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Of Dogs and Men. The «Psychological» and the «Ethical» in Descartes and Spinoza

digital Of Dogs and Men. The «Psychological» and the «Ethical»
in Descartes and Spinoza
issue RIVISTA DI FILOSOFIA NEO-SCOLASTICA - 2020 - 2. Ethica e Passions de l’âme Spinoza con e contro Descartes
title Of Dogs and Men. The «Psychological» and the «Ethical» in Descartes and Spinoza
publisher Vita e Pensiero
format Article | Pdf
online since 07-2020
doi 10.26350/001050_000192
issn 00356247 (print) | 18277926 (digital)
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Descartes’ correspondence with Princess Elisabeth at times reads like a programme for what would later become known as Spinoza’s theory of ethics. Crucial elements in Spinoza, however, such as the notion of beatitude and the idea of internal emotions, link up with Descartes’ Passions de l’âme , rather than with the correspondence – and yet it is on these very subjects that Descartes and Spinoza part ways. Studying in some detail the example of the hunting dog and the accounts of mental change occurring in both authors, this article will argue that Spinoza was able to side-step Descartes’ explanation of mental transformation for the reason that he devoted himself to a completely different issue. Descartes’ focus in Les Passions de l’âme is on negative emotions and behavioral training, whereas Spinoza’s attention in the Ethics is on a remedy of the affects that may yield a naturalistic counterpart to the notion of religious salvation – a difference in philosophical motivation between the two authors that should give us reason to adjust commonplace interpretations of the Descartes-Spinoza controversy.


Elisabeth, acquiescientia, Animal Training, Mental Change, Therapy vs. Salvation

Author biography

Erasmus University Rotterdam. Email: