Was Rousseau a philosophe?
Was Rousseau a philosophe? According to the Wikipedia definition of a philosophe, “philosophes were a new approach to learning that encouraged reason, knowledge and education as a way of overcoming superstition and ignorance.” 1 The underlying goal of a philosophe was the concept of progress. Through the mastery and explanation of the sciences, humanity could learn to harness the natural world for its own benefit in order to live peacefully with one another. Rousseau’s ‘Second Discourse’ does exactly that: It is an incredible re-creation of the concept of how man existed in a perfect state and ultimately led themselves towards voluntary enslavement. I believe it was Rousseau’s purpose to make the world understand the transformation that had occurred in an attempt to get humanity to revert back to a level of equality and co-existence that had once occurred naturally.
The Second Discourse starts by illustrating pre-civilized man and his need to procure only the ‘bare essentials’ to fulfill a need for survival. This idea of the noble savage is what he referred to as the happiest state of humankind: a middle state between completely wild and completely civilized. As his paper evolves, Rousseau shows rapid development for emotional and social change. Pity was one of the key principles that Rousseau identifies as existing prior to reason. He states that all humans feel a strong distaste on seeing the suffering of another sentient creature. Rousseau argues that because humans feel this impulse of pity towards others they will not willingly mistreat other creatures unless their own self preservation is at stake.
Self preservation is the other key principle which Rousseau attributes to his idea of Natural Right. The desire to preserve oneself is the only thing that can drive one being to harm another, but only in extreme circumstances. Through the evolution of man and the occurrence of village festivals, ideas such as...
Cited: 1. "Philosophe." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 2008
2. “Benjamin Franklin” WikiQuote: Benjamin Franklin. 2008
3. “Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality among Men”.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 1754.
4. The Portable Enlightenment Reader. Isaac Kramnick (Ed.). (1995). New York: Penguin Books.
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