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Passions: Healthy or Unhealthy?

Speaker: Louis C. Charland, Partner Investigator (Western University, Canada)
Date: Tuesday 19 July 2016
Time: 10.00am - 1.00pm
Venue: Fourth Floor Linkway Room, John Medley Building, The University of Melbourne
Register: This is a free event but please register here.

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The term and concept ‘passion’ no longer figures in contemporary scientific efforts to understand emotion or other related phenomena in the affective domain. ‘Emotion’ now is the keyword and paradigm theoretical posit of the affective sciences, although ‘feeling’, ‘mood’ and ‘affect’ also play a significant role. The verdict appears to be that ‘passion’ is now a matter of historical interest only, and can otherwise be ignored, although admittedly, the term is sometimes still employed in everyday discourse and some academic research, to refer to very intense and powerful emotional states.

With the help of detailed case studies that range from the history of emotion and the affective sciences to present day psychiatry and psychology, I have argued that this relegation of ‘passion’ to the proverbial ‘dustbin’ of history represents an important loss, not only for the history of ‘emotion’, but also for contemporary science and philosophy. In particular, the omission leaves us without adequate conceptual resources to properly describe and explain the nature and organisation of long term affective states and processes. ‘Passion’ has also proven helpful in understanding the nature of mental disorders such as anorexia nervosa, substance use disorders, gambling and other forms of addiction, as well as healthy long-term life projects that endow life with meaningful activities and purpose.

I argue that we must reinstate ‘passion’ into contemporary science and philosophy. No doubt, this is a call for reform on a grand scale. It is also a telling lesson on the importance of historical studies for present-day science and philosophy – and our common folk psychological understanding of ‘emotion’ in everyday life. Indeed, love and hate, two of the West’s most famous emotions, are better understood as passions rather than emotions.

The purpose of this workshop is to inquire into this distinction between ‘passion’ and ‘emotion’ and explore its significance for contemporary philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, and literary and historical studies. After some introductory remarks, participants will be invited to share their own examples of what they consider to be passions and how these might be judged healthy or unhealthy.

Louis Charland is a CHE International Partner Investigator. He is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy, a joint appointment with the Faculty of Health Sciences and a cross appointment in the Department of Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University in Ontario, Canada. He was previously a member of the Biomedical Ethics Unit and the Clinical Trials Research Group in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, Montreal.

Image credit: Print made by Agostino Veneziano, Two old philosophers holding open books, walking away from each other as if in anger; a windowed niche in background. 1515-1530. © Trustees of the British Museum