Colloquium: Self-love in German moral psychology after Rousseau: the case of Goethe

On reading Emile in 1767, Goethe became a convinced Rousseauian. Accordingly, his conception of self-love has a Rousseauian structure. Goethe retains Rousseau’s distinction between positive Selbstliebe (amour de soi) and negative Eigenliebe (amour-propre), as well as the axiomatic Rousseauian view that modern civilization was vitiated by Eigenliebe. Therefore the type of self-love that is most apparent to our everyday experience, as modern civilized humans, is Eigenliebe, not Selbstliebe. However, Goethe was not a blind devotee of Rousseau. His theory of self-love is part of his own theory of moral sentiments which is both determinedly naturalistic (pace Rousseau and Kant) and non-behaviorist (pace Hume). In agreement with sceptics like August Wilhelm Rehberg, Goethe holds that reason, even if it can posit the highest moral law, cannot discover the lower-order moral properties that we really need in everyday practice, nor can reason move us to act morally. Instead he grounds moral decisions and action in our pre-conscious personal identity and authenticity. It is out of this concern with the authentic person that his notion of moral character emerges, which belongs to a tradition of virtue ethics reaching back to Aristotle and forward to the ethics of human flourishing and authenticity of G. E. M. Anscombe and Bernard Williams.

Prof. dr. Matthew Bell
(King’s College, London)

All are welcome!

Date: Thursday 12 March, 15.00-17.00
Location: Stijlkamer (0.06), Janskerkhof 13, Utrecht

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