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Interesting book review on Rousseau and Hobbes

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Richard Velkey reviews Robin Douglass’s Rousseau and Hobbes: Nature, Free Will, and the Passions. Excerpt:

The critical response to Hobbes has been inadequate, Rousseau argues, due to its failure to grasp the historical contingency of the misery-causing passions and to see that original human nature is free of them. Yet Rousseau makes this move by an appeal to Hobbes in which he takes further Hobbes’s view of the human as originally governed by passion (self-preservation and amour-propre) and as unaware of the “metaphysical” principles of right ascribed to natural reason by natural law theorists (68). Hobbes was radical but insufficiently so: “Hobbes very clearly saw the defect of all modern definitions of natural right: but the conclusions he draws from his own definition show that he understands it in a sense that is no less false.” Hobbes should have seen that his insight into the human as passion-governed leads in another direction: “Above all, let us not conclude with Hobbes that because he has no idea of goodness man is naturally wicked, that he is vicious because he does not know virtue”. Hobbes’s error is shared by all fundamental political thinkers prior to Rousseau: “The philosophers who have examined the foundations of society have all felt the necessity of going back as far as the state of nature, but none of them has reached it.”  Hobbes like all the others attributed to original humanity passions that could arise only in society. Thus Rousseau would unmask the failure of the whole tradition, Hobbesian as well as anti-Hobbesian, with the help of Hobbes. This is one of several paradoxical inversions performed by Rousseau.


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