Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thomas Jefferson on Self-Interest and Morality

I said at the beginning of these postings on Jefferson that I thought that his talk on morality mostly related to generalities. I have definitely been challenged in that assumption based on the selective readings I have seen so far. Here are some lines that related to what I thought at the beginning.
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"That a man owes no duty to which he is not urged by some impulsive feeling... is correct, if referred to the standard of general feeling in the given case, and not to the feeling of a single individual." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Law, 1814. ME 14:144

"Self-interest, or rather self-love, or egoism, has been more plausibly substituted as the basis of morality. But I consider our relations with others as constituting the boundaries of morality. With ourselves, we stand on the ground of identity, not of relation, which last, requiring two subjects, excludes self-love confined to a single one. To ourselves, in strict language, we can owe no duties, obligation requiring also two parties. Self-love, therefore, is no part of morality. Indeed, it is exactly its counterpart." --Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Law, 1814. ME 14:140

"The greatest honor of a man is in doing good to his fellow men, not in destroying them." --Thomas Jefferson: Address to Shawanee Nation, 1807. ME 16:424

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