A Republican Critique of the Philosophes
Publication Year: 2003
Published by: State University of New York Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
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In his posthumously published notes The Will to Power, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) traces what he calls the still-unresolved “problem of civilization” back to the conflict between Rousseau (1712–1778) and Voltaire (1694–1778) that began in the middle of the eighteenth century.1 For Nietzsche, the “aristocratic” homme civilisé Voltaire defended civilization as a great triumph over the barbarism of nature, whereas the...
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This book began as a doctoral thesis at Oxford University, where it benefited from the comments and criticisms of my supervisor, Dr. L. A. Siedentop. During these years I was the grateful and very fortunate beneficiary of many discussions with Sir Isaiah Berlin, who also supervised my thesis for a time. While we agreed on almost nothing about Rousseau...
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During the period from around the middle of the eighteenth century, when Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (1750) first appeared, to his death in 1778, a movement gradually emerged against the French Enlightenment, eventually giving rise to a complete rejection of its central ideas and assumptions by many writers in the early nineteenth century, particularly, although by no means exclusively...
Chapter One: The Enlightenment Republic of Letters
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Rousseau’s Enlightenment was the “high Enlightenment” of the Parisian philosophes. While many no longer think it intellectually respectable to focus on this often unrepresentative elite when discussing “the Enlightenment” in general, there is some justification for doing so in the particular case of Rousseau, who actually inhabited their world. I will deal exclusively with the Enlightenment in its French context, even...
Chapter Two: Philosophe, Madman, Revolutionary, God
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It is not now generally disputed that Rousseau gradually became estranged from the enlightened world of mid-century Paris. This is well documented and widely accepted. He became progressively more uncomfortable with the sophisticated society with which he had become so familiar in the French capital over the previous decade, and was genuinely...
Chapter Three: Unsociable Man: Rousseau’s Critique of Enlightenment Social Thought
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Voltaire spoke for virtually all of the philosophes when, in a direct response to Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, he claimed that he did “not think that this solitary life [in the state of nature], which our forefathers are supposed to have led, is in human nature. . . .The foundations of society ever-existing, there has therefore ever been some society.”1 Although the normative ideal of the philosophes was individualistic...
Chapter Four: Rousseau’s Counter-Enlightenment Republic of Virtue
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Given his deeply pessimistic social assumptions, Rousseau argues that sentiments must be fostered artificially by means of institutions and beliefs that systematically reshape the individual’s antisocial passions in a way that promotes the formation and strengthening of social bonds that do not arise spontaneously. “Good institutions,” he writes in Emile, “are...
Chapter Five: On the Utility of Religion
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In eighteenth-century France the spread of anti-Christian and anticlerical ideas in intellectual circles occurred against a background of growing secularization in the broader society. Roger Chartier has cataloged the many indexes of this process in pre-Revolutionary France, such as a decrease in the number of priests, falling memberships in Marian...
Chapter Six: Dare to Be Ignorant!
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We have seen that, for the philosophes, the acquisition and dissemination of “all useful knowledge of Benefit to Mankind in General” was at the heart of their goal of dispelling ignorance and spreading enlightenment. This was thought particularly true of scientific knowledge, the application of which held the greatest promise of promoting human...
Chapter Seven: The Worst of All Possible Worlds
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Even if a belief in progress was, as is commonly assumed, the “outstanding characteristic” of the Enlightenment in France,1 the views of the philosophes on its precise nature and prospects covered a broad spectrum, from the resignation of Voltaire’s Candide to the defiant optimism of Condorcet’s Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind.2 In virtually every case it was less a matter...
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Questions about consistency have always dogged Rousseau’s writings, and not unreasonably. The Social Contract and Emile were written and published more or less contemporaneously,1 yet the former prescribes a severe “republic of virtue” stressing collective discipline, the subordination of the individual to the group, and the active promotion of “sentiments of sociability,” whereas the latter prescribes a form of life and...
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Page Count: 206
Publication Year: 2003