Institut Jean Nicod

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12 avril 2013 : Eugene Heath State (University of New York at New Paltz)

Vendredi 12 avril 2013 - 11h-13h
ENS, Institut Jean-Nicod, 29, rue d’Ulm 75005 Paris. Salle de réunion, RDC

Eugene Heath
Professor of Philosophy, State University of New York at New Paltz, Website

Short Biography : His interests lie in eighteenth-century moral philosophy and the morals of markets. He has published essays on Bernard Mandeville, Adam Ferguson, and Adam Smith, and as well as on topics in business ethics. He is the co-editor, with Vincenzo Merolle, of two volumes of scholarly essays on Adam Ferguson (Pickering & Chatto, 2008 and 2009). 

Title of Talk : “Ambition”

Abstract : The passion of ambition has concerned moralists and philosophers in both ancient and modern times. I note some of these concerns and then summarize, briefly, how three eighteenth-century Scots philosophers, David Hume, Adam Ferguson, and Adam Smith, broached the idea. After distinguishing several types of ambition, I focus on the sort that so worried Adam Smith. For Smith, ambition is a passion powered chiefly, if not solely, by the desire of public acclaim. That such recognition is attractive is a consequence of our disposition to sympathize, as Smith contends, with pleasant passions. I then set forth a more general account of ambition, delineating how an end may be sought ambitiously or unambitiously, depending on one’s reason. However, the ambitious pursuit of an end need not entail that one desires the end solely because of the recognition that it promises. Recognition may be one reason for pursuing an end but not the only one. So, despite Smith’s worries (not to mention Rousseau’s), I contend that a proper ambition is possible, so long as the desire for distinction is modest and constrained.

Eugene Heath’s paper on ambition that he will present on Friday, April 12th, at 11 am