Private Vices, Public Virtues

Written on October 29, 2007 by Arantza de Areilza in Arts & Cultures & Societies, Literature, Philosophy

(Click here for this post in Spanish)

Arantza de Areilza


In these shadowy days of national and international politics, the memory comes to me of the figure Bernard de Mandeville, doctor and philosopher, of Dutch origins and his great work “The Fable of the Bees” situated in the England at the beginning of the 18th century. 

This context of historic upheaval, marked by the dethroning of James II of England by William of Orange-Nasseau in the revolution of 1688, the stir caused by the death of Ann Stuart, daughter of James II, the ascension to the throne of the House of Hanover in 1714, the continuing strength acquired by the Jacobites which seemed to threaten the stability of England, and the bankruptcy of religious legitimacies since the 17th century, the insistence of conservative and moralistic strength of the age, in which the importance of virtue and the civic spirit to conserve the cohesion of society was renewed.  A society in the midst of drastic change, with accelerated growth of the urban centers and precarious living conditions of the humble classes.  In this instability, political as well as economic, he considered the public necessity to morally instruct to the society taking steps to what was called Civic Humanism, based in the belief of the public necessity to control private immorality. 

Mandeville resisted this course and, and therefore, the idea of necessity to repress private vice to the benefit of the well being of the Nation.  He rejected the moral interpretation of public life, attributing it to those who did not understand Man, and that the true force which controls is nothing other than personal interest or selfishness.  He expanded on a theory of progress and of the functioning of society based upon acts of individual interest in which virtue and civility are substituted for selfishness and commercial wealth.  For Mandeville, the things that the moralists of the 18th century considered vices were precisely the passions which contributed material prosperity.  Therefore, man should accept his natural selfishness and make adequate use of it converting vice into virtue.  The social cohesion was based in a mutual necessity and not in religious virtue.  The social progress arose from the passions and vices of men, and their passions, were compensated by the interest, allowing them to live in peace. 

This remind us that the demands of moral reform are often aroused by selfishness, hypocrisy or pride and insist that, in every complex society, vice mixes with virtue, which is never a nexus for social unity. 

“The Fable of the Bees” speaks about the complex relations between good and evil, or between virtues and vices, or of the certainty of the difficult transformation of personal interests in economic life in the function of a collective well being.  The formula, “private vices, public virtues” is this “force that wants to create evil and always creates good” as Goethe’s Mephistopheles would say.  It is the idea of Kantian “unsociable sociability” or Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.”  It is the liberal idea, according to which, the common good or the collective interest, is only possible through the individual search of their own interest or benefit.  It is the desire of all men by obtaining more and the eternal feeling of dissatisfaction which leads them to do whatever they can to obtain the desired.  It is, as Max Weber said, the step of the search of the daemon to the pact with the Devil: my next theme. 


Mozart – The Arduous Life of Freelancers

Written on October 28, 2007 by Santiago Iñiguez in Philosophy

Santiago Iñiguez

H.C. Robbins Landon: “1791: Mozart’s Last Year

Many careers can be run on a freelance basis. Being self-employed has many advantages, basically the freedom to choose work assignments, independency and more room for creativity. It has also serious drawbacks, such as its potentially precarity and that working hours normally extend far beyond the standard working schedule of employed people. Traditionally, freelancing has been common in professions such as journalism, writing or consultancy, and according to Wikipedia’s "Freelancing on the Internet", the Internet has brought many opportunities for would-be freelancers.

Mozart W.A. Mozart, whose 250th birth anniversary is commemorated this year, worked basically as a freelance composer, a fact that forced him to accept almost any order received from friends or strangers. He was once approached by Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia, and offered the position of conductor of his court’s orchestra, an offer that he declined since he felt very close to Joseph II, the Emperor: “I enjoy living in Vienna, the Emperor loves me and I don’t care about money”, he is supposed to have told a friend. Later, the Emperor heard about this and asked Mozart to become his Chamber Composer, although the retribution was not substantial -800 florins. When he was asked about his honoraries at the court he responded that they were “too much for what I do; too little for what I could do”.

A major risk of freelancers is that they must handle contracts, negotiations, accountancy and other management functions by themselves. Here, Mozart did not prove to be very skilled, according to his letters and to different biographies. He seemed to have always lived on the edge of his economic possibilities. However, his endless capacity for work –he even composed in the presence of friends and at social gatherings-, his music knowledge and experience, as well as his geniality allowed him to sustain his family decently and pay the expensive health bills of his wife Constance at different spas during her recovery from illnesses, although he only left his own wardrobe as inheritance. He is attributed to have said: “People make a mistake who think my art has come easily to me. Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and over”.

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Velo islámico. Derechos y deberes.

Written on October 27, 2007 by DeansTalk in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Fernando Fontes


En las últimas semanas se ha reproducido en España la polémica sobre si se debe autorizar o no la asistencia a colegios públicos de niñas llevando el velo islámico. Esta polémica, como todos sabemos, no es única en España sino que existe en todos los países europeos, habiéndose resuelto de diferentes maneras.

Mi opinión, vaya por delante, es que no se debe autorizar la asistencia a clase con el velo islámico. Y ahora voy a tratar de justificarlo en base a los siguientes argumentos:

1.-  Laicidad del Estado, entendida como separación absoluta entre Iglesia (religión) y Estado. Este es uno de los mayores avances de las sociedades occidentales y responsable del desarrollo, en todos los órdenes, científicos, tecnológicos, morales, culturales, etc. de estas sociedades frente a las que no han conseguido esa separación entre religión y Estado. En las instituciones públicas de los Estados laicos  no debería haber ningún símbolo religioso, sea de la creencia que sea.

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The Fall

Written on October 26, 2007 by Felicia Appenteng in Literature, Philosophy

Paradise Felicia Appenteng

In light of recent posts about Lost Paradises, I thought that it might be interesting to listen to a discussion about the original loss of Paradise and the fall of mankind.  An examination of the nature of sin is necessary to understand lost Paradises because perfect places and imperfect beings are inextricably bound to each other. 

In this line of thought, I found this idea to be a perfect introduction to one of my favorite programmes, the BBC Radio show, In Our Time, hosted by Melvyn Bragg.  On April 8th, 2004, he held a discussion called "The Fall"

How would you characterize man’s relationship to Paradise throughout history?  Could you frame history as an attempt to achieve the impossible Paradise?

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