2.3 Diderot and the Passions

Thursday, 27. August 2009


The opening words of the Philosophic Thoughts are the keynote to Diderot’s character, according to editor/journalist John Morley (1838-1923) who wrote also the following translation:


“People are for ever declaiming against the passions; they set down to them all the pains that men endures, and quite forget that they are also the source of all his pleasures. It is only passion, and strong passions, that can raise the soul to great things. Sober passions produce only the commonplace. Deadened passions degrade men of extraordinary quality. Constraint annihilates the greatness and energy of nature. See that tree: ’tis to the luxury of its branches that you owe the freshness and the wide-spreading breadth of its shade, which you may enjoy till winter comes to despoil it of its leafy tresses.

An end to all excellence in poetry, in painting, in music, as soon as superstition has once wrought upon human temperament the effect of old age! It is the very climax of madness to propose to oneself the ruin of the passions. A fine design truly in your pietist, to torment himself like a convict in order to desire nothing, love nothing, feel nothing; and he would end becoming a true monster, if he were to succeed!”


Yes, that’s typical Diderot, that’s him all over…

Btw, nothing wrong with following our very strong passions, no matter what,

or is this too romantic and have we become cynics instead…

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