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Author Topic: A good book that discusses the Aristotelian view of passions?  (Read 969 times) Average Rating: 0
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Ortho_cat
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« on: October 22, 2009, 10:25:23 AM »

I have become well aquainted with the Stoic view of the passions by reading St. Theophan's "The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to it". I would like to now learn about the alternative view of the passions, the Aristotelian view; that is, "that they in themselves are morally neutral; not a passion is an opposite to a virtue, but the "product" of a passion that had gone out of control, the *action* based on an un-contolled, un-tamed passion (a sin)."

(The above was quoted from Heorhij in a previous thread about the passions)

So I'm open to suggestions. Thanks.
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Justin Kissel
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« Reply #1 on: October 22, 2009, 11:16:15 AM »

I'm afraid I don't know of any good books on the subject. But if worse comes to worse, you could always go to the works of Aristotle that are online (such as Ethics), and do a search for "passion" and read each passage (in context) that comes up in your search. While this method is not always as beneficial as reading a book that comprehensively and systematically covers a topic, it can still be very helpful in getting a quick overview of a subject. I myself have many documents of the Church Fathers in notepad form on my computer, and have sometimes searched through their works in that way so as to expand my understanding of certain Scriptural passages or theological concepts, and almost always learnt something from it. For example, one time I was having trouble understanding the meaning of 1 Jn. 5:16-17:

"If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death."

So I did a search through the Church Fathers, and came up with four references which helped me understand the passage.
« Last Edit: October 22, 2009, 11:19:16 AM by Asteriktos » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2009, 05:49:23 PM »

Is the Aristotelian view a minority view within Orthodox compared to the Stoic view?
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pensateomnia
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« Reply #3 on: October 25, 2009, 06:48:43 PM »

Is the Aristotelian view a minority view within Orthodox compared to the Stoic view?

Orthodoxy does not hold to a Stoic view of passions. Stoics believed that the soul was a material thing and that passions were (physical) movements -- one could even say biological occurrences.
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But for I am a man not textueel I wol noght telle of textes neuer a deel. (Chaucer, The Manciple's Tale, 1.131)
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« Reply #4 on: October 25, 2009, 08:05:35 PM »

Oh, ok. I suppose I have my terminology mixed up then.  What I refer to "Stoic" I mean that the passions are in of themselves bad.  When I refer to "Aristotelian" I refer to the passions as being fundamentally good, but often misdirected towards bad.  I was looking for books that discuss the latter view on the passions.
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pensateomnia
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« Reply #5 on: October 25, 2009, 09:30:51 PM »

In Stoicism, "passions" were things like lust, depression, malice, jealousy, as well as more run-of-the-mill things like anger or fear. While Stoics did believe (most) passions were bad because they produced (physical) imbalance, there was one good passion: watchfulness. So, not all "passions" were bad. Furthermore, the "passions" are just a subset of all the "impulses" that a soul can produce. The soul can also produce good "impulses" (called the virtues), as well as ones that are entirely indifferent (called "adiaphora"). The wise person will choose a proper lifestyle (mental exercises, going to the baths, reading, moderation) so that his soul is not dominated by passions.

In Aristotle's conception, instead of "passions, virtues and adiaphora", the soul has "passions, capacities, and states". Passions and the capacity to feel them are neither good nor bad. They just are by nature. Virtue, however, is not natural, but requires a choice, and becomes a state of the soul if we choose it. In both systems, the rational mind must choose virtue.

If you want to read more about Aristotle -- but don't want to slog through Aristotle himself -- the big daddy of English-language Aristotle scholars is Jonathan Barnes. He wrote a great introduction to Aristotle in Oxford's "A Very Short Introduction" series.
« Last Edit: October 25, 2009, 09:32:11 PM by pensateomnia » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: October 25, 2009, 11:23:06 PM »

Ok, I guess I should have clarified myself a bit more in my OP.  I'm interested in finding out more about how Orthodoxy views the passions.  I'm not interested in secular or philosophical books.
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pensateomnia
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« Reply #7 on: October 26, 2009, 10:10:54 AM »

Ok, I guess I should have clarified myself a bit more in my OP.  I'm interested in finding out more about how Orthodoxy views the passions.  I'm not interested in secular or philosophical books.

Ah. Then I think you should read St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, who lived two or three generations before St. Theophan and did a lot of the patristics work on which St. Theophan relied (e.g. St. Nicodemos compiled the Philokalia). I think his work, A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, might be what you are looking for. One of the basic ideas is that impulses can be directed toward good or bad ends. When they are directed toward good ends, they help the spiritual life; when toward bad, they become harmful. Thus, anger, for example, can be good -- we should be angry at sin and the devil -- or it can be sinful.
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« Reply #8 on: October 26, 2009, 10:17:29 AM »

Ok, thanks.  So is it true then that there are two distinct "camps" in Orthodox thought regarding the passions, or is the distinction not as much as I originally thought?
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« Reply #9 on: October 26, 2009, 10:53:04 AM »

Ok, thanks.  So is it true then that there are two distinct "camps" in Orthodox thought regarding the passions, or is the distinction not as much as I originally thought?

I am not aware of two "camps." In Orthodox spiritual literature, "passions" are things like avarice, lust, gluttony, pride, etc. They are habitual, addictive, systemic, consuming -- not just feelings like fear (a la Stoicism). Instead of seeking after the infinite Goodness of God, the passionate man requires an infinite fix of whatever he is addicted to -- and is never sated, but, rather, becomes a shadow of humanity. A lot of the literature may sound austere, but the actual underlying theological principle is that one becomes more human, an example of humanity as it is naturally (without the fall), when purified of the passions. Becoming "dispassionate" does not mean one has no feelings; it means that the impulses and activities of the human person are fundamentally and fully directed toward glorifying God.

That said, if you read the Philokalia, you will find different explanations for how to classify the parts of the soul, and which part produces this or that passion, and how they all relate to the nous, heart and spirit, and how to combat a certain passion.
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« Reply #10 on: October 27, 2009, 12:47:11 PM »

Very good, thanks again.
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