PHIL-552 Rousseau & Romanticism
Spring for 2017-2018
In this class, we will treat Rousseau as a major modern philosopher whose texts deserve close, systematic attention. While most philosophers read only a few of Rousseau’s works and restrict their attention to his political theory, we will be looking at his metaphysics of nature, freedom, and personhood, his aesthetic theory, and his role in laying the ground for Kant’s ‘critical turn’. Not only is Rousseau a rich theorist of the self, nature, and civil society in his own right, but he initiated a dramatic philosophical transition during the late eighteenth century, and arguably he was one of the most important intellectual catalysts for the French Revolution. The high modern empiricists and rationalists typically portrayed the natural and the social as two separate domains, each comprehensible in terms of elegant and parsimonious principles, and the self as an independent entity who negotiated both domains. In contrast, the Romantic philosophers, led by Rousseau, saw nature and society as intertwined and mutually determining, and the self as essentially mired in contingency and messy bodily particularity, even while it necessarily strives for order and harmony. We will spend the two thirds of the class reading several of Rousseau’s works closely. These writings quickly spawned an array of philosophical reactions, from Kant’s attempts to sanitize and contain the contingency that tortured Rousseau, to the Marquis de Sade’s attempts to totalize this contingency and elevate it into a moral principle. By the time Hegel wrote the Phenomenology of Spirit only a couple of decades after Rousseau’s death, he was already reflecting retrospectively upon Rousseau’s Romantic turn and the philosophical and political revolutions it generated. In the second half of the course, we will explore the tumultuous Romantic fallout from Rousseau.
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