Reading Rousseau, Knowing Rousseau, Teaching Rousseau

Please note this seminar will be conducted in French.

Rousseau is one of the most important philosophers and thinkers of the French Enlightenment, yet he is also one of the most controversial and misunderstood philosophers of all times. In this seminar we will look closely at several passages from Rousseau’s key works in order to come to an understanding of his philosophy and the coherence of the system he shared with his readers.

Rousseau’s philosophy was crucially shaped by a vision he had on his way to Vincennes to visit Diderot in prison. He claims that all of his writings are an attempt to capture some of the insight he gained from that vision. The underlying themes of his writings are often misunderstood, however, as philosophers, political theorists, and others have tended to project their own ideas onto Rousseau’s insights. We will talk about how critics interpreted Rousseau’s works in the 20th century and how his views became distorted through slanted interpretations in the political, structural, and epistemological spheres. A list of passages to read in advance will be provided online in order to help us discuss both the critical perspectives and Rousseau’s own message. Works that we may look at if time allows are the first and second Discourses, the Dialogues, the Confessions, La Nouvelle Héloise, Emile, and the Social Contract.