The introdcutory chapter discusses 20th-century critiques by Sartre and Barthes of 17th-century moral writing as limited by its focus on the psychological and ethical, rather than the political and social realm. It analyses the relationship between psychological investigation and ethical doctrines in the early modern period, considering three cases where it has been suggested that the study of the nature and behaviour of human beings, and of the working of their minds, is divorced from a concern with ethical norms: the essays of Montaigne, 17th-century dramatic writing, and new mechanistic philosophies, especially Descartes’s. It is argued that though the relation in the thought of the period between psychological and ethical concerns is complex and variable, it is anachronistic to posit a divorce between them. The selection of authors discussed is explained.
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