Rousseau's Theodicy of Self-Love: Evil, Rationality, and the Drive for Recognition
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This book is the first comprehensive study of Rousseau's rich and complex theory of the type of self-love (amour propre ) that, for him, marks the central difference between humans and the beasts. Amour propre is the passion that drives human individuals to seek the esteem, approval, admiration, or love--the recognition --of their fellow beings. Neuhouser reconstructs Rousseau's understanding of what the drive for recognition is, why it is so problematic, and how its presence opens up far-reaching developmental possibilities for creatures that possess it. One of Rousseau's central theses is that amour propre in its corrupted, manifestations--pride or vanity--is the principal source of an array of evils so widespread that they can easily appear to be necessary features of the human condition: enslavement, conflict, vice, misery, and self-estrangement. Yet Rousseau also argues that solving these problems depends not on suppressing or overcoming the drive for recognition but on cultivating it so that it contributes positively to the achievement of freedom, peace, virtue, happiness, and unalienated selfhood. Indeed, Rousseau goes so far as to claim that, despite its many dangers, the need for recognition is a condition of nearly everything that makes human life valuable and that elevates it above mere animal existence: rationality, morality, freedom--subjectivity itself--would be impossible for humans if it were not for amour propre and the relations to others it impels us to establish.
as individuals (E I, 40/OC 4, 249). Thus, when Rousseau denies that Emile can be educated both as man and citizen ‘at the same time’, he is asserting the incompatibility of Emile’s education not with citizenship tout court but only with citizenship in its ancient form. On my reading, Rousseau alerts us to the existence of ‘two contrary forms of instruction’ not with the purpose of identifying Emile with one of the alternatives—an education that produces hommes—but in order instead to deﬁne its
¹² For more on this topic, see Lovejoy, Reﬂections, 100–5, 161–2. ¹³ RSW and, especially, RJJ painfully exemplify, if unintentionally, how madness can result from a failure of recognition. ¹⁴ Rousseau uses this term in many senses. The one I have in mind here ﬁnds expression at OC 1, 1801, where the sentiment of existence is distinguished from the desire to be happy. The former is identiﬁed with ‘all that seems to extend or shore up our existence’, a description that clearly ﬁts the recognition
is a further, less subjective condition that Rousseau places on the non-inﬂamed pursuit of preeminence. It is not enough that one merely take a certain form of preeminence to be good independently of its esteem-conferring power; one’s judgment that it is so must also meet certain criteria of objectivity or well-foundedness. This part of Rousseau’s view is expressed in a series of remarks towards the end of Emile that describe the results of the educator’s successful efforts to prevent inﬂamed
one’s own well-being and concerns count more than those of one’s fellow beings). For, clearly, not everyone can regularly have his interests ﬁgure more prominently than others’ in collective decisions. At the same time, this criterion explains why it is acceptable to want to be the most highly regarded—to be loved⁵ above everyone else—by some other particular individual (such as one’s lover), as well as, of course, why the demand to be such for everyone is inﬂamed: the former—to count as best in
taking himself to be ‘of a more excellent nature’ and ‘more happily born’ than others. The most plausible way of accommodating these apparently crucial elements of Rousseau’s text is to suppose that Emile, as imagined here, attributes his advantaged position not to his own hard work and effort but to some superior quality—his wisdom, or reason—that he takes himself to possess by nature (innately). In other words, what Rousseau describes as ‘the error most to be feared’ must be Emile’s belief that