FR 390L • Selfishness and/as Virtue: 1650-1810
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
The overarching aim of this course is to examine the sources and consequences of what was an overwhelming tendency within French Enlightenment literature and thought to posit that selfishness is the motivating force behind all moral action. As such, it will relate the revalorization of amour-propre by thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Holbach, Diderot, Voltaire and Condillac to both earlier and contemporaneous attacks on all forms of self-interest, such as those leveled by Pascal, Fénelon, Racine and Rousseau. Throughout the course we will be elucidating the precise stakes and claims of discussions concerning self-interest in Enlightenment moral discourse through an analysis of both literary and philosophical texts. In the process we will consider the extent to which such discussions may be read as both a response and a challenge to the decidedly religious tenor of prevailing seventeenth-century discussions of morality. The course concludes with works by Madame de Staël, Benjamin Constant, Kant and Nietzsche. These texts will enable us to specify how later thinkers in both France and Germany continued the debate regarding the relation of self-interest to human moral impulse.
One 10 to 15-minute oral presentation. Weekly written response papers (approx. one page). One seminar paper (15 to 20 pages).