Liberty Matters

Mandeville, Honor, Pride, Self-love, and Self-liking Today

Mikko Tolonen’s lead essay, as well as the responses and critiques by Andrea Branchi, Dario Castiglione, and Tolonen again, have been a wonderful opportunity to think, review, and ponder the ways authors like Mandeville and Hayek can enlighten and promote conversations on current topics. Tolonen raises the question when addressing Castiglione’s essay, but it actually underpins all his interventions, and it is a question I believe we should all tackle. The question about the connection between ideas and practice, the “engagement with contemporary issues relevant for current day civil society,” or of “potential contemporary relevance,” or “what this means in our contemporary world” are questions historians of ideas should always keep in mind and address. 
I agree with Tolonen that our common starting point is the view of the Scottish Enlightenment as skeptical sentimentalism where reason alone is not the fundamental building block for understanding the evolutionary process that leads to a sustainable (i.e. peaceful and prosperous) social order. And, I would add, this starting point is one of the features that brings the conversation into the present and makes it relevant to contemporary issues. Specifically, the issue that takes us from Mandeville’s times, passing through Hayek’s, and up to our own, is precisely that of what makes individuals governable, that is, capable of participating in and maintaining a peaceful and prosperous social order. The way this question was dealt with back then linked it directly with moral motivation and so called human nature. Here is where what might appear a semantic discussion becomes relevant, and conversations become somewhat timeless because the discussion helps us explore, for example, why and how people make choices, what inputs they use, and how they process them. I agree with Tolonen that the relevant question today may not be what makes us good or bad but what makes us sociable, political, governable. Or, following Adam Smith’s system of sympathy, we could ask what makes us moral beings, or using apparently old terminology, how is the harmony of interests possible, or in modern parlance, what allows coordination and cooperation in ever growing societies with increasing physical and psychological distance between diverse and heterogeneous human beings. All this has to do with the production and processing of information but also with persuasion and manipulation, or, again in modern parlance, with incentives design. It begins with exploring how we come to believe what we believe about ourselves and others, as individuals and citizens, and about our relationships and interactions with those multiple and diverse others. 
This is what leads to the contemporary interest in Tolonen’s proposal about the politics of self-esteem with honor and pride, but also praise, shame, self-love (amour de soi), and self-liking (amour propre) coming into play. These terms lay the ground for political action and also for the divide between autonomy and independence, and for the artificial as the extension of the evolutionary process that makes grapes into wine. The complexity, nuances, and possibilities these terms bring to the conversation are hardly translatable into models but then again models are, following Mary Morgan’s research, idealizations, constructions, or thinking devices. They are not descriptions. Nevertheless, they can be a guide to assessing the scope and limits of models and what we can and cannot understand by using them. Identity, morality, and beliefs have been explored and make part of recent economic models,[1] but in a Utilitarian vein that misses precisely the core of how passions can be played, and how they model identities and communities. Therefore such models miss what or who is the reference of our social conduct, the criteria by which we judge it, and the thing that leads us to expect certain behaviors from others. 
The difference between the love of oneself and self-liking points at what psychologists and behavioralists have identified as the “locus of control” or how we perceive our capacity to control, transform, and direct our own lives. This difference, associated with the divide between being and appearing to be, marks what the source or the motivation of human action might be, whether it is internal (self-love and being) or external (self-liking and appearing to be). This distinction is a major concern for political action and for any system of incentives hoping to evaluate whether praise or praiseworthiness; pride, honor or vanity; the external bystander (i.e. public opinion); or the internal spectator (i.e. conscience), guide the actions of the members of the social order. 
This connects directly to the question of what makes human beings governable, in the sense of how and to what extent human behavior can be predicted, and thus what is to be expected from each other, and what can be done to guarantee peace and prosperity. The alchemy performed by Rousseau, as Smith described it, on Mandeville’s “licentious system” shows clearly the implications. The distinction between natural and unnatural dependence or between autonomy and independence is derived precisely from taking seriously the effects of self-love and self-liking. The first leads to autonomous individuals who are capable of self-regulation and moved by praiseworthiness.  The latter leads to heteronomous individuals, guided by public opinion and moved by praise. Each member of society lies between these extremes, and the extremes could, eventually, be modeled. But all the shades between black and white could be ignored, the evolutionary process could be hindered, and the artificial would become unnatural. 
Morgan, M.S., (2012). The World in the Model: How Economists Work and Think. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.    
Smith, A., (1982). “A Letter to the Authors of the Edinburgh Review”, in W. P. D. Wightman and J. C. Bryce (eds.), Essays on Philosophical Subjects, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, pp.242-254.
[1.]  See, for example, the multiple articles by Bénabou, Falk and Tirole published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the American Economic Review and the Journal of Economic Perspectives. However, these economists, as most economic modeling associated with Rational Choice Theory, uses Classical Utilitarianism as its inspiration and starting point.