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The Challenge of Rousseau
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Book description

Written by prominent scholars of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophy, this collection celebrates the 300th anniversary of Rousseau's birth and the 250th anniversary of the publication of Emile. The depth and systematic character of Rousseau's thought was recognized almost immediately by thinkers such as Kant and Hegel, yet debate continues over the degree to which Rousseau's legacy is the result of poetic, literary or rhetorical genius, rather than of philosophic rigor or profundity. The authors focus on Rousseau's genuine yet undervalued stature as a philosopher. This collection includes essays that develop some of the complex problems Rousseau treated so radically and profoundly, as well as essays on the vigorous debates he engaged in with thoughtful contemporaries and predecessors.


“Eve Grace and Christopher Kelly have assembled a fine collection of essays of exceptionally high quality. They more than meet ‘the challenge’ of showing that there is coherence, consistency, and rigor as well as creativity in Rousseau’s thought. The scholarship is exemplary, combining careful study of the original texts, clear argumentation, and critical engagement with existing commentaries.”
– Catherine Zuckert, Notre Dame

“This volume brings together in a well-orchestrated collection important new interpretations by the most dynamic contemporary Rousseau scholars, senior and junior, continental and American.”
– Thomas L. Pangle, The University of Texas at Austin

“These excellent essays are an irresistible invitation to engage Rousseau’s thought in all of its depth and complexity.”
– Ruth Grant, Duke University

“Marking the tricentennial of Rousseau’s birth, this collection of essays is strikingly fresh and new. Bringing together major scholars to reexamine the central themes of Rousseau’s complex system, the volume sheds important new light on almost every subject it touches. While the authors have their differences, all agree on the need to treat Rousseau with the greatest philosophical seriousness. A first-rate collection.”
– Arthur Melzer, Michigan State University

The Challenge of Rousseau promises to demonstrate Rousseau’s status as a thinker of the first rank, and it amply delivers. Editors Eve Grace and Christopher Kelly have assembled a diverse and impressive collection of essays, written by some of the most important scholars working on Rousseau in both the United States and France. The Challenge of Rousseau makes the case for Rousseau’s status as a thinker of the first rank by exploring Rousseau’s engagement with his philosophical predecessors; by directing new attention to Rousseau’s contributions in theology, epistemology, and the natural sciences; and by opening fresh perspectives on Rousseau’s political writings. Every essay contains some valuable insight; all are lucidly argued and feature meticulous attention to the texts of Rousseau and his philosophical interlocutors. This collection will be an invaluable resource to anyone seeking a full appreciation of Rousseau’s considerable intellectual achievements or a concise introduction to the best of the secondary literature.”
– Joseph R. Reisert, Colby College

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  • 7 - Built on Sand
    pp 168-193
  • Moral Law in Rousseau’s Second Discourse
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    A dramatic illustration of the perceived incommensurability of Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau can be seen in the characterization of each given by Edmund Burke in the midst of the revolution. The most significant scholarly editions of Rousseau's First Discourse make no mention of the Spirit of the Laws and little mention of Montesquieu's other works. If Rousseau and Montesquieu agree about the purity of contemporary morals, the question remains as to whether they disagree about whether these morals should be examined in relation to commerce or to the sciences and arts. Because of the explicit question posed by the Academy, in Rousseau's account of the corruption of morals, the role of commerce must be less conspicuous than it is in Montesquieu's, but it is present nonetheless. In part one of the Discourse Rousseau uses the word commerce in the extended sense of communication or social interaction.
  • 8 - Rousseau and Pascal
    pp 194-214
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    Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on Political Economy has been largely neglected, and the little attention it has received has been widely disparate. This chapter argues that the primary and unifying aim of the third Discourse is to define the best form of government for safeguarding individual or negative liberty. It also argues that the thread that connects the seemingly disparate elements of the text is a commitment to defining the institutions and policies that might best guarantee the preservation of property rights with a minimum degree of government infringement. Most crucially, even in defending the individual right to property possession, Rousseau is consistently critical of the pursuit of property, and especially the pursuit of superfluities or luxuries. He insists throughout the third Discourse that the primary task of popular and legitimate government is to make virtue reign.
  • 9 - The Measure of the Possible
    pp 217-229
  • Imagination in Rousseau’s Philosophical Pedagogy
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    This chapter reassesses the importance of scientific interests and concepts in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's career. It argues that the conventional portrait of Rousseau as a dilettante and critic of science proceeds from a biased view of scientific activity based on the present style of science as a highly specialized activity of professional researchers. When contextualized against the background of the ways and manners of scientific practices in eighteenth-century France, Rousseau can be described as a typical amateur, who participated in a number of scientific networks. As printed culture proliferated during the Enlightenment, a large number of scientific treatises circulated, which claimed to provide elementary notions in mathematics, astronomy, physics, or chemistry in more or less academic or entertaining styles. Finally, the chapter shows that Rousseau's practice of science had a significant impact on his major works.
  • 10 - Rousseau’s French Revolution
    pp 230-252
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    This chapter explores the relation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's epistemology to his perception of political things. For more than a century, the significance of epistemology for the problem of political perception has raised widespread and considerable interest. To understand why Rousseau's practical reason does not even discreetly point to an ascent from the cave of the dianoetic realm, it is necessary to examine more closely what he means by the principle of reasoning. In order to understand Rousseau's principle of practical reason, it is necessary to examine attentively his theory of sentiment. To do this, it is helpful to return to the question of le moi, or the ego, raised hitherto in connection with the problem of raison. Rousseau's political teaching is based on principles of practice independent of the guiding spirit of philosophy or theoria.
  • 12 - Stalking Puer Robustus
    pp 271-292
  • Hobbes and Rousseau on the Origin of Human Malice
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    The antiquarian controversy about the intention of Jean-Jacques Rousseau conceals a political controversy about the nature of democracy. The contemporary critics of Rousseau's praise of ignorance were quite understandably under the impression that he had denied all value to science or philosophy and that he had suggested the abolition of all learning. In accordance with the general character of the Discours Rousseau maintains the thesis that the scientific or philosophic truth (the truth about the whole) is simply inaccessible rather than that it is inaccessible to the people. According to Rousseau, civil society is essentially a particular, or more precisely a closed, society. To say that science and society are incompatible is one thing; to say that science and virtue are incompatible is another thing. The second thesis could be reduced to the first, if virtue were essentially political or social.
  • 13 - Rousseau’s Unease with Locke’s Uneasiness
    pp 295-311
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    In the Second Discourse, Jean-Jacques Rousseau seems in the end to deny that natural law can be founded upon reason. Rousseau's state of nature saliently goes even further than Thomas Hobbes's in the direction of radical individualism, depicting human beings as solitary primates who, wandering through the wilds alone except for the occasional chance encounter, are not driven into society even in order to survive. According to Rousseau, all the rules of natural right are consequences that flow from two principles one feel without any reasoning: self-love and compassion. Self-love itself would therefore mandate obedience to rules not merely as restrictions imposed by society and that one follows because to do so is a precondition of the own welfare; rather, subordination of the particular interest to the general interest would become our fullest welfare. Sociability is consequently a law of reason; it is predicated upon natural enlightenment.
  • 14 - Montaigne and Rousseau
    pp 312-324
  • Some Reflections
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    Jean-Jacques Rousseau's distinct philosophy shows theology both giving matter for substantive philosophical argument and provoking doubts about the core commitments of a most influential modern intellectual project, at the very moment that philosophy is often thought to be both the source of radical doubt and its logical, emancipatory terminus. Rousseau drew heavily from Pascal's account of an exalted imagination in the Pensées. Pascal's exalted imagination, however, has two indispensable limits that Rousseau's philosophy rejects, at least before its author comes to doubt his rejection. For Pascal, to confuse a life animated by charity with other modes of being is to fall into profound corruption. Rousseau's account of imagination had always retained a theological mark or inclination from its Pascalian origins, but Rousseau regularly sought to bring it under robust philosophical control, not least by giving a divine tincture to human genius.


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