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A fatal attraction? Smith's ‘theory of moral sentiments’ and Mandeville's ‘fable’

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I will point out that Mandeville makes a fundamental distinction between ‘self-love’ and ‘self-liking’; ‘self-love’ being the immediate orientation towards our self-preservation and ‘self-liking’ being comparative: it is our inclination to overrate ourselves in comparison with others. We are more or less conscious that we overestimate ourselves and for this reason we constantly have to nourish our ‘self-liking’. To do this we even have sometimes to conquer our ‘fear of death’ (self-love), e.g. when we commit suicide to avoid shame. The presupposition that mankind according to Mandeville is consistently motivated by ‘self-interest’ apparently is in need of quite a few adjustments. This implies, further, that a difference between Mandeville and Hobbes becomes manifest, which undermines the supposition of their basic similarity. This is clearly illustrated by the suicide example: in the Hobbesian world suicide can only be understood as a sort of mental disease. After all, a suicide acts against the principle of self-preservation. In the Mandevillean world committing suicide belongs to the same category of phenomena as brave behaviour during wars and fighting a duel: in all of these cases the ‘fear of shame’ (self-liking) conquers the ‘fear of death’ (self-love).
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Keywords: Hobbes; Mandeville; self-liking; self-love; suicide

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Nijmegen.

Publication date: 1995-02-01

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