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.