Du Gay, Paul
Which is the 'self' in 'self-interest'?
Sociological Review, 53(3) pp. 391–411.
This article contends that homogenisation of the term 'self-interest'– in sociological and economic discourse – has resulted in many misconceptions about what particular doctrines of ‘self-interest’ were instituted to achieve at certain historical periods and in specific cultural milieux. At its worst, the article argues, this has led to a misunderstanding of the import of particular doctrines of self interest,which are read in terms of general tradition – such as that which views self-interested conduct as a natural faculty – rather than in terms of the context specific aims of those advocating them. The article attempts to show how, historically, there have been quite significant changes in the characterisation of the ‘self’ deemed to be ‘self-interested’. In particular, it focuses on the ‘self’ of certain early modern conceptions of self interest, and suggests this creation is best viewed not as a subjectivity transcendentally presupposed by experience, but as one historically cultivated to counter the exigencies of particular circumstances – the disaster of perpetual ‘warre’ in 17th century Europe – and to meet the purposes of a certain way of life – existence in the civitas.
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