Tuesday, 12 October 2010

From "les calculs personnels" to "vivre pour autrui"

It must surely be one of the great ironies of the history of the social sciences that the man who brought the world positivism, which itself was to inspire a more logical and mathematical approach to economics, with the emergence of Homo Economicus as the exclusively self-interested model of human behaviour, later in life so utterly rejected from a moral point of view any human instinct based on "les calculs personnels".  In Auguste Comte's later period of intellectual development, this is exactly what he proposed, popularising the term altruism in doing so.  Quite some going to be the man who was one of the intellectual forefathers of Homo Economicus and later recommended altruism as the moral compass of humanity.  Over a hundred years later George Price appeared to finally synthesise the early and later Comte by deriving a mathematical equation which demonstrated the conditions under which altruism could be expected from a population of organisms supposed to be operating under a gene-centric self-interest.  Unfortunately in his own life, Price's success in his personal attempt to "...deaden the personal passions and propensities by desuetude" worked only too well - he gave all his possessions to homeless people, then finally committed suicide. 

Monday, 4 October 2010

Mill's Social Statics = Comte's Social Dynamics (with some variables held constant)

"...it might be thought that the proper mode of constructing a positive Social Science must be by deducing it from the general laws of human nature, using the facts of history merely for verification. Such, accordingly, has been the conception of social science by many of those who have endeavoured to render it positive, particularly by the school of Bentham. M. Comte considers this as an error. We may, he says, draw from the universal laws of human nature some conclusions (though even these, we think, rather precarious) concerning the very earliest stages of human progress, of which there are either no, or very imperfect, historical records. But as society proceeds in its development, its phaenomena are determined, more and more, not by the simple tendencies of universal human nature, but by the accumulated influence of past generations over the present. The human beings themselves, on the laws of whose nature the facts of history depend, are not abstract or universal but historical human beings, already shape and made what they are, by human society. This being the case, no powers of deduction could enable any one, starting from the mere conception of the Being Man, placed in a world such as the earth may have been before the commencement of human agency, to predict and calculate the phaenomena of his development such as they have in fact proved. If the facts of history, empirically considered, had not given rise to any generalizations, a deductive study of history could never have reached higher than more or less plausible conjecture"  (J.S. Mill)