Pride / Greed / Lust / Wrath / Gluttony / Envy / Sloth These seven words sum up the universe of sin. They featured prominently in ancient Greek culture, where they defined the manifestation of evil, and are used in Judaic-Christian culture to map out immorality. What do these terms call to mind today? What remains of their former tragic and dangerous nature? Do they still play a role in contemporary society, or have they become obsolete in a world where anything goes, in which every boundary has been violated? Can they be re-interpreted and given new life, and perhaps incorporated into psychological and psychoanalytical therapy? One thing is certain: guilt and sin are again current topics. In this new series edited by Carlo Galli, seven scholars seek out new answers, attempt to examine the capital sins in a novel context that does away with the religious tradition in which they were originally developed, interpret them as enduring human passions, as expressions of humanitys ability to tell the difference between right and wrong.
Each of the seven books describe the social and historical evolution of one of the traditional sins, highlighting continuities between past and present and its shifting meanings over time.
Although it may take various forms, such as avarice, cupidity, usury, desire, parsimony, and stinginess, the ever-changing nature of greed is such that it can even come to resemble a virtue. It is the most "economic" of the seven capital sins, and in this book an economist explores the reasons why greed, unlike any other sin, has undergone, ever since ancient times, a unique series of semantic shifts. Initially viewed as the root of all evil and thus the principal vice, greed relinquished its primacy to pride during the Middle Ages, only to resume its ascendancy during the Commercial Revolution and then become - after another major change in prevailing views ushered in by Civic Humanism - a stimulus for prosperity and a quasi-virtue. Over the last quarter century greed has once again returned to being seen as an evil, and indeed its development as a deadly sin has been particularly impressive. Today's miser is owned by things, accumulates and hoards objects without ever using them, possesses but does not share. Is his/her unhappiness a failure of willpower or the defeat of reason?
Stefano Zamagni, teaches Political Economy at the University of Bologna.