Passion. Passio. The Latin equivalent etymologically considered to the
πάθη in Greek philosophy were therefore what we should
now call the passions, but the force of the term extended somewhat
meant not only mental feeling, but every form of being acted on, as
opposed to acting, every case in which if the subject be the nominative,
a passive not an active verb will be demanded.
Hence Aristotle speaks of the
πάθη of inanimate things.
Generally, however, the term was used to denote mental affections.
Cicero rendered the
πάθη by perturbationes. Augustine tells us that some
used this word, others denoted the same things by affectiones, and
others passiones, which last is the one employed by himself.(1) It has
held its ground, and the passions may be considered the received
psychological term for generic mental affections.
These, however, have been for the most part treated in a limited way. As
they are only distinctly seen and observed when they manifest themselves
forcibly, it is to such forcible manifestation that moral philosophers
have in great measure confined themselves. To this they may have been
further led by Cicero's name for them, perturbationes. But properly
speaking, all mental affection caused by external things, all mental
condition which is not act but being acted on, should be regarded as
It is, however, in pronounced manifestation, as I have said, that these
are distinctly seen, that they are felt to be universal ingredients in
human nature, and that they admit of classification. The rough
enumeration made by Aristotle,(2) has on
the whole been adhered to. One would not look to Collins's Ode for
accurate philosophy, but he gives pretty much the list of passions
commonly recognised. The admission of some mental states into that list
is questionable. Hope seems more of a disposition and frequently even of
a habit than a passion. It exists independently of any present action of
the outward. Love on the other hand, though in part the result of such,
is itself quite as much act as passion.
The passions naturally attract the notice of the philosopher when he
begins to treat of the active powers. This may at first sight seem
strange, inasmuch as passion and action are each other's opposites. But
though the passions are, no doubt, in themselves results upon us, they
are such results as by their very nature lead us into action, even as
the external air entering into and dilating our lungs forces them into
movement. Mere thought stays by itself. Emotion prompts at least to
action if action be within our power. Moving us it stirs us, and each
form of stirring has its appropriate action. The tendency to the action,
and perhaps the comparative ability of its performance, will be as the
strength of the passion. When a man of general capacity is unusually
deficient in the performance of some acts mental or bodily demanding no
more natural power than many not very different in kind in which he
excels, the cause is to be found in an apathy greater than common as regards the matter with which
they are concerned.
In so far as passions are elementary we cannot without blasphemy regard
them as evil. When evil, it is because they are not directed to their
proper objects or are allowed in an unseemly excess. Envy is grief, and
grief for a worthy cause is no sin, but the prosperity, or the
popularity of another, or the admiration bestowed on him, are no fit
objects of the passion. Even fear, one of the basest affections when it
exists to a marked extent, has its legitimate scope in a cautious
conduct. Anger when within bounds is but the right sentiment towards
The word passion is used very commonly in. a limited sense, and is
confined to the one emotion of anger, and a passionate man denotes in
ordinary speech one who is prone to ebullitions of rage. A melancholy
indication of the fact that anger is at once the most frequent and the
strongest and most visible perturbatio among men.
Another use of the word is to denote mere suffering of pain, other
passiones not being taken account of. In this use it is limited to our
Lord and Saviour, of whose Cross and Passion we speak in moments of
ά privative and
πάθος, denotes of course the absence of
passion. Apathy and
apathetic convey in common language the notions of stupidity and sluggishness, and would be ordinarily
regarded as denying activity or energy. It was of course otherwise in
the cases of the ancient Stoics and Pyrrho.
Impassible likewise denotes the absence of passion but further the
insusceptibility of it, and is applied to God, Who must be always
thought of as pure energy or act. It is the word used in the Latin of
Article 1, the English giving us as its equivalent "without passions."
For the sense in which this is to be held, see
(1) AUG. De Civitate Dei, L. IV. c. 4.
(2) Eth. Nic. II. 5.