La Rochefoucauld: The Reduction of the Virtues

Michael Moriarty

in Disguised Vices

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199589371
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191728808 | DOI:
La Rochefoucauld: The Reduction of the Virtues

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Central to La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes is the repeated demonstrated that a given behaviour-pattern, usually classified as a virtue, can or should be attributed to some cause that is not a virtue. It may be due to self-interest (and contrary to the Ciceronian tradition La Rochefoucauld regards glory as an object of self-interest quite as much as material advantage); it may be due to vanity or pride; it may be due to amour-propre (which sometimes seems more akin to self-interest, sometimes to pride); it may be due to passion. The concept of amour-propre helps La Rochefoucauld analyse not only why we behave as we do, but why we fail to understand why we behave as we do. The conclusion discusses the implications of this reductive analysis: does it render all talk of virtue irrelevant, or does it imply a distinction between virtue as a recognizable behaviour-pattern and virtue as an ideal?

Keywords: La Rochefoucauld; self-interest; glory; amour-propre; pride; vanity; passion

Chapter.  15015 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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