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Friendship, Coercion, and Interest: Debating the Foundations of Justice In Early Modern England

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This essay examines the significance of friendship and the expectations associated with it in the early modern debate about trust and the fulfillment of obligations as that debate unfolded in England. A thorough rethinking about the foundations of society and the mechanisms of social order focused on the motives and justifications that led people to create and fulfill obligations to others, especially in the area of commutative justice. Commutative justice was achieved when contracts were secure, promises kept, exchanges carried through, and debts paid. The growth of the state, new economic theories, and the development of strict contract encouraged reliance on coercion (or punitive measures) and self-interest. While these visions of society triumphed, there was a show of resistance based on the idea that friendship was a more valuable source of justice because it brought into play the virtues of generosity, gratitude, and promise-keeping (or fidelity). At stake was the very de fi nition and scope of human personality and morality.


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