Most writers on the emotions
and on human conduct seem to be treating
rather of matters outside nature than of natural phenomena following
nature's general laws.
They appear to conceive man to be situated in
nature as a kingdom within a kingdom: for they believe that he disturbs
rather than follows nature's order, that he has absolute control over his
actions, and that he is determined solely by himself. They attribute human
infirmities and fickleness, not to the power of nature in general, but to
some mysterious flaw in the nature of man, which accordingly they bemoan,
deride, despise, or,
as usually happens, abuse: he, who succeeds in
hitting off the weakness of the human mind more eloquently or more acutely
than his fellows, is looked upon as a seer.
Still there has been no lack
of very excellent men (to whose toil and industry I confess myself much
indebted), who have written many noteworthy things concerning the right
way of life, and have given much sage advice to mankind. But no one, so
far as I know, has defined the nature and strength of the
the power of the mind against them for their restraint.
I do not forget, that the illustrious Descartes, though he believed,
that the mind has absolute power over its actions, strove to explain human
emotions by their primary causes, and, at the same time, to point out a
way, by which the mind might attain to absolute dominion over them.
However, in my opinion, he accomplishes nothing beyond a display of the
acuteness of his own great intellect, as I will show in the proper place.
For the present I wish to revert to those,
who would rather abuse or
deride human emotions
than understand them. Such persons will, doubtless
think it strange that I should attempt to treat of human vice and folly
geometrically, and should wish to set forth with rigid reasoning those
matters which they cry out against as repugnant to
absurd, and dreadful.
However, such is my plan.
Nothing comes to pass in
nature, which can be set down to a flaw therein; for nature is always the
same, and everywhere one and the same in her efficacy and
power of action;
that is, nature's laws and
ordinances, whereby all things come to pass and
change from one form to another, are everywhere and always the same; so
that there should be one and the same method of
understanding the nature
of all things whatsoever, namely, through nature's
universal laws and rules.
Thus the passions
envy, and so on, considered in
themselves, follow from this same
and efficacy of nature; they
answer to certain definite causes, through which they are understood, and
possess certain properties as worthy of being known as the properties of
anything else, whereof the contemplation in itself affords us delight. I
shall, therefore, treat of the nature and strength of the
according to the same method, as I employed heretofore in my
investigations concerning God and the
mind. I shall consider human actions
and desires in exactly the same manner, as though I were concerned with
lines, planes, and solids.