The Enlightenment Project in the Analytic Conversation

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In that book, he tries to work out the consequences for our picture of human nature, memory, mind and action, of evolving scientific knowledge coming from physiology, medicine and anatomy including of the brain. Some of these read like novels, some like philosophical dialogues, and some are just unclassifiable. But beyond that, it turns empiricism on its head, moving from the idea that our knowledge comes mainly from our senses to an actual metaphysics of the senses, where smell, sight, taste, touch and sounds each open onto a world.

One of these hypotheses is that not only can matter think, but all of matter senses. The character Diderot responds with a thought experiment of a marble statue, ground into powder, mixed into the earth, out of which plants grow, which animals eat. Thus the difference between a piece of marble and a sensing, conscious creature is a difference in temporal stages of a portion of matter.

He thinks if this can be granted, thought itself just follows from sensation. But for this to be true, we definitely need a conception of matter different from that of 17th-century mechanics. What is unusual is that he turns this biological theory into a metaphysics of matter itself, perpetually transforming and evolving, full also of monsters. A final remark, on the brain.

Materialist neurophilosophy the core idea of which is that the mind is the brain, or better, that mental processes are cerebral processes sometimes, like any human endeavour, looks back to find its historical predecessors. But where is the reader?

The reader is the book itself. For it is a sensing, living, speaking book. He was especially interested in the life sciences and their impact on our traditional ideas of what a person — or humanity itself — are. He would never reject scientific change outright in the name of human dignity or the immortal soul. But he would worry about possibly warped views of what a person is, and hope for explanations that do justice to our own aesthetic, political, moral, creative urges as individuals and as citizens. Like Hobbes and Locke, however, it is doubtful that Rousseau meant his readers to understand the pure state of nature that he describes in the Second Discourse as a literal historical account.

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The Enlightenment Project in the Analytic Conversation - Semantic Scholar

In its opening, he says that it must be denied that men were ever in the pure state of nature, citing revelation as a source which tells us that God directly endowed the first man with understanding a capacity that he will later say is completely undeveloped in natural man. However, it seems in other parts of the Second Discourse that Rousseau is positing an actual historical account. Some of the stages in the progression from nature to civil society, Rousseau will argue, are empirically observable in so-called primitive tribes.

Hobbes describes each human in the state of nature as being in a constant state of war against all others; hence life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. Instead, they have taken civilized human beings and simply removed laws, government, and technology. For humans to be in a constant state of war with one another, they would need to have complex thought processes involving notions of property, calculations about the future, immediate recognition of all other humans as potential threats, and possibly even minimal language skills. These faculties, according to Rousseau, are not natural, but rather, they develop historically.

In contrast to Hobbes, Rousseau describes natural man as isolated, timid, peaceful, mute, and without the foresight to worry about what the future will bring. Purely natural human beings are fundamentally different from the egoistic Hobbesian view in another sense as well. Rousseau acknowledges that self-preservation is one principle of motivation for human actions, but unlike Hobbes, it is not the only principle.

If it were, Rousseau claims that humans would be nothing more than monsters. Therefore, Rousseau concludes that self-preservation, or more generally self-interest, is only one of two principles of the human soul.

Enlightenment Thinkers

II, p. However, Rousseau says that unlike all other creatures, humans are free agents. They have reason, although in the state of nature it is not yet developed. But it is this faculty that makes the long transition from the state of nature to the state of civilized society possible. He claims that if one examines any other species over the course of a thousand years, they will not have advanced significantly. Humans can develop when circumstances arise that trigger the use of reason. Furthermore, he is not advocating a return to the state of nature, though some commentators, even his contemporaries such as Voltaire, have attributed such a view to him.

Human beings in the state of nature are amoral creatures, neither virtuous nor vicious. After humans leave the state of nature, they can enjoy a higher form of goodness, moral goodness, which Rousseau articulates most explicitly in the Social Contract. Although they are not stated explicitly, Rousseau sees this development as occurring in a series of stages.

From the pure state of nature, humans begin to organize into temporary groups for the purposes of specific tasks like hunting an animal. Very basic language in the form of grunts and gestures comes to be used in these groups. However, the groups last only as long as the task takes to be completed, and then they dissolve as quickly as they came together. The next stage involves more permanent social relationships including the traditional family, from which arises conjugal and paternal love.

Basic conceptions of property and feelings of pride and competition develop in this stage as well. However, at this stage they are not developed to the point that they cause the pain and inequality that they do in present day society. If humans could have remained in this state, they would have been happy for the most part, primarily because the various tasks that they engaged in could all be done by each individual.

The next stage in the historical development occurs when the arts of agriculture and metallurgy are discovered. Because these tasks required a division of labor, some people were better suited to certain types of physical labor, others to making tools, and still others to governing and organizing workers. Soon, there become distinct social classes and strict notions of property, creating conflict and ultimately a state of war not unlike the one that Hobbes describes. Those who have the most to lose call on the others to come together under a social contract for the protection of all.

But Rousseau claims that the contract is specious, and that it was no more than a way for those in power to keep their power by convincing those with less that it was in their interest to accept the situation. Ultimately, the work is based on the idea that by nature, humans are essentially peaceful, content, and equal. It is the socialization process that has produced inequality, competition, and the egoistic mentality.

In terms of its content the work seems to be, in many ways, a precursor to the Social Contract , which would appear in And whereas the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts and the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality look back on history and condemn what Rousseau sees as the lack of morality and justice in his own present day society, this work is much more constructive. That is, the Discourse on Political Economy explains what he takes to be a legitimate political regime. There is debate among scholars about how exactly one ought to interpret this concept, but essentially, one can understand the general will in terms of an analogy.

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A political society is like a human body. A body is a unified entity though it has various parts that have particular functions. And just as the body has a will that looks after the well-being of the whole, a political state also has a will which looks to its general well-being.

The major conflict in political philosophy occurs when the general will is at odds with one or more of the individual wills of its citizens. With the conflict between the general and individual wills in mind, Rousseau articulates three maxims which supply the basis for a politically virtuous state: 1 Follow the general will in every action; 2 Ensure that every particular will is in accordance with the general will; and 3 Public needs must be satisfied. Citizens follow these maxims when there is a sense of equality among them, and when they develop a genuine respect for law.

This again is in contrast to Hobbes, who says that laws are only followed when people fear punishment. That is, the state must make the penalty for breaking the law so severe that people do not see breaking the law to be of any advantage to them.

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Rousseau claims, instead, that when laws are in accordance with the general will, good citizens will respect and love both the state and their fellow citizens. Therefore, citizens will see the intrinsic value in the law, even in cases in which it may conflict with their individual wills. The Social Contract is, like the Discourse on Political Economy , a work that is more philosophically constructive than either of the first two Discourses. Furthermore, the language used in the first and second Discourses is crafted in such a way as to make them appealing to the public, whereas the tone of the Social Contract is not nearly as eloquent and romantic.

Another more obvious difference is that the Social Contract was not nearly as well-received; it was immediately banned by Paris authorities. And although the first two Discourses were, at the time of their publication, very popular, they are not philosophically systematic. The Social Contract , by contrast, is quite systematic and outlines how a government could exist in such a way that it protects the equality and character of its citizens.

For the earlier works discuss the problems in civil society as well as the historical progression that has led to them. The Discourse on the Sciences and Arts claims that society has become such that no emphasis is put on the importance of virtue and morality. The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality traces the history of human beings from the pure state of nature through the institution of a specious social contract that results in present day civil society. The Social Contract does not deny any of these criticisms.

IV, p. But unlike the first two Discourses , the Social Contract looks forward, and explores the potential for moving from the specious social contract to a legitimate one. The concept of the general will, first introduced in the Discourse on Political Economy , is further developed in the Social Contract although it remains ambiguous and difficult to interpret.

The most pressing difficulty that arises is in the tension that seems to exist between liberalism and communitarianism. On one hand, Rousseau argues that following the general will allows for individual diversity and freedom. But at the same time, the general will also encourages the well-being of the whole, and therefore can conflict with the particular interests of individuals. Despite these difficulties, however, there are some aspects of the general will that Rousseau clearly articulates.

First, the general will is directly tied to Sovereignty: but not Sovereignty merely in the sense of whomever holds power. Simply having power, for Rousseau, is not sufficient for that power to be morally legitimate. True Sovereignty is directed always at the public good, and the general will, therefore, speaks always infallibly to the benefit of the people. Second, the object of the general will is always abstract, or for lack of a better term, general. It can set up rules, social classes, or even a monarchial government, but it can never specify the particular individuals who are subject to the rules, members of the classes, or the rulers in the government.

This is in keeping with the idea that the general will speaks to the good of the society as a whole. It is not to be confused with the collection of individual wills which would put their own needs, or the needs of particular factions, above those of the general public. This leads to a related point. The latter looks only to the common interest; the former considers private interest and is only a sum of private wills. But take away from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel each other out, and the remaining sum of the differences is the general will.

This point can be understood in an almost Rawlsian sense, namely that if the citizens were ignorant of the groups to which they would belong, they would inevitably make decisions that would be to the advantage of the society as a whole, and thus be in accordance with the general will. But if the state is to protect individual freedom, how can this be reconciled with the notion of the general will, which looks always to the welfare of the whole and not to the will of the individual?

This criticism, although not unfounded, is also not devastating. To answer it, one must return to the concepts of Sovereignty and the general will. True Sovereignty, again, is not simply the will of those in power, but rather the general will. Sovereignty does have the proper authority override the particular will of an individual or even the collective will of a particular group of individuals.

However, as the general will is infallible, it can only do so when intervening will be to the benefit of the society. Proper intervention on the part of the Sovereign is therefore best understood as that which secures the freedom and equality of citizens rather than that which limits them. Ultimately, the delicate balance between the supreme authority of the state and the rights of individual citizens is based on a social compact that protects society against factions and gross differences in wealth and privilege among its members.

It was originally published just several months after the Social Contract. Like the Social Contract , the Emile was immediately banned by Paris authorities, which prompted Rousseau to flee France. The major point of controversy in the Emile was not in his philosophy of education per se, however. Rather, it was the claims in one part of the book, the Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar in which Rousseau argues against traditional views of religion that led to the banning of the book.

The Emile is unique in one sense because it is written as part novel and part philosophical treatise. Rousseau would use this same form in some of his later works as well. The book is written in first person, with the narrator as the tutor, and describes his education of a pupil, Emile, from birth to adulthood. The basic philosophy of education that Rousseau advocates in the Emile , much like his thought in the first two Discourses , is rooted in the notion that human beings are good by nature. Rousseau is very clear that a return the state of nature once human beings have become civilized is not possible.

Therefore, we should not seek to be noble savages in the literal sense, with no language, no social ties, and an underdeveloped faculty of reason. Rather, Rousseau says, someone who has been properly educated will be engaged in society, but relate to his or her fellow citizens in a natural way.

At first glance, this may seem paradoxical: If human beings are not social by nature, how can one properly speak of more or less natural ways of socializing with others? The best answer to this question requires an explanation of what Rousseau calls the two forms of self-love: amour-propre and amour de soi. Amour de soi is a natural form of self-love in that it does not depend on others. Rousseau claims that by our nature, each of us has this natural feeling of love toward ourselves.

We naturally look after our own preservation and interests. By contrast, amour-propre is an unnatural self-love that is essentially relational. That is, it comes about in the ways in which human beings view themselves in comparison to other human beings. Without amour-propre , human beings would scarcely be able to move beyond the pure state of nature Rousseau describes in the Discourse on Inequality. Thus, amour-propre can contribute positively to human freedom and even virtue.

Nevertheless, amour-propre is also extremely dangerous because it is so easily corruptible. Rousseau often describes the dangers of what commentators sometimes refer to as 'inflamed' amour-propre. In its corrupted form, amour-propre is the source of vice and misery, and results in human beings basing their own self worth on their feeling of superiority over others. While not developed in the pure state of nature, amour-propre is still a fundamental part of human nature.

Therefore goal of Emile's natural education is in large part to keep him from falling into the corrupted form of this type of self-love. This will allow the pupil to be virtuous even in the unnatural and imperfect society in which he lives.

How the Enlightenment Ends

The character of Emile begins learning important moral lessons from his infancy, thorough childhood, and into early adulthood. The tutor must even manipulate the environment in order to teach sometimes difficult moral lessons about humility, chastity, and honesty. They depend on women only because they desire them. By contrast, women both need and desire men. Sophie is educated in such a way that she will fill what Rousseau takes to be her natural role as a wife. She is to be submissive to Emile. And although Rousseau advocates these very specific gender roles, it would be a mistake to take the view that Rousseau regards men as simply superior to women.

Women have particular talents that men do not; Rousseau says that women are cleverer than men, and that they excel more in matters of practical reason.


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These views are continually discussed among both feminist and Rousseau scholars. In his discussion of how to properly educate a pupil about religious matters, the tutor recounts a tale of an Italian who thirty years before was exiled from his town.

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Disillusioned, the young man was aided by a priest who explained his own views of religion, nature, and science. The priest begins by explaining how, after a scandal in which he broke his vow of celibacy, he was arrested, suspended, and then dismissed. In his woeful state, the priest began to question all of his previously held ideas. Doubting everything, the priest attempts a Cartesian search for truth by doubting all things that he does not know with absolute certainty. But unlike Descartes, the Vicar is unable to come to any kind of clear and distinct ideas that could not be doubted.

Among these truths, the Vicar finds that he exists as a free being with a free will which is distinct from his body that is not subject to physical, mechanical laws of motion. The will is known to me in its action, not in its nature. The Profession of Faith also includes the controversial discussion of natural religion, which was in large part the reason why Emile was banned.

The controversy of this doctrine is the fact that it is categorically opposed to orthodox Christian views, specifically the claim that Christianity is the one true religion. And so, any organized religion that correctly identifies God as the creator and preaches virtue and morality, is true in this sense. Therefore, the Vicar concludes, each citizen should dutifully practice the religion of his or her own country so long as it is in line with the religion, and thus morality, of nature. The work tells the story of Julie d'Etange and St.

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Preux, who were one time lovers. Later, at the invitation of her husband, St. The major tenets of his thought are clearly evident; the struggle of the individual against societal norms, emotions versus reason, and the goodness of human nature are all prevalent themes. Rousseau began writing the Reveries of the Solitary Walker in the fall of By this time, he had grown increasingly distressed over the condemnation of several of his works, most notably the Emile and the Social Contract. This public rejection, combined with rifts in his personal relationships, left him feeling betrayed and even as though he was the victim of a great conspiracy.

It is interesting that Rousseau returns to nature, which he had always praised throughout his career. One also recognizes in this praise the recognition of God as the just creator of nature, a theme so prevalent in the Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar. The reader sees in it, not only philosophy, but also the reflections of the philosopher himself. The most distinctive feature of this late work, often referred to simply as the Dialogues , is that it is written in the form of three dialogues.

This somewhat confusing arrangement serves the purpose of Rousseau judging his own career. And second, the Dialogues represent one of the few places that Rousseau claims his work is systematic. He claims that there is a philosophical consistency that runs throughout his works. Perhaps his greatest directly philosophical influence is on the ethical thought of Immanuel Kant. This may seem puzzling at first glance. For Kant, the moral law is based on rationality, whereas in Rousseau, there is a constant theme of nature and even the emotional faculty of pity described in the Second Discourse. But despite these differences, the influence on Kant is undeniable.

The Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar is one text in particular that illustrates this influence. The Vicar claims that the correct view of the universe is to see oneself not at the center of things, but rather on the circumference, with all people realizing that we have a common center. Morality is something separate from individual happiness: a view that Rousseau undoubtedly expresses as well.

Not only is he one of the most important figures in the history of political philosophy, later influencing Karl Marx among others, but his works were also championed by the leaders of the French Revolution.

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