Can Private Vice Produce Public Virtue?
Citation (APA): Capizzi, J. (2016). Can Private Vice Produce Public Virtue? [Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
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Can Private Vice Produce Public Virtue? By Joseph Capizzi
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Some philosophers, notably Bernard Mandeville, claimed that vices such as avarice, pride, and vanity are necessary for a well-functioning economy— and a well-functioning economy, they argued, is critical to the public good.
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For centuries, many thinkers in the West agreed with certain classical Greek and Roman authors who saw a link between private (or personal) virtue and the public good, between the health of the soul and that of the city. In Book II of Plato’s Republic, for example, Socrates draws an analogy between man’s justice and the justice of the polis.
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As Socrates explains to his interlocutor: “Recall the general likeness between the city and the man,
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Many of the great thinkers of the Christian theological and philosophical traditions, including both Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, agreed in the main with this account of how private virtue is connected to the public good.
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TOMMASO E AGO
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The political theorist David Miller begins his wonderful Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (2003) by musing on the fourteenth-century fresco series by Ambrogio Lorenzetti called The Allegory of Good and Bad Government. Emerging from the classical tradition, Lorenzetti takes for granted that the moral characters of both rulers and subjects are deeply connected.
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Fear dominates the vicious city: “a city under military occupation, and a barren countryside devastated by ghostly armies,”
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“Luxury,” Bernard Mandeville wrote in 1705, “employ’d a million of the Poor, and odious Pride a Million more.”
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IL LUSSO FA LAVORARE
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Mandeville’s long poem The Grumbling Hive: or, Knaves Turn’d Honest defended vice against the moralism of English political ideology famously expressed by Jonathan Swift, among others.
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MANDEVILLE VS SWIFT
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Envy itself, and Vanity, Were Ministers of Industry;
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But this is merely one half of Mandeville’s account. If an abundance of certain vices can lead to paradise, an abundance of certain virtues leads to despair and poverty.
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Unable to protect itself and unmotivated towards industry, art, or craft, the hive relocates to the hollow of a tree to live
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ARTI MANUFATTI E GENIO
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Later Enlightenment philosophers, including Adam Smith and David Hume, would echo and elaborate on Mandeville’s ideas.
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First, recent economic developments may suggest the unsustainability of ever-increasing patterns of consumption. This is only partly a claim about environmental degradation.
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Second, even advocates of the Mandevillian approach praise the older virtues, whether implicitly or explicitly. This we might call the “eternal return of virtue.”
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LE VITÙ BORGHESI
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Rulers and lawmakers would encourage people to behave in these now “virtuous” ways, while genuinely vicious people— pursuing their self-interest to the point of cruelty toward others— would break these laws and harm the public good.
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Was de Mandeville being polemical when he claimed that “vice” is the basis of the public good?
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Yes, he was being polemical; he was challenging a dominant view
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But as Machiavelli stated, a prince can’t use evil all the time but only when there are emergencies such as when a nation is being founded, to abolish corruption, and to banish obstreperous elements and mass migration invasions when necessary.
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MACHIAVELLI E IL MALE NECESSARIO
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Was Truman evil in using an A-bomb on Japan? Was Churchill evil in allowing the German bombing of the English City of Coventry instead of evacuating the city
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POLITICA E MALE
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Think of the family: in a family, a true community by almost any consideration, parents have obligations and privileges that children do not.
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GOVERNO E GENITORI
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The political philosopher Michael Walzer has written a great deal on this. He calls it the “problem of dirty hands,” and no doubt he and you are right that those in authority often dirty their hands with evil acts.
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Mandeville has not made an argument, he has observed a fact.
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Modern developments have not challenged that, on the contrary they have reinforced it. “unsustainability” arguments are Malthusian nonsense– that even Malthus ultimately rejected.
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SVILUPPO INSOSTENIBILE: CONCETTO MALTHUSIANO
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Steve Jobs has done more to improve the world than Mother Theresa. That offends our values, but it is still true.
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STEVE JOBS MADRE TERESA
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Does the classical view you describe make any sense in a pluralistic context, where different citizens (or communities of citizens) may have different, sometimes conflicting, conceptions of “virtue”?
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PLURALISMO E CLASSICITÀ
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From a Christian perspective, it sounds like the world you describe does not take into consideration the Fall.
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PECCATO E VIZIO
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Arguably, couldn’t it be the case that something like Mandeville’s view is the best we can hope for in a fallen state, when people are vicious by nature?
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SISTEMA IDEALE X IL PECCATORE
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You’re right if you’re suggesting that despite the “virtues” of good governance, sin will still occur and no society will be absent its influence.
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Mandeville’s account, in my view, is parasitic on virtue. All the productivity of the hive he champions really is explicable not in terms of vice but of virtue, even in imperfect men and women. Because most shopkeepers are not actually motivated by selfishness (vice) but by some real good (e.g., the desire to bake good pizza, or interest in taking apart and fixing cars, or love of teaching— all virtues),
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CONTROLETTURA DI MANDEVILLE
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Could a vicious leader produce a virtuous society?
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VIZIOSITÀ DELLA POLITICA
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Yes, Allan, but despite himself.
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as the just state requires the emergence of a Platonic guardian king, I think it’s fair to say the Republic is more so about the process of a just individual.
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