Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Abandoned to Ourselves: Being an Essay on the Emergence and Implications of Sociology in the Writings of Mr. Jean-Jacques Rousseau ..: Books

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Abandoned to Ourselves: Being an Essay on the Emergence and Implications of Sociology in the Writings of Mr. Jean-Jacques Rousseau ..: Books

Article excerpt

Abandoned to Ourselves: Being an Essay on the Emergence and Implications of Sociology in the Writings of Mr. Jean-Jacques Rousseau ... By Peter Alexander Meyers Yale University Press, 512pp, Pounds 45.00 ISBN 9780300172058 Published 29 August 2013

One of the distinctive traits of the Enlightenment was the wide range of domains to which writers turned their attention: all kinds of issues in history, philosophy, literature, religion, politics, economics and the natural sciences were addressed by a new type of versatile intellectual. In particular the project of creating a pioneering "science of man" represented a departure, as human beings were no longer studied in their individual relation to God and nature but in the complex setting of the societies they had themselves created. On the whole, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was not exceptional in developing his reflection across a variety of fields and literary genres. The unique appeal of his contribution came from the vivid intuitions, and the intensity of feeling he conveyed to his readers, turning the philosophical issue of the place of man within society into a captivating existential drama.

In Abandoned to Ourselves, Peter Alexander Meyers places at the centre of Rousseau's doctrine the transition from a world governed by God's will to one ruled by the blind mechanisms of society. In Meyers' reconstruction, having "invented" society, the writers of the Enlightenment failed to find in their creation a source of true emancipation. For Rousseau in particular, man was liberated from the inexorable designs of Providence only to find himself trapped into his inescapable dependence on social interaction and social conventions. Far from securing liberty, modern individualism - the assertion of individual will and the love of self - generated new forms of constraint and enslavement.

Presented in the form of an 18th-century pamphlet, Meyers' study provides a detailed analysis of the key notions in Rousseau's work, such as nature, society, morality, will, self-love and happiness. In chapter after chapter, Rousseau's passionate rhetoric is converted into a vertiginous display of tables, graphs and synopses in a quest to expose the inner structure of the reasoning. …

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