From Pagan Virtue to Human Virtue: Jacques Esprit

Michael Moriarty

in Disguised Vices

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199589371
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191728808 | DOI:
From Pagan Virtue to Human Virtue: Jacques Esprit

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Jacques Esprit’s La Fausseté des vertus humaines appeared in 1678, when the Maximes had already been in print for several years. Because of this and because he and La Rochefoucauld had ceased collaborating several years before, his work is not often used to throw light on La Rochefoucauld’s: it is dismissed as a tedious Jansenist treatise. In point of fact it is a thorough, and often subtle, analysis not only of pagan virtue but of the values of of contemporary courtiers and aristocrats (so called honnêtes gens), providing careful and shrewd analyses of the driving forces behind apparently virtuous behaviour (self-interest, amour-propre, pride, passion). It blends Aristotelian and Augustinian elements (and even a certain Platonic influence), and does not commit itself to distinctively Jansenist positions: in fact it regards as laudable the pursuit of virtue for its own sake. It does in fact throw light on La Rochefoucauld’s approach to these questions.

Keywords: Esprit; La Rochefoucauld; Aristotle; Plato; Jansenism; motive; self-interest; amour-propre

Chapter.  24766 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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