A Short History of How Self-Interest Became Rational
It is striking that even within the heartland of self-interest accounts of human conduct (e.g. in economics, rational choice theory, and those parts of biology dealing with the problem – the designation is telling – of altruism) there has been considerable evolution of just what self-interest means since the late 18th century. These shifts in definitions of self-interest parallel shifts in ideals of rationality, a concept ultimately co-opted lock, stock, and barrel by economists around 1950. In her talk, Lorraine Daston will address this history, with the aim of explaining how what starts as a descriptive term (this is empirically how people do behave) becomes a prescriptive one (this is how people should behave, at least if they aim to be rational).
Lorraine Daston was educated at Harvard and Cambridge University, and has taught history and history of science at several American and German universities, with visiting professorships in Vienna, Paris, and Oxford. Since 1995 she has been Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, Honorary Professor at the Humboldt University Berlin, and occasional Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago. She has given the Isaiah Berlin Lectures at the University of Oxford (1999), the Tanner Lectures at Harvard University (2002), the West Lectures at Stanford University (2005), and the Humanitas Lecture at the University of Oxford (2013). Two of her books, Classical Probability in the Enlightenment (1988) and Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750 (with Katharine Park, 2001), have been awarded the Pfizer Prize of the History of Science Society for the best book in the field published in English in the previous three years. Recent books include Biographies of Scientific Objects (2000) and the acclaimed Objectivity (with Peter Galison, 2009). Her publications span a wide range of topics, from the history of probability and statistics to the history of wonders, from the history of female intelligence to the history of scientific objectivity. An enduring interest in the history of rationality runs through all of her work: how new forms of argument and proof emerge, develop, and interact with one another in specific cultural contexts.