restricted access Is Charity for Schmucks?: The Legitimacy of Bienfaisance ca. 1760–82 and ca. 2013–15

This essay is about books that produce moral discomfort in the reader and seem to demand a response. The three French texts are famous for their irony, humor, and psychological depth: Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre-Ambroise-François Choderlos de Laclos (1782), Denis Diderot’s Jacques the Fatalist and his Master (written 1760–76; pub. posthum.1796), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker (pub. posthum. 1782). To drive home the dialectic between the flawed people who read and write books and the moral models put on display, I analyze scenes that poke fun at the moralizing through the strategies of irony, comedy, and psychological analysis. These readings form a counterpart to recent work by philosopher Jonathan Lear (A Case for Irony) and contemporary reflections on doing good as a business strategy.