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THE LONG ROAD TO PEACE: DESCARTES' MODERNIZATION OF GENEROSITY IN THE PASSIONS OF THE SOUL (1649)

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Descartes is not generally recognized as having contributed to the development of political discourse in the early modern period. While it is true that he did not articulate a theory of government per se, he was attuned to the political language of his time, as evidenced by his reframing and redefining of a key early modern leadership virtue: generosity (générosité). Interchangeable with 'magnanimity', generosity was traditionally seen as an inherited virtue of greatness, exclusive to the nobility and guided by a martial conception of masculinity. In short, generosity was entrenched in the hierarchical and patriarchal ideology of early modern France and Europe. In The Passions of the Soul, Descartes counters this outlook by grounding generosity on a metaphysical freedom divinely granted to each human soul equally. Such freedom is the sole necessary condition for acquiring generosity, and this change has important implications for what constitutes 'generous' leadership. Notably, those in possession of Cartesian generosity neither feel intrinsically superior to others, nor value conquest. The article begins with a discussion of previous treatments of generosity in France in the first half of the seventeenth century, followed by an examination of Descartes' groundbreaking account.
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Keywords: Aquinas; Descartes; The Passions of the Soul; Thirty Years' War; free will; generosity; humility; moral character; natural equality; political virtue

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2015

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