Saturday, July 08, 2006


From Frederick Copleston's A History of Philosophy:

Vauvenargues treats of the passions which, 'as Mr. Locke says', are all founded on pleasure and pain. These last are to be referred respectively to perfection and imperfection. That is, man is naturally attached to his being, and if his being were in no way imperfect but developed itself always without hindrance or imperfection, he would feel nothing but pleasure. As it is, we experience both pleasure and pain; and 'it is from the experience of these two contraries that we derive the idea of good and evil'. The passions (at least those which come 'by the organ of reflection' and are not immediate impressions of sense) are founded on 'the love of being or of the perfection of being, or on the feeling of our imperfection'. For example, there are people in whom the feeling of their imperfection is more vivid than the feeling of perfection, of capacity, of power. We then find passions such as anxiety, melancholy and so on. Great passions arise from the union of these two feelings, that of our power and that of our imperfection and weakness. For 'the feeling of our miseries impels us to go out of ourselves, and the feeling of our resources encourages us to do so and carries us thereto in hope'" (26).

Granted, Vauvenargues's definition of the relation between perfection and imperfection, which for him is equivalent to good/evil axis, seems to be antithetical to my claim that imperfection is not a pejorative, but that isn't my point of interest, for the moment. (After all, we don't know what he means by 'good' or 'evil'.) What I find resonant is the last sentence-- that, as constitutive of one another, the 'passions' of perfection and imperfection impel a departure, a 'becoming outside' of ourselves. Is this necessary relation then a founding desire for community? A foundation for a politics? A psychological motive for investment in ourselves in and as other(s)? I love the possibilites of this imbrication.

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