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Corruption - Corruption, Civic Republicanism, And Republican Historiography, Political Corruption, Other Contexts, Conclusion, Bibliography

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to Cosh

Consider the first sentence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (1712–1778) Discours sur les arts et sciences (Discourse on the arts and sciences, 1750): "Has the restoration of the sciences and arts contributed to the purification of mores, or their corruption?" Corruption denotes deterioration, a qualitative decline from an original (absolutely or relatively) natural or pristine state; related terms include decay, deterioration, disintegration, corrosion, and degeneration. Corruption is sometimes used in a related (but distinct) sense, to denote a state of affairs—a "state of corruption"—often in contrast to one characterized by virtue. In either form (verb or noun) corruption is an intensely historical term, describing either a process of qualitative spoliation or the end result thereof.

The discourse of corruption and virtue offers critics and philosophers a powerful rhetorical tool with which to indict societies' perceived shortcomings vis-à-vis some past standard. When placed into narrative form, corruption accounts generally contain four elements: (1) a description of the symptoms of corruption (social, moral, political); (2) identification of an agent of corruption; (3) a timeline by which critics identify the agent's appearance and trace its corrupting influence; and (4) a call to action to turn back corruption and restore lost virtues.

In the history of ideas and historiography, the discourse of corruption has often, though not exclusively, been associated with the tradition of civic republicanism. More recently, a significant body of research has brought the tools of social science to bear on the identification and measurement of corruption in the political sphere, and offered general theories about conditions under which corruption is fostered or retarded. This entry will point out, in an admittedly abbreviated manner, some of the main lines of research and refer the reader to key texts in the literature on corruption.

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