Taming the superlative, embedding the comparative : a form of subjectivation for a post growth society

  • Adam Smith formulated a fundamental critique of economic growth in his philosophical oeuvre The Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in the year 1759. What might seem to be irony concerning the history of ideas – irony in the sense of the exclamation “he of all people” – is actually not irony at all. Smith wrote a substantial review of Rousseau’s Second Discourse, referring to Rousseau’s critique of commercial society. Additionally, one of the principal topics of Rousseau’s critique, the deformation of fundamental needs to passions in service of the satisfaction of self-love, is a major subject in Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. But whereas Rousseau suggests egalitarian politics, Smith proposes individual stoicism: “In ease of body and peace of mind, all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar, who suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security which kings are fighting for.” Nevertheless, both authors and analysts of pre-capitalist society identify the difference between fundamental needs and desires as having been born out of comparison as both a source of unhappiness and of economic development.

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Author:Dagmar Comtesse
Parent Title (English):Normative orders working paper : Normative Orders, Cluster of Excellence at Goethe University Frankfurt, Main ; 2015, 02
Series (Serial Number):Normative orders working paper : Normative Orders, Cluster of Excellence at Goethe University Frankfurt, Main (2015, 02)
Document Type:Working Paper
Date of Publication (online):2015/12/03
Year of first Publication:2015
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2015/12/03
Tag:Comparative; Rousseau; Society; Subjectivation; Superlative
Page Number:18
Talk at the Conference "Good Life Beyond Growth" in Jena, May 21-23, 2015.
Institutes:Philosophie und Geschichtswissenschaften / Geschichtswissenschaften
Exzellenzcluster / Exzellenzcluster Die Herausbildung normativer Ordnungen
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 33 Wirtschaft / 330 Wirtschaft
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung-Nicht kommerziell-Keine Bearbeitung 3.0