The Mechanics of Passions: Brain, Behaviour, and Society

AHP readers may be interested in a newly translated book, The Mechanics of Passions: Brain, Behaviour, and Society by Alain Ehrenberg (translated by Craig Lund). The book is described as follows:

Cognitive neuroscience, once a specialized area of psychology and biology, has enjoyed increased worldwide legitimacy in the last thirty years not only in psychiatry and mental health, but also in fields as diverse as education, economics, marketing, and law. How can this surge in popularity be explained? Has the new science of human behaviour now become the barometer of our conduct and our lives, taking the place previously occupied by psychoanalysis?

Rather than asking if neuronal man will replace social man or how to surmount the opposition between the biological and the social, The Mechanics of Passions uncovers hidden relationships between global social ideals and specialized concepts of neuroscience and cognitive science. Proposing a historical sociology situated in the dual contexts of the history of sciences and the history of self-representation, Alain Ehrenberg describes the conditions through which cognitive neuroscience has developed and acquired a strong moral authority in our individualistic society permeated by ideas, values, and norms of autonomy.

Cognitive neuroscience offers the promise of turning personal limitations into assets by exploring an individual’s “hidden potential.” The Mechanics of Passions identifies this as the echo of social ideals of autonomy, affirming that the moral authority of cognitive neuroscience stems as much from cultural norms as from any results of scientific or medical experimentation.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The New Science of Human Behaviour | 3

1 Exemplary Brains: From the Misfortunes of the Practical Subject to the Heroism of Hidden Potential | 14
2 Scientific Method and Individualist Ideals: Converting Passions, from the Scottish Enlightenment to New Individualism | 50
3 The Brain-as-Individual, a Physiology of Autonomy | 93
4 Social Neuroscience, or How the Individual Acts with Others | 129
5 Exercises in Autonomy: Individualist Rituals to Reconstruct One’s Moral Being? | 161
6 Is It My Ideas or My Brain That Is Making Me Sick? Neuroscience and Self-Knowledge | 198

Conclusion: The Brain’s Place
From the Neuronal Being to the Total Being | 232

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.