Zukinos Views View Edit History. Lettres de Ninon de Lenclos. This applies to U. Public domain Public domain false false.
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Secondary Sources 1. Her family was philosophically divided. A devout Catholic, her mother attempted to raise the precocious daughter according to the strict moral standards of Counter-Reformational Catholicism. A neo-Epicurean, her father introduced her to a more skeptical world outlook and to a libertine code of ethics. A child prodigy, Ninon de Lenclos enchanted Parisian salons with her mastery of the lute and clavichord.
She mastered multiple foreign languages, including Spanish and Italian. A voracious reader, she maintained a life-long affection for her favorite philosopher, Montaigne. During her many public affairs, she became the mistress of numerous prominent men. Cardinal Richelieu counted among one of her spurned petitioners. Queen Anne of Austria, regent of France, placed Lenclos under house arrest at the Convent of the Madelonnettes in Thanks to the intervention of the exiled Christine, Queen of Sweden, who visited Lenclos in her convent cell, Lenclos was quickly freed from the convent and returned to her life as a courtesan.
Numerous women also participated in the salon. Lenclos impressed her guests with her wit and her defense of a life devoted to the pursuit of refined pleasure without conventional religious restraints. To the outrage of the devout, she presented lectures on love, with detailed counsels on romantic conquest and disentanglement. Female students were admitted for free; male students paid tuition. A generous patron of authors in need, she provided the young Voltaire with a substantial gift for the purchase of books in her will and testament.
Works The major extant philosophical work of Lenclos is found in her correspondence. First published in , these letters express her views on aging and death. A pamphlet, The Coquette Avenged, has long been attributed to her. This brief work defends the possibility of a virtuous life independent of all formal religious influence. Contemporary literary scholars doubt that Lenclos is the actual author of this work, but it does express the secularist moral philosophy which characterized Lenclos and her inner salon circle.
Epicurean Philosophy Throughout her career, Lenclos declared herself a disciple of Epicurus. Wealth, power, honor, and virtue contribute to our happiness, but the enjoyment of pleasure, let us call it voluptuousness, to sum up everything in a word, is the true aim and purpose to which all human acts are inclined. Letter to the modern Leontium For Lenclos, the activity of love is the clearest human manifestation of the fundamental inclination to maximize pleasure and to minimize pain.
Rather than the virtues, it is the passions which dominate the human will in its moral choices. Natural inclination determines psychological interaction as surely as it does the physical interaction of bodies.
In exploring the romantic pursuit of pleasure, Lenclos argues for the fundamental equality and reciprocity between the genders. Theory of Love The sentiment of love is predominantly an instinct. It is a passion which owes little to reason. It is an appetite which one has for one object in preference to another. One is not able to provide reasons for why one has this particular taste LMDS no. Lenclos stresses the sensate nature of love. The stereotyped practices of the lover indicate the sensual nature of the passion and its associated states.
The obsessions common to the state of love indicate its sensate framework. The attempt to tie the phenomenon of love to human reason leads to illusion.
Especially damaging is the effort to refine love according to the canons of chivalry. If you attempt to walk in the footsteps of our ancient heroes of the romances and attempt to develop great and restrained sentiments, you will soon discover that this alleged heroism only turns love into a sad and occasionally lethal folly.
Love in fact is fanaticism. If you separate it from the romantic baggage public opinion has added to it, it will soon give you its proper sort of pleasure and happiness. Divorced from its distinctive emotive violence, love would disappear and deteriorate into simple affection based on convenience or calculation.
Love also eludes moral subordination. It is basically an amoral passion. The characterization of the moral character of an amorous experience is the responsibility of the moral agent who has undergone it.
Only those who have been affected by it can decide whether it is good or evil LMDS no. Despite efforts to subordinate love to virtue, love will govern even the most virtuous person as the natural instinct which it is.
Oh, you mortals, who rely so much on the power of your virtue! No matter how great your strength may be, there are moments when the most virtuous person becomes the weakest. The reason for this strange fact is that nature is always pursuing us. It is always aiming to achieve its ends. The desire for love in a woman is a substantial part of her natural constitution; her virtue has only been patched on LMDS no.
The effort to present love as a virtue masks the fundamental fact that love is a natural instinct, accountable to neither intellect nor will.
Since love can be explained by natural causation, it should be the object of neither praise nor blame. It is no more moral or immoral than the human instinct toward hydration and nutrition. I would rather have you speculate on whether it is good or bad to be thirsty, or whether it should be forbidden to give someone a drink just because some people might end up inebriated LMDS no.
Like other natural impulses, sexual desire should be discussed in an objective, non-moral way. The possible distortions of this impulse should not lead to a moral censure of it or an attempt to repress it. Echoing Descartes , Lenclos perceives amorous desire as the reflex reactions of the body-machine to external stimuli. Connected to our emotions is our basic physical machinery. This machinery is the ultimate and necessary cause of love LMDS no.
Ethics of Pleasure According to Lenclos, love is only the highest of goods in the hierarchy of pleasures which human beings pursue. It pulls us out of our routines and stirs us up. It is love which satisfies one of our most urgent needs LMDS no. Herein lies the authentic path of human happiness. Although love represents the highest pleasure known to the mature adult, it is a complex pleasure, often bearing concomitant pain.
Personally, I have always believed that those lovers who try to keep themselves within reasonable bounds are not completely in love. Can we really be in love without permitting ourselves to be pushed on by the fire of a consuming impetuosity, without experiencing all the commotion it necessarily causes?
No, without any doubt LMDS no. The mental and physical anguish provoked by the experience of authentic love is only a necessary dolor intrinsic to the greater pleasure of love itself.
In fact, this violent moodiness constitutes one of the darker pleasures for the connoisseurs of sophisticated passion. The contemporary Frenchwoman suffers from two social desires springing from romantic love: the desire to make her romantic conquest known by others and the desire to avoid censure by society.
A woman is always trying to balance two irreconcilable passions which continually agitate her soul: the desire to please and the fear of dishonor. You can easily recognize our embarrassment. On the one hand, we are consumed with the desire to have an audience to notice the effect of our charms….
We would like the entire world to witness the favors we encounter and the homage paid to us…. We enjoy the despair of our rivals and the indiscretions which betray the sentiments we inspire in others.
We are delighted in proportion to the extent of the misery they suffer…. But such sweet pleasures bring great bitterness…. A sober and reasonable woman always prefers her reputation to romantic celebrity LMDS no. The social context of love in the era of the salon complicates its mixed pleasures. The pleasure of sexual conquest contests the more sober pleasure of social esteem.
In her defense of an ethics of pleasure, Lenclos criticizes the dominant ethics of virtue. Led by the Platonists, philosophers have long mistakenly transformed the natural inclination of love, dominated by the axis of pain and pleasure, into the moralized field of virtue and vice.
Is vice ever more seductive than when it wears the cloak of virtue? In order to corrupt virtuous souls, it is sufficient for the alleged vice of love to appear in potential form.
The Platonists deified love in an idealized form. In every age, in order to justify the passions, it was necessary to apotheosize them. What am I saying here? Am I so forward as to play the iconoclast with a prestigious superstition? Such temerity! Both the condemnation of love as a vice and the exaltation of Platonic love to a virtue mask the material origins and nature of the amatory impulse.
The contemporary morals of love occult the amoral nature of this mechanical inclination and delude moral agents into the censure of all carnal romance or into the pursuit of an impossibly rarified love emptied of all passion. In her critique of the ethics of virtue, Lenclos attacks the moral asceticism that has long distorted the practice of love in France.
Both Christianity and philosophy bear responsibility for the refusal to accord pleasure its natural rights in the human experience of love. How I pity our good ancestors! What they thought was a mortal weariness and a melancholic madness we consider a joyous folly and a delightful delirium. They were fools. They preferred the austerities of deserts and rocks to the pleasures of a garden bursting with flowers. The habit of reflection has visited such prejudices upon us LMDS no.
Christian and philosophical asceticism has not only attempted to eradicate sexual pleasure by considering love as a vice; it has turned all the pleasures of civilization into a temptation to be shunned in favor of the hermit-like illusions of the desert.
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