Harvey Mansfield

If self-interest is obvious, it is not really your very own; it has been generalized, perhaps artificially.

Harvey Claflin Mansfield, Jr. (born 1932) is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1962.

QuotesEdit

The demand for more civility in politics today should be directed toward improving the quality of our insults, seeking civility in wit rather than blandness.
  • Today political science is often said to be ‘descriptive’ or ‘empirical,’ concerned with facts; political philosophy is called ‘normative’ because it expresses values. But these terms merely repeat in more abstract form the difference between political science, which seeks agreement, and political philosophy, which seeks the best.
    • A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy (2001), p. 6

How to Understand Politics: What the Humanities Can Say to Science (2007)Edit

The simplified notion of self-interest used by our political and social science cannot tolerate the tension between one’s own and the good, for that tension leaves human behavior unpredictable.
Full text online
Sociobiology reduces the human to the animal instead of observing how the animal becomes human.
Literature knows something that science does not: the human resistance to hearing the truth.
  • The self is a simplification of the notion of soul, created to serve the purposes of the modern sciences of psychology and economics, both of which want you to be happy in a simple, straightforward way they can count.
  • Science wants the fruits of science, and it does not tolerate much doubt about the goodness of those fruits. ... Scientists had a bad conscience about making the atom bomb, it’s fair to say, but their doubts were not prompted, still less endorsed by their science.
  • The way out from complication and doubt is to reduce the good to pleasure, something close to the body, or to utility, something useful to the body. ... The body is considered as a factor all human beings have in common, hence an easy basis for generalization.
  • Identity is as foreign to science as the good, and just as the good is reduced to something palpable, one’s own is raised to something vaguer but shareable.
  • Self-interest, when simple, is universal; I would do the same as you. I would be propelled toward an obvious good, or toward a good I thought obvious. If self-interest is obvious, it is not really your very own; it has been generalized, perhaps artificially.
  • People want to stand for something, which means opposing those who stand for something else. In the course of opposing they will often resort to insults and name-calling, which are normal in politics though never in your interest. The demand for more civility in politics today should be directed toward improving the quality of our insults, seeking civility in wit rather than blandness.
  • The notion of thumos tells us further that politics is about protection, not primarily about gain. The reason you assert in your defense protects you and people like you that are included in the argument you advance. In an assertive, political argument you assume that you are perfectly OK. You are not apologizing for your self or your soul. The problem lies in things outside you, accidents that have happened or might happen, or the faults of others besides yourself. You therefore want to be protected in your self-satisfaction.
  • The simplified notion of self-interest used by our political and social science cannot tolerate the tension between one’s own and the good, for that tension leaves human behavior unpredictable. One cannot penetrate into every individual’s private thoughts, and there is no clear way to judge among different conceptions of the good. So in order to overcome the tension, science tries to combine one’s own and the good in such a way as to preserve neither. It generalizes one’s own as the interest of an average or, better to say, predictable individual who lives his life quantifiably so as to make its study easier for the social scientist. And for the same purpose it vulgarizes the good by eliminating the high and the mighty in our souls (not to mention the low and vicious), transforming our aspiration to nobility and truth into personal preferences of whose value science is incognizant, to which it is indifferent.
  • Sociobiology reduces the human to the animal instead of observing how the animal becomes human.
  • Having eliminated the soul, modern science cannot understand the body in its most important aspect, which is its capacity for self-importance. Modern biology, particularly the theory of evolution, is based on the overriding concern for survival in all life. This is surely wrong in regard to human life. If you cannot look around you and must insist on indulging a taste for the primitive, you have only to visit the ruins of an ancient people and ponder how much of its GNP was devoted to religion, to its sense of the meaning of human life rather than mere survival.
  • Science for its part speaks against the special importance of any object of science, including human beings. ... Science as opposed to religion recognizes nothing sacred either outside man or within him. But collectively, science is the assertion of man over non-man, surely an unembarrassed claim to importance and rule. Yet as individuals, scientists are anonymous factors in the scientific enterprise, each one substitutable for another. For all science cares, scientists could as well be numbered as named.
  • Science, according to science, ought to be the most important attribute of human beings.
  • The social sciences are in a special difficulty because they cover the same field of human behavior as literature. As science, they must claim to improve upon the prejudice and superstition of common sense, and are therefore compelled to restate the language of common sense, full of implication and innuendo, in irreproachable, blameless, scientific prose innocent of bias or any other subtlety.
  • Literature ... seeks to entertain — and why is this? ... The reason, fundamentally, is that literature knows something that science does not: the human resistance to hearing the truth. Science does not inform scientists of this basic fact. ... The wisdom of literature arises mainly from its attention to this point. To overcome the resistance to truth, literature makes use of fictions that are images of truth.

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Last modified on 18 March 2014, at 16:17