POLIS 2107 - Passions and Interests: The History of Greed

North Terrace Campus - Semester 2 - 2018

The course attempts to solve the puzzle of how greed was transformed from a Deadly Sin (avarice) to a cool virtue. How could Gordon Gecko manage seduce his audience so easily in the movie Wall Street with his 'Greed is Good' speech? How did we get from there to here? The course will canvas seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century responses to the emergence of market society and will trace the demise of classical, feudal and Renaissance idealism and the emerging 'bourgeois' mentality of the enlightenment era. The transformation of commercial activity from a base occupation to its culmination as a 'calling' is explored as part of an intellectual history of the legitimation of the idea of greed. This history will cover, among other things, an exploration of the following institutions, phenomena and ideas: self-interest; the division of labour; markets; luxury; the proper role of the state: liberalism and its critics; progress; virtue; classical communitarianism, anarchism, utilitarianism, classical political economy, the guaranteed basic income and the Grameen Bank. The course will conclude with a close study of the film Wall Street and a reflection on whether enlightened self-interest is enough to keep societies in motion. Featured thinkers include: Marcus Aurelius, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Mandeville, Adam Smith, Marx, Weber, Hayek, Fukuyama, Singer and van Parjis.

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