all of nature with inviolable regularity, of contemplating secondary causes which are infinitely diverse in their effects, and all of which are subject to a single and primary cause.

This principle of our pleasures, and its loss, source of our pain, can be extended over all the objects that spring from the mind. It can be found everywhere; and if there are a few exceptions, they are only apparent in the end, and can stem either from arbitrary prejudices, by which it would not be difficult to demonstrate that the principle is unaffected, or from the limitations of our understanding with respect to fine and delicate objects.

3) A third order of pleasures and pains are those affecting the heart which give rise in us to so many very different inclinations or passions. Their source is in the notion of our perfection or our imperfection, of our virtues and our vices. Of all things beautiful, there are few that move us more than the virtue which constitutes our perfection; and of all things ugly, there are none to which we are or should be more sensitive than vice. Our self-love, this passion, so natural, so universal, and which is, it can be said, the basis of all our affections, makes us search endlessly within ourselves and outside ourselves, proofs of what we are with regard to perfection; but where are these to be found? Might it be in the use of the faculties suited to our nature? Or in a use consistent with the Creator's intention? Or in the goal we intend for ourselves, which is happiness? Let us bring together these three different manners of envisioning happiness, and we will find in them the rule prescribed for us by this third principle of our pleasures and our pains. It is that our perfection and happiness consist of possessing and in making use of faculties appropriate for providing us with a stable happiness, in accordance with the intentions of our author, manifested in the nature he has given us.

Consequently, we cannot perceive in ourselves these faculties, and feel that we use them in a manner suitable to our nature, to their intended purpose and to our goals, without experiencing a secret joy and a private sense of satisfaction, which is the most pleasant sentiment of all. He who, on the contrary, looking into himself sees only imperfection and continual abuse of the talents with which God endowed him, openly applauds himself for having arrived through his disorderliness at the height of fortune, his soul is secretly torn apart by bitter remorse which incessantly holds up to his eyes his shame, and which renders his existence hateful. To stifle this painful sentiment, or to deflect his attention from it, to no avail he delivers himself over to sensual pleasures, keeps himself busy, amuses himself, tries to run away from himself; he cannot escape this terrible judge he carries inside himself everywhere he goes.

4) I mentioned that our self-love encourages us to search outside ourselves for proofs of our perfection: this is what allows us to discover a fourth source of pleasures and pains in the happiness or misfortune of others. Might this be because the perception we have when we witness it, or when we think deeply about it, creates an image similar enough to its object to move us more or less as though we were experiencing the very sentiment it represents? Or is there some secret operation of nature which having formed us all of the same blood, attempted to bond us together by making us sensitive to the fortunes and misfortunes of our fellows? In any case, one thing is certain; this sentiment can be suspended by pride, or by individual interests, but it infallibly manifests itself in every situation in which nothing inhibits its development: it is found in all men in fact to differing degrees. Even hard-heartedness sometimes comes from a principle of humanity; one treats the wicked or those one sees as such in the world harshly, in the hope of improving them, or to keep them from harming others. This sensitivity is not the same in all men; those who have won our friendship and our esteem by kindnesses, or by estimable qualities, by reciprocal feelings; those who are attached to us by bonds of kinship, habit, nationality, political persuasion, profession, religion, all of these have a different influence on our sentiments. This can even be extended to characters in a novel or a tragedy; we participate in the fortune and misfortune that happens to them, even more so if we are convinced the characters are real. Thus the charms of History, which by putting before us depictions of humanity, touches and moves us to the precise point of vivacity which gives rise to pleasant sentiments. Whence, in a word, all the inclinations and passions which affect us as a result of our sensitivity to humankind.

Such are the sources of our varied sentiments according to the different sorts of objects which please us for their own sake and that can be called pleasant objects; but there are others which draw us towards useful objects, that is towards objects which without immediately producing these pleasant benefits, are useful in obtaining or in securing enjoyment. They can be reduced to three categories: the desire for glory, power, and riches. We have already seen that everything that seems to prove to us that there is some perfection in us, cannot fail to please us: thus feelings of honor or confusion: from this the idea we form of power, of influence that flatters the vanity of the ambitious, and which, as in the case of riches, are not imagined by the wise except as a means of attaining something higher.

But it happens altogether too often that these useful objects are desired for their own sake, thus confusing means with ends. At all costs, one wants to establish a good or bad reputation for oneself; one sees nothing in honors beyond the honors in and of themselves; one desires riches in order to possess them and not to enjoy them. To give oneself over to passions as useless as they are dangerous, is to liken oneself to those unfortunate souls who spend their lives rooting around in the entrails of the Earth to extract riches the enjoyment of which is reserved for others. One must agree, this abuse of useful objects is often due to upbringing, to custom, to habits, to the company one keeps which in the soul are strange associations of ideas, from which are born pleasures and pains, tastes or aversions, inclinations, passions for objects in themselves entirely indifferent. In the imitation of those with whom we live, we attach our happiness to the idea of possessing a frivolous object which robs us of all our peace of mind; we cherish it with a passion that stuns those who are unaware that the sphere of our thoughts and desires ends there.

By thus indicating the way we abuse these useful objects, we hope to show the remedy, and to secure for those who are disposed not to stop there, the enjoyment of objects and pleasures which are pleasant in and of themselves.

(Up to this point, we have relied too heavily on a short but excellent work on the theory of pleasant sentiments, not to do it all the justice it deserves).

II. When we reflect on what happens in us at the sight of objects suitable to giving us pleasure or to causing us pain, we feel the beginnings of a penchant, a determination of the will, which is something different from the very sentiment of good and evil. It comes to this, but it is a more active manner of being, it is a nascent desire that we can follow or abandon, whereas we have no control whatsoever over this first modification of the soul which is feeling. It is this penchant, this taste which directs us toward the good or what appears to us to be so, and that we call affection or desire, depending on whether one possesses the object or hopes to do so; this is what keeps us away from evil or what we judge to be so, and which, if this evil is present, is called aversion, if it is absent, is called avoidance. This is how the beautiful or what pleases us, moves us with a feeling which in turn arouses desire and gives birth to passion. The opposite follows the same steps.

Admiration is the first and simplest of our passions: it hardly deserves the name; it is this heartfelt and sudden feeling of pleasure which is aroused in us at the sight of an object whose perfection is striking to us. This could be contrasted with astonishment, were this word not limited to expressing a similar feeling of pain which arises at the sight of an uncommon deformity, and the particular horror caused by the sight of a vice or an extraordinary crime. These passions are ordinarily aroused by their novelty; but if it is by a more real merit, then admiration can be useful. Thus an attentive observer often finds in the most common objects as many and even more things worthy of his admiration, than in the most rare and novel objects.

Admiration or astonishment produce curiosity or the desire to become more familiar with what we know only imperfectly; reasonable and beneficial passion, if it is marked by truly useful and fruitful or simply curious seeking; if it is discrete enough not to encourage us to want to know what we must not know; and if it is constant enough not to make us flutter from one object to another, without considering each thoroughly.

After what was said about pleasures and pains, I do not know if joy and sadness can be placed alongside passions, or whether one must not rather regard these two sentiments as the basis and the foundation of all passions. Joy is properly nothing more than a continual, heartfelt and animated reflection on the good we enjoy; and sadness a sustained and profound reflection on the evil that happens to us. Joy is often taken for a disposition to feel good deeply, as sadness for the disposition to be sensitive to evil. The passions resulting from joy seem sweet and pleasant; those related to sadness are disturbing and somber. Joy opens the heart and mind, but it fades away. Sadness confines, overwhelms, and takes hold of its object.

Hope and apprehension ordinarily precede joy and sadness. They are directed toward the good or evil that is likely to befall us. If we see it as most assured, we feel trust; or on the contrary if it is to be evil, we fall into despair. Apprehension increases to fear [ la peur] or to being frightened [ l'épouvante ] when we suddenly perceive an unforeseen evil about to overcome us, and to terror [ la terreur ] if the evil is atrocious besides. There are no words to express the nuances of joy in parallel circumstances.

The battle between apprehension and hope creates worry; a tumultuous disposition, a composite passion, which often causes us to foresee evil and to lose the good. When apprehension and hope follow on each other's heels, it is irresoluteness. If hope carries the day, we feel the birth of courage; if fear does, we fall into despondency. When something we hope for is too long in coming, we are impatient or bored. Sometimes, even, by persuading ourselves that the dread of evil is worse than the evil itself, we are impatient for it to happen. Boredom also comes from the absence of all things good, but even more often from a lack of engaging occupations. The joy of having avoided an evil we rightly dreaded, or of having obtained something after a long wait, changes into cheerfulness. But if this object does not meet our expectations, if it is inferior to the idea we had of it, disgust succeeds joy, and is often followed by aversion.

Every good action carries within it its reward, in that it is followed by a feeling of pure joy called satisfaction or interior contentedness. To the contrary, repentance, regret, remorse, are feelings which arise in our heart, at the sight of our errors.

Joy and sadness do not stop there; they produce yet many other passions. Such is the satisfaction we feel in gaining the approval of others, and especially of those we believe to be better judges of our actions, and that we designate with the word glory. On the other hand, the sadness we feel when we are blamed or disapproved of, is called shame. These emotions of the soul are so natural and so necessary to the good of society, that the word impudence is given to their absence; but taken to extremes, they can be as pernicious as they are useful, confined to just limits. The same can be said of the desire for honors, which is a noble emulation when directed by justice and wisdom, and a dangerous ambition when unbridled. The same is true of the moderate love of riches, a legitimate passion if sought after by honorable means, and in the intention to make good use of them, but which pushed too far, is avarice , a word that expresses two differing passions, depending on whether one ardently desires riches to accumulate without enjoying them, or to squander them.

Since there is no proper word to designate this moderate love of riches, neither is there one for a moderate love of sensual pleasure. The word sensuousness is in some way assigned to this type of pleasure. The sensualist is one who is too attached to it; and if the taste one has for them goes too far, one calls this passion sensuality.

The same is also true of the reasonable or excessive pleasures of the mind; there is no fixed term to designate them. He who loves and is familiar with them, is a man of taste; he who knows how to procure them is a man of talent.

All these passions end in ourselves, and depend on self-love. This state of the soul which preoccupies and affects him [sic] so strongly in everything he believes to be related to his happiness and his perfection. I distinguish it from egotism in that this latter subordinates everything to its own good, makes itself the center of everything, and is itself its own object and end; it is the excess of a passion that is natural and legitimate when it remains within the limits of self-love, that it leave the soul free to expand outwardly, and to find its preservation, its perfection and its happiness outside, as well as inside itself. Thus self-love is not destructive, but has an intimate and sometimes imperceptible relationship to the feeling that makes us take pleasure in the happiness of others, or in what we imagine to be their happiness; it is not opposed to all the other passions distributed among those around us, and which are so many branches of love or hate. Hate is the disposition to be pleased by another's misfortune, and it naturally follows, to be distressed at his happiness. One hates things the idea of which is unpleasant, that one considers bad or harmful to us, or to those we love. If at times one believes to hate oneself, it is not oneself one hates; it is some imperfection one discovers in oneself, of which one would like to be rid. Hate should limit itself to bad characteristics, to flaws; but it does not extend itself too much to people.

Admiration joined with some degree of love, produces esteem. If the sight of flaws does not bring about hate, it gives birth to contempt.

The pain felt at the ill that happens to loved-ones, or in general to our fellows, is compassion; and that which results from the good that happens to those one hates, is envy. These two passions are only aroused when we judge our friend or the person in whom we take an interest, unworthy of his misfortunes, and he who we do not love, unworthy of the good he enjoys.

Gratitude is the love we have for someone, because of the good he has done us, or intended to do us. If for the good he has done to others, or in general for some good moral quality we love in him, it is favor. The hate we feel towards those who have done us wrong, is anger. Indignation applies to him who does wrong to others. Both are often followed by the desire to return evil for evil, and this is vengeance.

III. If we were in charge of determining our own character, considering the abysses into which the heat of passion can lead us, perhaps we would formulate it without passions. However, they are necessary to human nature, and it was not without a good deal of wisdom that it was created to be sensitive to them. The passions are what set everything in motion, which animate the stage of this universe, which give so to speak soul and life to its various parts. Those relating to ourselves, were given to us for our preservation, to warn us and to encourage us to seek what is necessary and useful to us, and to flee what is harmful to us. Those which have others as their object serve the good of society and maintain it. If the former needed some sharp point to rouse us from laziness, the latter, to keep the balance, must have been lively and active in proportion. All of them would remain within their rightful limits, if we knew how to use our reason to maintain this perfect equilibrium; they would become useful to us, and nature with its flaws and imperfections, would still be a pleasant spectacle in the eyes of the creator disposed to approve of our virtuous efforts, and to excuse and forgive our weaknesses.

But it must be admitted, and experience tells us all too well; our inclinations or our passions abandoned to themselves bring a thousand obstacles to our knowledge and to our happiness. Those which are violent and impetuous represent their object to us so strongly, that they allow us to attend only to it. They do not allow us even to imagine it in some way other than that in which they present it to us, and which is always the most favorable for them. They are colored glasses which impart their own color to whatever is seen through them. They take hold of all the strength of our soul, which they leave with only a shadow of freedom; they deafen it with a noise so tumultuous it becomes impossible to lend an ear to the gentle and peaceful counsel of reason.

Gentler passions attract our attention to their object imperceptibly; they make us find such charms in it, that everything else seems insipid to us, soon we can consider only it. Weak in their principle, they lend their strength to this very weakness; reason does not fear an enemy that at first seems to present so little danger; but when the habit is formed, it is surprised to find itself subjugated and captive.

We become attached to the pleasures of the body easily, especially since our sensitivity to them is entirely natural. Without learning, without study, we love what appeals to our senses; given up to the ease of these pleasures, we do not think any better suited to keeping us from making good use of our faculties; we lose the taste of whatever else warrants some care and attention, and the soul enslaved to the passions these pleasures involve, no longer rises to or has any feeling for anything of which it is truly worthy.

The pleasures of the mind are gentle and legitimate, when not put in opposition to those of the heart. But if the strengths of the mind are paid for in flaws of the character, or only if they dull our sensibility for the charms of virtue and for the sweet pleasures of society, they are nothing more than deceptive sirens whose seductive songs turn us away from the path to true happiness. Even when they are regarded as only accessories to perfection, they can produce negative effects of which it would be dangerous not to beware. If given up to one's every taste, one only touches lightly on everything, and becomes superficial and frivolous; or if content with wanting to seem intelligent, one will be a false scholar, or a presumptuous, opinionated blowhard. Are there not many other dangers into which the pleasures of the mind may lead us?

Nothing seems more worthy of our desires, than the very love of virtue. It is what maintains the pleasures of the heart; it is what nourishes in us the most legitimate passions. To want the happiness of others sincerely, to bind oneself to worthy people in tender friendship, is to tap into an abundant source of delight. But if this inclination makes us approve of and warmly embrace our friends' every thought, every opinion, every error; if it incites us to spoil them with false praise and vain kindnesses, especially if it makes us prefer the good of one over the public good, it exceeds the limits prescribed to it by reason; and friendship and benevolence, these affections of the soul, so noble and so legitimate, become a source of pitfalls and perils for us.

All of the passions , including those that worry and torment us the most, have a kind of sweetness that justifies them. Experience and inner feeling constantly remind us of this. If sadness, hate, vengeance, can be found sweet, what passion is exempt of sweetness? Moreover, each one employs the help of the others to strengthen itself; and this league is regulated so as to best strengthen its control. The simple desire for an object would not lead us with so much force into so many false judgments; it would even soon vanish at the first glimmers of common sense; but when this desire is animated by love, increased by hope, renewed by joy, strengthened by apprehension, aroused by courage, emulation, anger, and by a thousand passions each attacking reason in its turn from all sides; then it conquers it, subjugates it, enslaves it.

Let us say again that the passions arouse in the body, and especially in the brain, all movements useful for their preservation. This is how they get the senses and the imagination to side with them; and this latter faculty once corrupted continually battles against reason by representing things not as they are in themselves, so that the mind can make a true judgment, but according to what they are in relation to the present passion, so that it will judge in its favor.

In a word, passion deceives us in everything. The most distinct ideas become confused, obscure; they fade away entirely to make room for other purely accessory ones, or which have no relationship to the object we have in view; it makes us unite the most opposite of ideas, separate those which are the most interrelated, compare subjects that have nothing in common; it plays on our imagination, which then forms chimeras, representations of beings that never existed, and to which it gives pleasant or odious names, as it sees fit. It then dares to rest on principles so false [sic], to support them with irrelevant examples, or by the least just reasoning; or if these principles are true, it knows how to draw the falsest conclusions from them, but the most favorable to our sentiment, to our taste, to itself. Thus it even turns the most established rules of reasoning, even the best founded maxims, even the most well-demonstrated proofs, even the most severe reflection to its advantage. And once led into error, there is nothing passion will not do in order to maintain us in this unfortunate state, and to distance us always further from the truth. A multitude of examples could be presented here; the course of our life offers continual proof of this. Sad portrayal of the state in which man is reduced by his passions! Surrounded by pitfalls, buffeted about by a thousand contrary winds, will he arrive safely into port? Yes, he is able do to so; for him there is reason to moderate the passions, light to guide him, rules to direct him, vigilance to sustain him, he is capable of resistance and of prudence. Est enim quaedam medicina: certe; haec tam fuit hominum generi infensa atque inimical natura, ut corporibus tot res salutares, animis nullam invenerit, de quibus hoc etiam est merita melius, quod corporum adjumenta adhibentur extrinsecus, animorum salus inclu sa in his ipsis est. Tusc. iv. 27.  [1]


1. "For there is assuredly some remedy, and nature has not proved so bitter an enemy of mankind as to discover so many means of providing bodily health without discovering a single one for the soul, to which she has even rendered this better service, that aids for the body are given by outwardly application, the health of souls is comprised within themselves," Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, trans. J.E. King (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1927, 1950), 393-394.



Title: Passions
Original Title: Passions
Volume and Page: Vol. 12 (1765), pp. 142–146
Author: Denis Diderot
Translator: Timothy L. Wilkerson [Wittenberg University,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): Diderot, Denis. "Passions." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Timothy L. Wilkerson. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2004. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Passions," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 12. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): Diderot, Denis. "Passions." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Timothy L. Wilkerson. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2004. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Passions," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 12:142–146 (Paris, 1765).
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