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Power, Pleasure, and Profit: Insatiable Appetites from Machiavelli to Madison Hardcover – October 8, 2018
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A provocative history of the changing values that have given rise to our present discontents.
We pursue power, pleasure, and profit. We want as much as we can get, and we deploy instrumental reasoning―cost-benefit analysis―to get it. We judge ourselves and others by how well we succeed. It is a way of life and thought that seems natural, inevitable, and inescapable. As David Wootton shows, it is anything but. In Power, Pleasure, and Profit, he traces an intellectual and cultural revolution that replaced the older systems of Aristotelian ethics and Christian morality with the iron cage of instrumental reasoning that now gives shape and purpose to our lives.
Wootton guides us through four centuries of Western thought―from Machiavelli to Madison―to show how new ideas about politics, ethics, and economics stepped into a gap opened up by religious conflict and the Scientific Revolution. As ideas about godliness and Aristotelian virtue faded, theories about the rational pursuit of power, pleasure, and profit moved to the fore in the work of writers both obscure and as famous as Hobbes, Locke, and Adam Smith. The new instrumental reasoning cut through old codes of status and rank, enabling the emergence of movements for liberty and equality. But it also helped to create a world in which virtue, honor, shame, and guilt count for almost nothing, and what matters is success.
Is our world better for the rise of instrumental reasoning? To answer that question, Wootton writes, we must first recognize that we live in its grip.
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“More relevant to our current political and cultural circumstance than any other I’ve read in the last four years…Truly wonderful.”―Lewis Lapham, The World in Time
“Wootton presents the conceptual shift that gave birth to our life today in a book that is ambitious and impressive in its sweep…A gripping story of how ideas can change the world.”―John Gray, New Statesman
“Wootton does not wish to take sides in the controversy between detractors and defenders of the Enlightenment: his purpose is rather to retrace the emergence of the intellectual and cultural revolution that radically transformed modern Western societies… Power, Pleasure, and Profit is an erudite book, full of learned asides.”―Times Literary Supplement
“This is decidedly not a traditional history of the Enlightenment as a philosophical or political project…Wootton’s Enlightenment ushered in a moral universe of unstoppable excess―one in which the pursuit of power, pleasure, and profit had no limit, for individuals or for societies…An unusual but fascinating foray into all the great themes of moral and political philosophy, from happiness to politics to commerce to love.”―James Chappel, Commonweal
“His erudition is impressive and his range of inquiry is vast… Wootton traces the development of three interrelated notions that together, in his view, displaced the moral and religious inheritance bequeathed by classicism and Christianity.”―Darrin M. McMahon, Literary Review
“Gripping…A fascinating story…The Enlightenment spawned a series of assumptions about what human beings are, why they do what they do, and what the good life looks like. We’re still hostage to those assumptions, whether we know it or not, and Wootton’s book asks us to consider the consequences.”―Sean Illing, Vox
“In the brilliant, penetrating and amazingly erudite study by David Wootton…readers are treated to an engaging tour of the ‘Enlightenment paradigm’ gaining in the process a more profound understanding of our modern political economy and ethical situation…This book is essential reading for understanding the climate in which we still live and which is exported worldwide through neoliberalism and globalization.”―David Lorimer, Wall Street International
“A work of exceptional merit. Wootton is one of the best intellectual historians in the Anglo-American world today.”―Steven Smith, Yale University
“In this deliciously written, stunningly erudite, and enchantingly combative book, one of our most free-spirited and original intellectual historians has helped us see the roots of the Enlightenment and thus our contemporary world with entirely new eyes.”―Stephen Holmes, New York University
“Full of spirited engagement, Wootton’s writing exemplifies iconoclasm, imagination, and verve.”―Christopher Brooke, University of Cambridge
“Wootton’s notion of modest, practical Aristoteilian-esque virtue in the face of limitless appetite is a compelling one, and he stakes his claims methodically and persuasively.”―Nicholas Cannariato, The Millions
“Through the writings of great thinkers, Wootton describes the birth of a new concept of human nature during the years 1500 to 1800… Wootton demonstrates a consistent ability to make complex intellectual ideas approachable… A surprisingly lucid examination of a dramatic revolution in human thought.”―Kirkus Reviews
“Valuable as a wide-ranging…investigation into the philosophical revolution that made the modern Western world.”―American Conservative
“Erudite…Raises a number of timely ethical and historical questions for a world where the limitless pursuit of power and pleasure appears increasingly unsustainable.”―Anton M. Matytsin, Journal of Modern History
“Engaging…The idea that we are driven by our remorseless quest for power, pleasure, and profit, Wootton argues, has come to dominate Western conceptions of politics and economics since the time of Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Adam Smith, and has largely replaced previously important theories of Christian morality and Aristotelian ethics…A pleasure to read.”―K. Steven Vincent, European Legacy
About the Author
- Publisher : Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University Press; 1st Edition (October 8, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0674976673
- ISBN-13 : 978-0674976672
- Item Weight : 1.6 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #937,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Charming storytelling, adorable graphics, fun facts of easy to understand science and simple straightforward practices to enhance the senses. You can start from the beginning or just open a page and learn something new or feel something deeper.
I found myself smiling more, taking deeper breaths, feeling more alive in my body and becoming more present. Yum.
I am using several of her practices and plan to incorporate more!
I recommend The Power of Pleasure be on your night stand and part of your daily reading habit....life is meant to please, and we are meant to be pleased!! Good stuff...
Top reviews from other countries
The book is not an exploration of the intricacies of individual thinkers' ideas as logical self-contained systems. Instead it is an analysis of the process of broad ideas as they develop through time. And so, it is a book on the textual history of concepts.
If the book is understood as a textual analysis, charting ideas as they appear in texts, then it is second to none. If however it is understood as a description of the way that ideas emerge as a matter of fact, then it is a little constrained by its textual method.
The problem is that while all ideas are always thinkable, they only have purchase in given material conditions. So for example, the concept of 'profit', as it is currently understood, only exists in society with wage labour, a ruling class, legal property protection etc.
It would be intellectually possible for a thinker to invent the contemporary idea of 'profit' in another period, but there would be no reason to do so.
And so, as all ideas are always thinkable, they only emerge in texts for material reasons - i.e. as a response to the world outside the text.
The book is innovative and interesting and so highly recommended. It is also very readable, which is a great achievement considering the dense nature of the subject matter.