Comte, Altruism and the Critique of Political Economy

This paper is about Comte’s conception of altruism, and the role played by this new concept in his critique to political economy. In the first section, the paper considers how selfish behaviour, or egoism, became treated as a major threat endangering the creation of industrial society by those concerned about the diffusion of political economy. Then, the paper summarizes the methodological critique set forth in the Cours, before connecting this critique to the economic content of the Système and the concept of altruism. In the final section, the paper contrasts Spencer’s view of altruism to that held by Comte, and then considers the reaction of French political economists, defending the moral value of their science.

The author

Philippe Steiner est professeur de sociologie à l’université Paris-Sorbonne et membre de l’Institut universitaire de France. Chercheur au GEMASS, il conduit ses recherches sur la sociologie économique et l’histoire des sciences sociales. Il a récemment publié en collaboration avec Caroline Oudin-Bastide, Calcul et morale. Le coût de l’esclavage et la valeur de l’émancipation (Albin Michel, 2015) et a co-dirigé avec Marie Trespeuch Marchés contestés. Quand le marché rencontre la morale (Presses universitaires du Mirail, 2015).

The text

This text was written in the frame of the GEMASS (Groupe d’étude des méthodes de l’Analyse sociologique de la Sorbonne) and was submitted to History of Political Economy.
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