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Calm and Violent Passions: The Genealogy of a Distinction from Quintilian to Hume

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image of Erudition and the Republic of Letters

While the distinction between the calm and violent passions has been treated by Hume scholars from a number of perspectives relevant to the Scottish philosopher’s thought more generally, little scholarly attention has been paid to this distinction either in the works of Hume’s non-English contemporaries (e.g., the French Jesuit Pierre Brumoy) or in the long rhetorical and literary tradition which often categorized the emotions as either calm or violent. This article examines the long history of the distinction between calm and violent, or mild and vehement, emotions from the classical Roman rhetorical tradition through the Renaissance and into the modern period. In doing so, it provides a partial but substantial genealogy of an important heuristic taxonomy in the history of emotions, while suggesting that the philosophical import of the distinction in the eighteenth century owes something to rhetorical and poetic traditions which are often not considered by historians of philosophy.

Affiliations: 1: University of Western Australia, ; 2: University of Bristol,


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