This volume historicizes the use of the notion of self-interest that at least since Bernard de Mandeville and Adam Smith’s theories is considered a central component of economic theory.
Having in the twentieth century become one of the key-features of rational choice models, and thus is seen as an idealized trait of human behavior, self-interest has, despite Albert O. Hirschman’s pivotal analysis of self-interest, only marginally been historicized. A historicization(s) of self-interest, however, offers new insights into the concept by asking why, when, for what reason and in which contexts the notion was discussed or referred to, how it was employed by contemporaries, and how the different usages developed and changed over time. This helps us to appreciate the various transformations in the perception of the notion, and also to explore how and in what ways different people at different times and in different regions reflected on or realized the act of considering what was in their best interest. The volume focuses on those different usages, knowledges, and practices concerned with self-interest in the modern Atlantic World from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries, by using different approaches, including political and economic theory, actuarial science, anthropology, or the history of emotions.
Offering a new perspective on a key component of Western capitalism, this is the ideal resource for researches and scholars of intellectual, political and economic history in the modern Atlantic World.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Search for Self-Interest and the Problems with its Historicization
Part 1: Creating, Inspiring and Calculating Self-Interest
1. Improvement, Projecting, and Self-Interest in the Hartlib Circle, c. 1640–1660
2. Reckoning Self-Interest at the French Revolutionary Comité des Finances
Part 2: Understanding, Teaching, and Learning about Self-Interest
3. Commercial Sociability and the Management of Self-Interest in Isaac de Pinto’s Letter on Card-Playing
4. The Concept of Self-interest in Eighteenth Century Anthropology and Economic Theory. From Richard Cumberland to Adam Smith
Simone de Angelis
5. The Problem of Embeddedness Revisited. Self-Interest as a Challenge in Ethnographic and Historical Research
Part 3: Embodying, Feeling and Practicing Self-Interest
6. Commercial Desires in a Web of Interest. Dutch Discourses on (Self-)interest, 1600-1830
7. Practical Knowledge of Self-Interest: The Disembedding of Agency in Rural Areas, Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries
Ulrich Pfister and Friederike Scholten-Buschhoff
8. Pursuing Self-Interest: Stock Market Speculation in the Early Twentieth-Century United States
Part 4: Taming Self-Interest, Self-Interest as Limitation
9. Interest as an Enduring Political Problem in Early Modern France
10. Self-Interest, Speculation, and Gambling in Nineteenth-Century America
11. Against Self-interest: The Codification of “Disinterestedness” as an Axiological Operator, in Religion, Aesthetics, and the Ethics of Intellectual Professions
Christine Zabel is Director of the Early Modern Department at the German Historical Institute in Paris, France. She is currently completing a book on the economic and financial history of speculation, especially in early modern France. She is particularly interested in the history of political economy, financial mathematics, the history of knowledge and early modern republicanism(s). She is the author of the book Polis und Politesse. Der Diskurs über das antike Athen in England und Frankreich, 1630–1760 (2016).