Conscience and confession in Rousseau's naturalistic moral psychology

IN PLACE OF AN ABSTRACT: I here report on my work-in-progress addressing Rousseau’s naturalistic account of human agency. In the first half of these notes I attempt to throw light on the distinctive character of Rousseau’s philosophical naturalism. I compare Rousseau’s naturalism both to that of his own contemporaries and to some of our own (§1), but argue that Rousseauian naturalism is better understood as a development of ancient forms of ethical naturalism, particularly as mediated by Seneca (§2). I then turn to consider how Rousseau’s distinctive naturalistic commitments shape his treatment of the problem of self-consciousness, in particular with regard to the self-consciousness involved in action. I argue that Rousseau identifies two fundamental structures of self-consciousness essential to beings with natures like ours. The first is Rousseauian conscience, understood following the Stoics as a form of natural selfsentiment (§3); the second is associated with the distinctively human task of confession, understood as a form of self-judgment (§4).
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