Recommend to your Librarian

Request a Review Copy

Self-love, Egoism and the Selfish Hypothesis

Key Debates from Eighteenth-Century British Moral Philosophy

Christian Maurer

Hardback (Forthcoming)

Analyses of one of the central debates at the dawn of the Enlightenment: are people motivated only by self-interest?

The dawn of the Enlightenment saw heated debates on self-love. Do people only act out of self-interest? Or is there a less pessimistic explanation for human behaviour? Maurer delves into the contributions to these debates from both famous and lesser known authors, including Lord Shaftesbury, Bernard Mandeville, Francis Hutcheson, Joseph Butler, Archibald Campbell, David Hume and Adam Smith, and puts them in their philosophical, theological and economic context.

Show more


1. Introduction

1.1. The questions of self-love
1.2. Five conceptions of self-love
1.3. Contexts and historiographies – old ones and new ones

2. Shaftesbury on the self-affections and the selfish hypothesis

2.1. ‘Hobbesian egoism’ and the right love for oneself
2.2. Shaftesbury on the self-affections in the Inquiry
2.3. A side-note on pride in Pathologia and Miscellanies
2.4. Concluding thoughts

3. Mandeville: Self-love, self-liking and Augustinian themes

3.1. Mandeville on the passion of self-liking
3.2. Self-liking and the civilising process: Politeness and honour
3.3. Mandeville on the social virtues (plural) and on moral virtue (singular)
3.4. Concluding thoughts

4. Hutcheson on self-love, benevolence, and self-cultivation

4.1. Hutcheson on self-love and the selfish hypothesis

4.2. The moral value of self-love

4.3. Self-love and self-cultivation

4.4. A side-note on Alexander Forbes’ Essay on Self-Love (1734)

4.5. Concluding thoughts

5. Butler on self-love as respect of self

5.1. The ‘inward frame of man’: Butler’s moral psychology
5.2. Butler on self-love as respect of self
5.3. A comparison between Butler and Hutcheson on self-love
5.4. The influence of Butler’s conception of self-love as respect of self
5.5. Concluding thoughts

6. Campbell on true self-love and virtue

6.1. Campbell on self-love, the selfish hypothesis and sociability
6.2. Campbell on morality and moral motivation
6.3. Campbell’s attacks on Mandeville: Vice, Luxury, Fashionable Clothing and Virtue
6.4. Campbell and the Committee for Purity of Doctrine on self-love
6.5. Concluding thoughts

7. Hume, Smith and beyond

7.1. Hume on self-love, pride and vanity
7.2. Smith and the rehabilitation of self-love
7.3. The selfish hypothesis in Gay and Associationist psychology
7.4. Towards the end of the eighteenth century
7.5. Concluding thoughts

8. Conclusions


About the Author

Christian Maurer is SNSF Professor in Philosophy at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. He has studied, taught, and held research fellowships in various Universities across Switzerland, Scotland, France and Germany. Maurer’s main research areas are in moral and political philosophy. He has worked extensively on the history of British moral philosophy and theology, on pre-Enlightenment Scottish moral philosophy, on the reception of Stoicism, on tolerance and on love.


Christian Maurer's book is both exciting and scholarly. It offers revisionist readings of philosophers such as Hume, Butler, and Mandeville, and of central themes in moral psychology, including self-love. Maurer combines the argumentative rigor of philosophy with the nuance and contextual sensitivity of intellectual history. This work is an outstanding achievement.

- Colin Heydt, The University of South Florida

Sign up to the Edinburgh University Press mailing list

You might also like ...