Disinterestedness and self-formation: principles of action in William Hazlitt

Jack Barbalet*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The concept of self-interest is core to modern understandings of individual desire and need. It is also central in the concept of homo economicus and, in a variety of forms, underpins economic science. The critical discussion of the notion of self-interest in William Hazlitt, An Essay on the Principles of Human Action ([1805] 1969), remains unknown in sociology and economics even though it resolves a number of key problems associated with the concept and makes an original, indeed, unique contribution to action theory. In particular, Hazlitt shows that the basis on which an individual pursues their own interest is identical with their sympathy with the interests of others. Hazlitt shows that a clear distinction between self and other cannot be sustained, and that an individual is as remote from their future self as they are from any other person. Even the 'sexual appetite' Hazlitt shows cannot be understood in terms of simple self-interest as it is stimulated and consummated through mental and reciprocal capacities. These and related aspects of Hazlitt's Principles are set out below, and their relevance for an understanding of self-interested action and self-formation is demonstrated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-211
Number of pages17
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Theory
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Action theory
  • Futurity
  • Hazlitt
  • Imagination
  • Self-formation
  • Self-interest
  • Sympathy


Dive into the research topics of 'Disinterestedness and self-formation: principles of action in William Hazlitt'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this