DISINTERESTEDNESS AND VIRTUE: 'PURE LOVE' IN FENELON, ROUSSEAU AND GODWIN

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Abstract:

This paper examines the conception of disinterested love, pur amour, advocated by the Archbishop of Cambrai, Francois Fenelon, and its role in the thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau andWilliam Godwin.We argue that for Fenelon, Rousseau, and Godwin, virtue is, or follows directly from, a form of love stripped of self-interest. Hence, virtuous activity is performed without either hope of reward or fear of punishment and sometimes with no reference to the self at all. At the same time, this disinterested love re-identifies the self with something beyond, whether this is friends, God, the common weal, or utility. We demonstrate that Rousseau and Godwin adopted a specifically Fenelonian conception of disinterested love by considering the particular use they make of Fenelon's works, and, indeed, their references to him as a person. Interestingly, the logic of disinterestedness propels quite disparate thoughts about political life: for Fenelon the virtue is preeminently religious, and lawgivers and monarchs should exemplify and perpetuate pur amour; Rousseau's version is reconceptualised psychologically and reoriented such that it demands democratic politics, while for Godwin disinterestedness becomes a personal moral issue, actually requiring the dissolution of politics and government.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Email: r.lamb@ex.ac.uk

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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