Vygotsky 1931-32

On Spinoza

Self-Control (excerpt)

From: vol. 4, LSVCW, p. 29, c. 1931.

The philosophical perspective opens before is at this point of our study. For the first time in the process of psychological studies we can resolve essentially purely philosophical problems by means of a psychological experiment and demonstrate empirically the origin of the freedom of human will. We cannot trace in all its completeness the philosophical perspective opening before us here. We expect to do this in another work devotes to philosophy. Now we shall try only to note this perspective in order to see most clearly the place we have reached. We cannot help but note that we have come to the same understanding of freedom and self-control that Spinoza developed in his “Ethics.”

The Teaching about Emotions (excerpt)

From: vol. 6, LSV CW, pp. 221-223, c. 1932.

Now we might amplify this conclusion with yet another new and most significant and important trait, which clearly appears in a comparison of descriptive and explanatory psychology of emotions: in a certain respect, Spinozist teaching actually is much more closely related to explanatory than to descriptive psychology, and this means that it is most likely closer to the hypothesis of Lange, in which the basic principle of explanatory psychology of emotions was expressed most clearly, than to the program of descriptive psychology of feelings outlined by Dilthey. In the argument between causal psychology and teleological psychology, in the argument between the deterministic and nondeterministic conceptions of feelings, in the confrontation between spiritualistic and materialistic hypotheses, Spinoza must be placed on the side of those who defend the scientific conception of human feelings against the metaphysical.

Specifically in this point in which Spinozist teaching on passions approaches explanatory psychology of emotions, it diverges in the most irreconcilable way from descriptive psychology. This time Dilthey and not Lange calls in vain on the name of Spinoza at the very beginning of his program for future investigation. Actually, what can these investigators have in common who consciously revive the teleological and metaphysical conceptions of seventeenth century anthropology against which Spinoza always fought with the strict determinism, causality, and materialism of his system? As we have been indicating, Dilthey brings to the forefront in Spinoza’s teaching the most obsolete, formal, and speculative part turned toward the past, his nomenclature, classification, and definition. Dilthey’s principles are not only not on the path with the great principles of the Spinozist system, but their own path can be continued only through the most fierce struggle against these principles.

After everything that has been said, there can scarcely remain any doubt that in reviving the spiritualistic and teleological principles of the seventeenth century, descriptive psychology in its basic nucleus goes back not to Spinoza, but to Descartes, in whose teaching on passions of the soul it finds its full and true program.

Spinoza is, of course, not with Dilthey and Münsterberg, not with their teaching on autonomous and independent mental life existing exclusively due to system connections and relations of meaning, but with Lange and James in their struggle against unchangeable mental essences, eternal and separate, against conceptions that consider emotions not as human emotions, but as essences, beings, powers, demons which possess man, which are outside the limits of nature. Of course, he never would agree to admitting that mental fear in itself can explain why people grow pale, tremble, etc., and in this Lange is unconditionally correct. He is with those who, like James, consider description and classification to be lower levels in the development of science, and explanation of a causal connection as deeper investigation, investigation of a higher order.

But the complexity of the matter is increased by the fact that, no matter how obvious the fallacy of the attempt to base descriptive psychology of feelings on Spinozist teaching on passions is, in a certain respect, this attempt contains some portion of truth. We tried above to find it in the fact that the problems advanced in descriptive psychology of feelings – the problem of specific features of human feelings, the problem of the vital significance of feelings, the problem of the higher in the emotional life of man – all of these problems, to which explanatory psychology was blind and which, in their nature go beyond the limits of mechanistic interpretation, were actually first posed in full in Spinoza’s teaching on the passions. In this point the Spinozist teaching is actually on the side of the new psychology against the old; it supports Dilthey against Lange.

Thus, we face the final summary, which cannot but confuse us with the extreme complexity of the results it contains. We saw that the line of Spinozist thought finds its historical continuation to some extent in Lange and in Dilthey, that is, in both explanatory and in descriptive psychology of our time. Something of Spinozist teaching is contained in each of these theories that fight with each other. Penetrating to the causal, natural-science explanation of emotions, the James-Lange theory solves one of the central problems of Spinozist materialistic and deterministic psychology at the same time. But even descriptive psychology, as we have seen, advancing to the forefront the problem of the meaning and vital significance of human feelings, also tries to resolve the basic and central problems of Spinozist ethics in this way.

In a few words, we can define the true relation of Spinozist teaching on passions to explanatory and descriptive psychology of emotions, saying that, practically speaking, this teaching on solving the one and only problem, the problem of a deterministic, causal explanation of what is higher in the life of human passions, also partially contains explanatory psychology, retaining the idea of causal explanation but rejecting the problem of the higher in human passions, and descriptive psychology, rejecting the idea of a causal explanation and retaining the problem of the higher in the life of human passions. Thus, forming its deepest and most internal nucleus, Spinoza’s teaching contains specifically what is in neither of the two parts into which contemporary psychology of emotions has disintegrated: the unity of the causal explanation and the problem of the vital significance of human passions, the unity of descriptive and explanatory psychology of feelings.

For this reason, Spinoza is closely connected with the most vital, the most critical news of the day for contemporary psychology of emotions, news of the day which prevails in it, determining the paroxysm of crisis that envelops it. The problems of Spinoza await their solution, without which tomorrow’s day in our psychology is impossible.

But in solving the problem of Spinoza, the explanatory and descriptive psychology of emotions, Lange and Dilthey move away completely from his teaching, and, as we have tried to show above, are wholly contained in Cartesian teaching on the passions of the soul. Thus, the crisis of contemporary psychology of emotions, having disintegrated into two irreconcilable parts that fight against each other, demonstrates for us the historical fate not of Spinozist but of Cartesian philosophical thought. This is apparent most clearly in the basic point that serves as a watershed between explanatory psychology and descriptive psychology on the question of the causal explanation of human emotions.

Actually, we have seen that specifically the Cartesian teaching of Descartes on the passions of the soul contains two independent and equally legitimate parts existing with each other, the strictly deterministic, mechanistic, causal teaching on emotions and the purely spiritualistic, nondeterministic, teleological teaching on intellectual passions. Spiritual and sensual love arise, each from its source: the first, from the free, cognitive need of the soul, and the second, from the nourishment needs of embryonal life. Their connection is so unclear that we understand much more plainly their initial separateness than their short-term coming together and communication. Since spiritual and sensual passions differ sharply from each other, naturally they must become the subject of two completely different kinds of scientific knowledge. The first must be studied as manifestations of independent, free, spiritual activity, the second, as manifestations of human automatism subject to the laws of mechanics. In this, the idea of the separation of explanatory and descriptive psychology of emotions is fully contained, an idea that is assumed by Cartesian teaching with the same inevitability with which the Spinozist teaching on passions assumes the opposite, specifically the unity of explanatory and descriptive psychology of feelings.

Developing the visceral theory of passions, as a nonmediated and direct cause of emotions Descartes advances specific organic states that cause the soul to experience passions. Making use of any kind of good does not contain in itself the feeling of joy as such. But movement of vital spirits flowing from the brain to the muscles and nerves does take on a character from which this feeling must flow. The divergence between Descartes and later representatives of the visceral theory consists only in details. As direct cause of emotion, Descartes considers only changes in internal organs, but not external movements. As Sergi says, one can imagine him speaking with James: our heart does not contract because we are sad, but we experience sadness because our heart contracts. However, he could never say: we experience fear because we flee, we are angry because we hit someone. In this sense, Descartes’ theory agrees more closely with the variant that Lange gave it subsequently, and deviates somewhat from the variant that James developed. But the basic idea of a causal, automatic explanation of passions appears in Descartes’ teaching in all its grandiose dimensions.