Some of the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment, in particular David Hume and Adam Smith, believed to have found one single philosophical foundation that marked the entire process of creation of modern man and through which one could explain the anthropological basis, the ethical and social vision and the economic construction of the newborn industrial society. Such foundation was represented by the concept of “empathy” which not only tied men to one-another by establishing a form of common knowledge, but also bond individuals to society in moral terms. Notwithstanding this, these authors were well aware that one important problem remained i.e. the true basis of everything still were individualism and interest, which moved man in every initiative and through which the division of labour and the creation of wealth were enticed; yet, such an attitude undeniably went against the interests of others – and by such a token the entire anti-hobbesian construction was called into question [Hirschmann, The Passions and the Interests]. Smith himself stressed this incurable dualism:
In civilised society [man] stands at all times in need of the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes, while his whole life is scarce sufficient to gain the friendship of a few persons. In almost every other race of animals each individual, when it is grown up to maturity, is entirely independent, and in its natural state has occasion for the assistance of no other living creature. But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens.
In his criticism to the ’’homo oeconomicus” and to the “Robinsonaden”, which classical economy was forced to use, Marx condemned this dualism and sought its causes in the assumption of the inevitable and natural development of the modern world as a bourgeois-capitalistic society. In the twentieth century such criticism become quite widespread; Karl Polanyi's remarks on the naturalness of competitive market [The Great Transformation]; Louis Dumont's critique to liberal and liberistic individualism; the re-thinking of the theme of individualism in the scientific and philosophical terms of the “process of individualization” [Simondon and Deleuze]; the neurobiological researches on “mirror neurons”[Rizzolatti]; the studies by Amartya Sen, moving from Adam Smith's concept of prudence and leading to a new “theory of justice” and, finally, the conclusions recently drawn by Rifkin on the “Empathic Civilization”, all show the importance of the Enlightenment’s understanding of empathy in today's world.
We welcome proposals of no more than 500 words to the panel convenors by the 26th of January 2011 at the latest:
Vittorio Dini: email@example.com
Matthew D’Auria: firstname.lastname@example.org
Department of Political and Social Studies
University of Salerno
Via Ponte don Melillo - Fisciano 84084(SA)
Italy Email: email@example.com
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