Rousseau And The Phlosophes: Immanent Critique

1258 words - 5 pages

Rousseau the CriticDespite his radical critique of Enlightenment, Jean Jacques Rousseau belongs to it. He remained loyal to the Enlightenment in two important ways, despite this disagreement over certain "fundamental" beliefs. The first was in his commitment to the authority of reason and its ability to help the thinker reach his conclusions independently. He shared the commitment to a program of research that was common to the entire philosophical movement. Second, Rousseau was also looking to help man reach the state of enlightenment: to eradicate prejudice, fanaticism and superstition, those same ends the philosope was moving toward. He may have differed with the philosophes as to what the actual meaning of lumieres was, but he always remained faithful to the ideal of spreading it.To determine whether something can truly be called immanent critique, one does not take into account how divergent the opinion is. What matters is the method of reaching it, and in the case of Rousseau we can truly say he turned the tools of his enemies against them. Logical thought experiments, a crucial analytical method of the period, were the basis for the Second Discourse (for as Rousseau mentions himself, there is no natural man around for him to question). His conclusions are based on speculation, but following the accepted principles of reasoning used at the time.This first open break with enlightenment doctrine elicited disbelief from Rousseau's contemporaries. D'Alembert seemed not to take Rousseau's arguments seriously when he pointed out that involvement in the encyclopédie seemingly undermines his claim. But as it became clear, this was only the beginning of Rousseau's break with the philosophes.A fundamental disagreement between Rousseau and the rest of the philosophes was their respective views on the development of the arts and sciences. Both Voltaire in his Century of Louis XIV, and d'Alembert in his Preliminary Discourse, took a view of the present "enriched with the discoveries of the [past]," in which history was looked upon as a process of positive growth. This progression climaxes in the Age of Enlightenment, and the philosophes claimed inheritance to that improvement. They believed that this development of the Arts led to a parallel development of morality and virtue. The expansion of the scientific method spread freedom and tolerance; society has maintained a balance of science and morals that keeps us happy and virtuous.When the academy of Dijon asked what the origin of inequality among men is, they hardly could have anticipated the answer of Rousseau. He turned the idea of progress on its head and claimed that it was responsible for the corruption of mankind; moral development and cultural development have nothing to do one another. Mankind progressed out of his natural state only to possess the vices of today.Man in the state of nature was independent, and because of his solitary state he had no need to be concerned with the opinions...

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