"The Enduring Challenge of Rousseau"

I had the privilege of participating in a tercentenary commemoration of Rousseau’s birth at Colorado College in December.  The program for the conference can be viewed here.

The paper I presented on Rousseau and truthseeking is forthcoming in History of European Ideas.  Here is the abstract:

The Sublime Science of Simple Souls: Rousseau’s Philosophy of Truth

Though it has rarely been the subject of academic criticism, there is a philosophy of truth that animates Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s broader philosophical system.  This philosophy of truth was unique for its time in the same way the whole of Rousseau’s thought was—in its emphasis on feeling over reason, the heart over the mind, the simple over the sophisticated, the useful over the demonstrable, the personal over the systematic.  Rousseau’s philosophy of truth might be more accurately called a ‘philosophy of truthseeking’ or an ‘ethics of truthseeking,’ because its focus is on the pursuit and acquisition of truth rather than on the nature of truth itself.  What is needed, Rousseau believed, is a guide back to the simple truths of human happiness, truths that were immediately apparent to us in our natural state but have become opaque in society.  This article describes Rousseau’s normative philosophy truthseeking, of what human beings must do if they hope to (re)discover the truths of human happiness.  This philosophy can be summarized as utility, autonomy, immediacy and simplicity in pursuit of what Rousseau called the ‘truths that pertain to the happiness of mankind.’