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Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.4 (2002) 546-547
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The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau
Patrick Riley, editor. The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xii + 453. Cloth, $69.95. Paper, $24.95.
The book contains fifteen essays, three (including a biographical sketch) written by the editor. Of the fourteen authors, twelve are men, thirteen are anglophone, ten are (or were) based in the United States. There are two excellent reprinted papers by deceased authors: G. A. Kelly's "General overview" and Shklar's "Rousseau's images of authority." Both are well worth re-reading. The rest are all new.
The dominant genre of the collection is that kind of intellectual history which addresses "influences," both the predecessors who are thought to have influenced Rousseau, and the influence he may have had on subsequent intellectual and political developments. Some authors, who are closer to the contextualist Cambridge school, seek to know what Rousseau was reading and whom he was addressing in his texts. There are few old-fashioned analytical philosophers asking old-fashioned questions about the truth of Rousseau's statements and the validity of his arguments. Few of the authors are interested in the methodological questions like those which occupied Lévi-Strauss, author of "Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Founder of the Sciences of Man." And none of them is inclined to follow recent decision theorists in applying their formal tools to the Second Discourse or the Social Contract.
In his two main papers Riley returns to themes which he has already made his own, "Fénelon and the quarrel between Ancients and Moderns," and the general will, and develops his reflections on them in impressive detail.
Two authors, Hulliung and Brooke, discuss seventeenth (as well as eighteenth) century influences in their illuminating essays. In his hostility to the doctrine of original sin, Rousseau rejected a central tenet of Pascal and Nicole, but he agreed with them (against the philosophes) that reason is now utterly corrupted, albeit by society, not the Fall. Thus Pascal, radical critic of the fallen world, is, according to Hulliung, Rousseau's natural ally against Voltaire. For Rousseau, we may be reconciled with ourselves in a reconstituted social order or, failing that, in the hereafter, but "we cannot merge virtue and interest, as . . . the philosophes wished, through glorifying la vie mondaine." Brooke succinctly presents the conflict between French Stoic and Augustinian social philosophies. He argues that Rousseau combined elements of the two, despite the "fundamental antagonism" between an optimistic natural law theory, based on healthy self-love, and a pessimistic critique of all society, infected by the pathologies of amour-propre.
In his rich discussion of "the religious thought," Gourevitch emphasizes the Rousseau-Voltaire dispute concerning optimism, which he lucidly summarizes in terms of Rousseau's rejection of Voltaire's twin premises: that God is omnipotent and could have prevented human suffering, and that evils outweigh goods in our life. His analysis of Rousseau's "refined [End Page 546] Epicureanism," his "sober, sombre optimism," is original and profound. In Julie, Rousseau argues, we find "living proof" that apparent opposites are compatible: atheism and virtue in de Wolmar; Epicureanism and piety in Julie.
Two authors focus on the Emile. With admirable precision and clarity Parry analyzes three separate models of education: for men, women, and citizens respectively. Shell focuses on "The education of Sophie," defending Rousseau's account of sexual relations against feminist critics from Wollstonecraft to Okin. This powerful, closely argued paper is the only contribution by a living woman. Few men would have dared to write it!
In their co-authored essay, Dugan and Strong connect Rousseau's accounts of representation in music, politics and theatre and subject them to detailed scrutiny. They conclude that, despite his well-known criticisms, Rousseau finally "provides us with a model of a legitimate sort of political representation," and of musical representation too.
Three papers are concerned with autobiography. In the first, C. Kelly exploits his unparalleled knowledge of the Confessions to show that it embodies three dominant themes of...