Notes on Berlin on Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Some notes on the ideas of Rousseau as presented by Berlin. These are directed towards separating out certain aspects of romanticism from those aspects of Rousseau's though whioh are totalitarian, or in other ways more doubtful.

The purpose of these notes is to assist me in the articulation of those aspects of my "naive" and "positive" philosophies which draw upon the "romantic" tradition. I'm looking to support some kind of critique of the elightenment without embracing those aspects of Rousseau thought which lead to totalitarianism. My impressions of Rousseau's ideas are drawn from the writings of Isaiah Berlin, so this will be an extremely unreliable account of them.

Key Elements

In the little story which interests me here the key elements are:

  • the romantic counterposition to the enlightenment
  • Rousseau's critique of intellectuals and its counterweight
  • Rousseau's attitude toward and perversion of the notion of liberty

Romanticism and the Enlightenment

I draw here on Berlin's identification of the focal issue which is not identified as deriving specifially from Rousseau.

Berlin describes the enlightenmant as a movement based on total belief in the power of reason to answer all questions, not only logical, mathematical, and empirical, but also, moral and political. This leaves no room for individual preferences, values are objective and anyone who values that which is not objectively valuable is simply wrong. This means that society can be planned rationally, and the individual should have no say in what social order emerges from this process. It seems that overconfidence in what can be achieved by reason may result in a totalitarian technocracy.

It may be noted that opossition to thie view is not exclusive to romantic thought. It arises also in empiricism, and Hume's sceptical writings were crucial to some early German reaction against the enlightenment.

The Romantic reaction is characterised by Berlin as encapsulated in the idea of the Romantic Hero. Whereas under enlightenment values, a person dedicating himself to some ideal is applauded only if the ideal is objectively worthy. In the Romantic view, the important question is whether a man is true to his own ideals, whether or not these are shared by enyone else, whether or not these have any objective validity. Thus, for the Romantic the idea of objective values is undermined, and right of intellectuals to impose rationally determined objective values is rejected.

Rousseau's Critique of Intellectuals and its Counterweight

Whether or not Rousseau was the author of the romantic hero outlined above, he detested, according to Berlin, "the sciences, scientists, intellectuals, coteries of civilised persons and their salons - the whole notion of enlightened elites". Alongside this was his hatred of despotism, of all bowing to a stronger force merely because it is stronger

Rousseau's answer to all this lay in the notion of moral vision. He retained a belief in the objectivity of moral and political truths, but rather than allowing that these can be rationally determined by intellectuals, these are to be obtained through an inner vision, in principle accessible to anyone.

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