Warner, John M. Rousseau and the Problem of Human Relations

By Vaughan, Sharon K. | The Review of Metaphysics, June 2017 | Go to article overview

Warner, John M. Rousseau and the Problem of Human Relations


Vaughan, Sharon K., The Review of Metaphysics


WARNER, John M. Rousseau and the Problem of Human Relations. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015. ix + 255 pp. Cloth, $79.95--This engaging and well-written work provides a thoughtful study for scholars who want to understand and, perhaps, appreciate the tensions and nuances embedded in Rousseau's treatment of human relationships. Indeed, it provides a way one can reconcile some of the contradictions presented in his writings and the way he lived his life. That Rousseau is infamous for his disagreeableness with others--for example, Hume--and his penchant for a reclusive life make this work all the more intriguing because the dichotomy between his writings and his life is perplexing at times. Moreover, in his Discourse on Inequality, he portrays human beings as naturally asocial but at the same time in later writings, he emphasizes that the need for humans to engage in politics is crucial and necessary because of this fact. Surely, the two claims--that human beings are naturally asocial and human beings need to engage in politics--present conflict. Thus the subject of how human beings relate to each other and live together is critical to understanding Rousseau's political theory.

Simply put, the impetus behind the work is to find out how Rousseau would answer the following questions: "What do we want out of relationships? Can we get what we are after?" Warner's considerable research and his apparent mastery of Rousseau's writings, as well as his engagement with other scholars, make this work highly recommended. It is not for initiates, however, because many of his arguments require one to have familiarity with not only Rousseau's oeuvre but also other scholarly interpretations. One needs this background to appreciate the perceptive and intelligent insights that he brings to this study.

Warner's aim is to deliver a comprehensive consideration of Rousseau's theory of human relations. To that end, he aims to provide "a study that presents a reasonably complete survey of the major forms of human association as they recur in Rousseau's work, along with a theory that explains both how they are connected and the extent to which they can satisfy the desires to which they give rise." In this book, Warner substantiates the continuing worth of engaging with Rousseau when thinking about the complexities of the human condition. …

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