Sunday, March 31, 2019


Back Matter | From the Archives of Lapham's Quarterly
René Descartes was born on this day in 1596. In his last published work, The Passions of the Soul, he wrote about the correct amount of wonder one should possess. “It happens much more often that one wonders too much and is astonished, in perceiving things worth considering only a little or not at all, than that one wonders too little. This can entirely eradicate or pervert the use of reason…To prevent excessive wonder there is no remedy but to acquire the knowledge of many things, and to apply oneself to the consideration of all those which may seem most rare and unusual.”
Winter Landscape, Holland, by Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, 1833. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887.

1645 | Holland

Tipping Point

René Descartes
It can be said in particular of wonder that it is useful in making us learn and retain in our memory things we have previously been ignorant of. For we wonder only at what appears rare and extraordinary to us.

And nothing can appear so to us except through our having been ignorant of it or through its being different from things we have known, for it is in virtue of this difference that it is called extraordinary. Now even though something which has been unknown to us may be newly present to our understanding or our senses, we do not on that account retain it in our memory unless the idea we have of it is strengthened in our brain by some passion, or alternatively by the application of our understanding, which our will fixes in a particular state of attention and reflection. And the other passions can serve to make one notice things which appear good or evil, but we just have wonder for ones which appear rare only. Accordingly, we see that those who have no natural inclination to this passion are ordinarily very ignorant.


Summer 2012


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