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Rousseau's Therapeutic Experiments

  • Amélie Oksenberg Rorty (a1)

‘Our passions are psychological instruments,’ Rousseau says, ‘with which nature has armed our hearts for the defence of our persons and of all that is necessary for our well-being. [But] the more we need external things, the more we are vulnerable to obstacles that can overwhelm us; and the more numerous and complex our passions become. They are naturally proportionate to our needs.’

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1 Rousseau, Fragments for Émile, Oeuvres Complètes Gallimard, Éditions Pléiade, Vol. IV, 1969. p. 873. My translation.

2 In discussing Rousseau's account of the relation between the self and its passions and sentiments, it is appropriate, indeed necessary, to use the mas culine pronoun throughout. Despite their presumed moral equality, women are disqualified from citizenship. But Rousseau holds that only autonomous, rational citizens qualify as fully developed persons.

3 It is a vexed question whether these ‘stages’ mark a temporal sequence. Certainly the state of nature is a projected thought experiment, a set of speculations about what life might be like for men physically constituted as we are, if—hypothetically—we did not live in social groups. But Rousseau also seems to believe that men might once have lived in social groups without having consciously, explicitly formed and consented to a set of rules, procedures for settling disputes and authorizing a system of legislation.

4 ‘Second Discourse’, The First and Second Discourses edited and translated by Gourevitch Victor (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), p. 170. All references will be to this edition.

5 This view of ‘impulses’ as the primitive beginnings of passions as motives derives, as do so many other of Rousseau's views, from the Stoics. For a detailed account of the relation between impressions, impulses and passions, see Frede Michael, ‘The Stoic Doctrine of the Affects of the Soul,’ The Norms of Nature, Striker Gisela and Schofield Malcolm (eds) (Cambridge University Press, 1986).

6 Cf. Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (160 ff.) and Émile, Bloom Allan (ed.), (New York: Basic Books, 1979) pp. 17ff. Because it connotes a sharp distinction between subject and object, because it presupposes a comparative judgment, ‘pity’ is a poor translation of pitié.

7 Second Discourse, pp. 174 ff. Gourevitch points out the striking similarity between these passages and Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, V. (344) Rousseau claims that Hobbes' description of men in the state of nature is in fact a description of man in society. If Hobbes were right, he argues, the political contract could never have been formed. But Rousseau may not be entitled to make this criticism. His own account of the contractual institution of the state is as hypothetical and ahistorical as Hobbes'. If the social subject were as deformed as Rousseau suggests, he would be incapable of the kind of rational deliberation required to form the political contract.

8 In the Confessions and in Les Rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire, IV, Rousseau deliberately reveals himself as a prime example of such a malformation. But his corruption is often more clearly revealed in his unselfconscious accounts of his adventures—as in the story of his role in the dismissal of his fellow servant Marion—than it is in his dramatic self-consciously confessional proclamations. It is evident that although he was the cause of Marion's unjust dismissal, he never attempted to help her find another position. While he (melo)dramatically blames himself for his cowardice in lying, it never occurs to him to blame himself for the harm he has done or for his callousness in not rectifying her situation.

9 For a detailed account of this process, see the Essay on the Origins of Languages and the Letter to D'Alembert.

10 References to The Social Contract (SC) will be made to Book, Chapter and paragraph numbers. The abbreviated title—Le Contrat Social—is a misnomer. The full title of the work is: Du Contrat Social, ou Principes du droit politique. It is, after all, Rousseau who develops the contrast between society and the polity, between the informal psychological relations that grow without a person's explicit consent and the political relations founded on principles to which an individual has freely consented. Although in Book I. 1–8, Rousseau speaks loosely of the transition from ‘the state of nature’ to the civil state, it is clear that those who enter the Sovereign compact are already social beings: they live in families, they have a developed language and property.

11 Despite his attempt to spell out the steps by which the General Will is the rational expression of each individual's own interest, Rousseau's conception of the relation between the General Will and private interest remains obscure. That obscurity is marked by the fact that almost no two commentators agree about how best to interpret it.

12 This is one of the places where Freud's debt to Rousseau is strongly marked. It emerges most clearly in Civilization and Its Discontents.

13 Those entries reflect a strong Stoic and Cartesian influence. Rousseau's distinction between passions and sentiments echoes Descartes' distinctions between passions and habitudes (Passions of the Soul, III). Both articulate the Stoic distinction between pathē and eupathē. Like eupathē, sentiments are dispositional, presumptively rational and benign.

14 L'Encyclopédie treats sentiment, avis and opinion as modes of judgment, differentiating sentiment by its sincerity.

15 But interestingly enough, the summary of The Social Contract that appears in Émile, V does not include any reference to the Legislator or to civic religion.

16 But the Tutor nevertheless introduces a normative account of initia property entitlement: the control of property is explicitly linked to labour.

17 Émile, (E) edited and translated by Allan Bloom, New York Basic Books. References will be to this edition.

18 It is difficult to resist comparing this passage with Augustine's account of his reflections on the consequences of his childish theft of pears (The Con fessions). Augustine argues that the guilt that followed his theft revealed God's mark, an innate sense of right and wrong. Rousseau suggests that Émile's outrage is the natural beginning of a sense of justice. Despite the interesting differences between them, both Augustine and Rousseau hold that the emo tional consequences of moral infraction express an innate sense of morality. Both echo the Genesis story: in eating—in despoiling—the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve acquired a knowledge of good and evil, expressed in their subsequent shame.

19 Preface to La Nouvelle Héloise, Oeuvres Complètes, Vol. II, Gallimard, Éditions Pléiade, 1964, pp. 1415.

20 Ibid. p. 5.

21 I am grateful to the participants in a conference on The Self and Symbolic Expression, at the East—West Center at the University of Hawaii, for comments on an ancestor of this paper. I also benefited from discussions with Sissela Bok, Victor Gourevitch, Fred Neuhouser and Tom Wartenberg.

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