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Rochefoucault has very well remarked, that absence destroys weak passions, but encreases strong; as the wind extinguishes a candle, but blows up a fire. Long absence naturally weakens our idea, and diminishes the passion: But where the passion is so strong and lively as to support itself, the uneasiness, arising from absence, encreases the passion, and gives it new force and influence.

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

Hume notes that absence may have two opposite effects, depending on the intensity of the passion: it may, with the passage of time, erase a moderate passion, or increase an intense passion1.

The second case presents an interest in particular: the separation of two lovers brings an increase of intensity to the passion, despite the “uneasiness” caused by such absence. We imagine that the reunion is pleasant, but Hume goes further: this uneasiness brings “new force and influence.” What does he mean by that? What reasons can explain this? Hume gives no explanation, contempt with his mere observations.

We can deduct that there is a good form of uneasiness: uneasiness which, during an absence, would allow, at the time of the reunion, increasing an already strong affection.

It is therefore good for lovers to be kept at a distance for some time (a day? a week? which periodicity?), even if this time of being away may be uncomfortable. The resulting passion will (possibly) be greater.

  1. Thus, there is a threshold of the passions at which the absence switches effect—what is this threshold, how to we know it, Hume does not say. ↩︎