Jump to content

Hume’s Passions: the Amorous Passion

Hume writes about the composition of the amorous passion, at last:

The amorous passion is usually compounded of complacency in beauty, a bodily appetite, and friendship or affection. The close relation of these sentiments is very obvious, as well as their origin from each other, by means of that relation. Were there no other phaenomenon to reconcile as to the present theory, this alone, methinks, were sufficient.

David Hume, Dissertations of the Passions, section III, §7

Once again, Hume executes his demonstration through sufficient reason. Following Ockham’s razor, given two satisfying explanations, he will always prefer the simplest and most evident one.

(Hume is not totally against the precepts of rationalism; he is just pragmatic enough to use a fair amount of reason—never at the expense of feelings.)

Similar sensations, the pleasant ones for instance, produce one another, by association.

Hume notes that the pleasure of affection is accompanied by that of touch, especially when there is beauty (or necessarily when there is beauty?).

Is there an order of causality between these three elements? Beauty first, bodily envy after, and then affection, or does affection cause the desire of touching? Hume does not go that far, simply noticing that the amorous passion operates through this main triad of association, of mutual reinforcement. Hugging allows demonstrating affection, or simply to respond to the “calling of the skin,”1 or even to just move closer to what is beautiful.

Does the absence of one of these elements leave a hole in the passion? Is a passion without the carnal component, or even a “platonical” one, doomed to inferiority in comparison to a bodily one? Hume always invites us to listen to our senses; and the sense of touching is a pleasant one, it contributes to the amorous passion, we couldn’t neglect it—especially from a philosophical point of view.


  1. On this expression (freely translated from French), see Roland Barthe’s A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977) Paris, Seuil, p. 81. (Thanks to Julia for the detailed reference.) ↩︎