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  • Connaissance et reconnaissance chez Hobbes et Rousseau: la transparence est l’obstacle par Stéphane Vinolo
  • Michael Sonenscher
Connaissance et reconnaissance chez Hobbes et Rousseau: la transparence est l’obstacle. Par Stéphane Vinolo. (Ouverture philosophique.) Paris: L’Harmattan, 2017. 243 pp.

Stéphane Vinolo’s book is an ingenious examination of social contract theory, illustrated principally by the political thought of Hobbes and Rousseau but supplemented by more recent discussions of game theory on the one hand, and the thought of René Girard, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida on the other. The aim of the book is to show how the concept of individual autonomy can be reconciled with the idea of a durable and stable political society when, at first sight, the firmly individualistic orientation of the first seems to rule out the durability and stability of the second. The problem, of course, is an old one and, in different guises, was central to the concerns of the many generations of German philosophers, from Kant to Heidegger, whose thought was so salient to Girard, Lacan, and Derrida. It was, in short, the problem which, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was associated with the concept of sociability. For Vinolo, the problem was formulated initially by Hobbes with his claim that humans have no natural ability to prioritize their desires. This means that there is no natural human capacity to identify a highest good, whether something divine or something as apparently fundamental as the desire for self-preservation. There are, instead, only sequences of desires with nothing apart from chronology to distinguish them. Nor can individuals impose their desires for any durable periods of time because, as both Hobbes and Rousseau emphasized, humans are sufficiently equal and organized to be able to neutralize any individual drive for domination. And, being roughly equal, no individual could prevent another from giving priority to the short term over the long term, as Rousseau showed with the example of a stag hunt. If all these considerations require no special human insight and are instead common knowledge, then, as Vinolo argues, this potentially infinite pool of knowledge of knowledge simply makes violence rational. This, as should be apparent, is the point of the pun in the title of his book. Instead, as with Jean Starobinski, of thinking about politics in terms of the obstacles to transparency, applying game theory to Hobbes and Rousseau seems to show that transparency itself is the obstacle and, according to Vinolo, the same type of reflective loop applies to the passions. The way out is, therefore, misre-cognition rather than recognition, or something more like a Rawlsian veil of ignorance, supplied here, however, by the idea of a sovereign state. It is not clear, however, at least in terms of Vinolo’s final description of the properties of a contractually based sovereign state, what gives the combination of sovereignty and the state the ability to block the spiral of competitive recognition. On his terms, it works because it is external, like a humanly created artificial god. Notwithstanding the rigour and clarity of Vinolo’s argument, students of modern politics might be surprised. [End Page 458]

Michael Sonenscher
King’s College, Cambridge


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