The aim of this article is to study how Smith’s concept of system is different from what was called in the 18th century the system of Optimism developed by Malebranche and mainly by Leibniz. Jon Elster has shown the influence of the philosopher of Hanover in the architectonics of capitalism or rather – of laisser-faire. If this fact alone could encourage us to compare the two systems, another element also provides an incentive. At the very moment when Smith began his work there was a controversy opposing the supporters of the system of optimism with « Newtonians » and their three key figures in France: d’ Alembert, Condillac and Voltaire. This controversy is mainly about the concept of connections or of laws which bind the elements of a system. It followed the one which had opposed Newton with Leibniz at the very beginning of the 18th century. After presenting the system of Optimism we will compare with that of Smith on three key points: the concept of monade, the concept of system itself, with its architectonic, theoretical and political stakes, and finally the problem of maximization. Then we will propose a non leibnizian interpretation of the “invisible hand” more empathetic with Smith’s architectonics as it has appeared in our study.
The Moral Theory of Condillac: A Path toward Utilitarianism
Contrary to those of his brother, Mably, Condillac’s thoughts on morality are not considered to be among his most successful undertakings. Right from the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment until the present day, none of the great scholars who studied or continue to study his philosophical works have paid much attention to the author’s thoughts on this matter. It took two recent PhD theses to question this point. However, these two studies of Condillac’s ideas on morality diverge somewhat. The first focuses mainly on his Essai sur l’origine des connaissances humaines (1746) and concludes that Condillac had a specific ethical morality. The second interpretation, which bases itself on the role of one’s needs and one’s “estimation of pleasure and pain,” tries to fit Condillac’s notion of morality into a more utilitarian perspective. Clearly based on this last perspective, the first objective of this article is to present how the principles of human association (the “state of nature” and the “contract”) and morality are linked in Condillac’s works and how both result from man’s need for self-preservation. We shall then see how Condillac proposes a true “moral calculation” which leads individuals to act in a virtuous manner, their sole objective being to satisfy their self-interest. We will conclude by situating this moral theory halfway between Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui’s conceptions and those of the French utilitarians of the second half of the 18th century, bearing in mind that Condillac’s ideas, when compared with the ideas of natural law theorists, constitute a step forward toward a consequentialist moral theory.