Okay - so I like to read about philsophy, history and, well, the history of philosophy. This has deepened over recent years. Prior to this, if someone mentioned Jean-Jacques Rousseau (wiki link) to me, I would have stated that I have the impression that he is not a paricularly good guy, but couldn’t tell you why, beyond maybe remembering that he wrote on child education but had himself claimed to have given up 5 children to a foundling hospital.
Now, with a bit more context under my belt, I am trying to see if I understand where Rousseau “fits” in both an historical and philosophical context. My attempts to summarize:
Historical: Rousseau was the equivalent of a “pundit” in Enlightenment, pre-Revolution France, and might fit into the role of Bill O’Reilly today - meaning a Conservative opinion-maker using Right-Wing values to serve his agenda. Someone who champions the common man, old-school values, and a belief in God based on knowing What’s Right (I suppose that would make Rousseau’s *Confessions *the equivalent of O’Reilly’s *A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity *- heh). He took a position contrary to the Enlightenment who were the liberal thinkers of their day. His role in pre-Revolution France and his influence over the thinking of the leaders of the Revolution peg him as having historical significance within the context of European history and the history of revolutions and revolutionary systems of government.
Philosophical: Here’s where I am lost a bit - I can’t figure out where Rousseau offered anything new or pivotal to the ongoing “philosophical dialectic.” I mean, he commented on child education, religion and the need for a belief in God based on a knowledge of “what feels right,” about a system of government, etc. I get that - and many other “philosophers” overlap into these areas, too - but do any of his ideas transcend the historical significance at the time (i.e., influencing revolutionary thought in late-1700’s France)? If I were to point to Rousseau, where did he innovate? Child education - well, one could say he sparked the recognition of the power of upbringing in a child. Okay - interesting in educational circles, but not a big philosophical deal. His system of government played out into the French Revolution and is seen as an example of how attempts at a benevolent dictatorship devolve into…dictatorships. And he marketed his autobiography as the first modern, fully disclosing memoir, but that was more marketing than fact, although **Confessions **is often cited as a key development in the genre, if only due to its popularity of the time.
- Where did Rousseau innovate in the realm of philosophy?
- And, given what he disclosed about himself in his memoir, and what history seems to reveal about his general demeanor - was he anything more than a hypocritical prick who, regardless of the specifics of his political and religious positions, proclaimed his righteousness to his true believers while behaving like a high-maintenance diva and dishonorable person behind the scenes?*
*good lord - I equated him to O’Reilly; was he really a post-election Sarah Palin?
I would prefer this to focus on Rousseau - if my characterizations of O’Reilly and Palin cloud that discussion, I am sorry - feel free to say “that didn’t help” and then, hopefully, stick to Rousseau - set me straight and maybe use diffrent modern “equivalents” to illustrate your argument…