In Pascal Delhom & Alfred Hirsch (eds.), Rousseaus Ursprungserzählungen. Fink. pp. 49-66 (2012)

Michaela Rehm
Bielefeld University
The claim of this paper is to show that the “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences” does not propose a general critique of progress as such, but a critique of the idea of progress as promoted by the 18th century “philosophers”. It is argued that Rousseau is no proponent of a Counter-Enlightenment, on the contrary he aims to go further than other thinkers of his time by scrutinizing even progress itself, Enlightenment’s pet notion. In defining arts and sciences as the very driving forces of progress, the “philosophers” according to Rousseau are fostering inequality, because only an elite will be able to succeed in them. By contrast, talking about progress in Rousseau’s view only makes sense if “progress” is defined in moral and political terms, as enabling all men to participate in the promotion of everybody’s well-being. The paper intends to show that Rousseau’s answer to the shortcomings of civilization is not a “return to nature”, but the advancement of artificial institutions: namely, the egalitarian republic.
Keywords state of nature  progress  Discourse on the arts and sciences  Rousseau  perfectibility  back to nature
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