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Keywords:

  • Adam Smith;
  • Amartya Sen;
  • commitment;
  • interest;
  • self;
  • sympathy;
  • temporality

Abstract

The concept of self-interest remains underdeveloped in sociology although central to economics. Recent methodological and social trends render sociological indifference to the concept untenable. The term has enjoyed historical predominance in the West since the sixteenth century. While it is seen in modern economics as a singular motivating force, Adam Smith regarded self-interest in economic action as necessarily moderated by sympathy. In addition to its problematic economic conceptualization self-interest has an experiential basis in unequal power relations. An alternative to the concept of self-interest is presented by Amartya Sen in his account of commitment; its inconsistencies, however, render Sen's statement unsatisfactory. Differences between present and future interests indicate that the distinction between self-interested and other-interested action is not sustainable.