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The work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is presented in two volumes, together forming the most comprehensive anthology of Rousseau's political writings in English. Volume I contains the earlier writings such as the First and Second Discourses.The American and French Revolutions were profoundly affected by Rousseau's writing, thus illustrating the scope of his influence. This vol The work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is presented in two volumes, together forming the most comprehensive anthology of Rousseau's political writings in English. Volume I contains the earlier writings such as the First and Second Discourses.The American and French Revolutions were profoundly affected by Rousseau's writing, thus illustrating the scope of his influence. This volume contains a comprehensive introduction, chronology and guide to further reading, and will enable students to fully understand the writings of one of the world's greatest thinkers.


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The work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is presented in two volumes, together forming the most comprehensive anthology of Rousseau's political writings in English. Volume I contains the earlier writings such as the First and Second Discourses.The American and French Revolutions were profoundly affected by Rousseau's writing, thus illustrating the scope of his influence. This vol The work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is presented in two volumes, together forming the most comprehensive anthology of Rousseau's political writings in English. Volume I contains the earlier writings such as the First and Second Discourses.The American and French Revolutions were profoundly affected by Rousseau's writing, thus illustrating the scope of his influence. This volume contains a comprehensive introduction, chronology and guide to further reading, and will enable students to fully understand the writings of one of the world's greatest thinkers.

30 review for The Discourses & Other Early Political Writings

  1. 5 out of 5

    B. P. Rinehart

    Though this book is a collection of diverse early political writings by Rousseau, I want to mainly focus on The Discourses since they make up the vast majority of the book. In 1750 and 1754, Jean-Jacques Rousseau of Geneva decided to enter into the annual essay contest held by the Academy of Dijon. In both of these contests, the discourses he submitted became extremely popular and controversial and the ideas have influenced generation after generation of thinkers. He would win his first attempt i Though this book is a collection of diverse early political writings by Rousseau, I want to mainly focus on The Discourses since they make up the vast majority of the book. In 1750 and 1754, Jean-Jacques Rousseau of Geneva decided to enter into the annual essay contest held by the Academy of Dijon. In both of these contests, the discourses he submitted became extremely popular and controversial and the ideas have influenced generation after generation of thinkers. He would win his first attempt in 1750 answering the question: "Has the restoration of the sciences and arts contributed to the purification of morals?" but would lose in his 1754 essay that responded to the inquiry: "What is the origin of inequality among people, and is it authorized by natural law?" Both of these discourses have had great effect on the way we understand education and politics, respectively. I will try to shortly give my opinion on both, as well as comment on the general format of the book and its editorial layout/decisions. I read The Discourses out of order, because of school, but I am now glad I did because it works better in a chronological sense. The Second Discourse [On the Origins of Inequality] deals with how civil societies become are unequal and how modern political societies simply perpetuate inequality. Now Rousseau's whole political philosophy goes against the status quo of two of his most famous predecessors on the subject: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke (whose political philosophy I personally prefer). Rousseau argues against the accepted wisdom that Hobbes and Locke advocated, that civil, political society brought order and stability from the chaos and uncertainty of nature. Rousseau famously says that natural man was man at his best and the moment that one man claimed property or possession, this was the beginning of inequality and sorrow for the human race. Savage man was perfection and everything since, imperfection. This is my basic overview of the discourse, but it goes very deep into the topic and is worth the read. Now though I disagree with the overall thesis, if that was the only discourse I had read by in this book I would give the book 4/5 stars. But I also read the First Discourse which actually won the Academy's essay contest. Now if you understand the what he believes as far as man in his natural state versus man in civil society you will of course know what he does not at all believe: that the enlightenment has boasted morality. In fact, Rousseau believes the opposite, that even in the Classical era, scholarship ruined societies. He gives all of the examples you could think of, from Egypt to Persia to China to Greece to Rome to England. It is heavy on examples and lighter on actual ideas/statements. To make it short, for the most part people who take up or perpetuate the general teaching of the arts and sciences are ruining society and hurting patriotism. "Learned men" should exist, but they should reserve their talents for collaboration with political leaders only and both groups can, in-concert, help society. Had this been the only discourse I had read, the book would have gotten two, maybe three stars. The two Discourses talk about the same thing, but from two different angles. In both, one group stands out as Rousseau's favorite and as near to perfect state that has existed in recorded history: Sparta. Both Discourses come with replies (usually criticisms) to Rousseau and Rousseau replies in-turn. You can find supplementary notes by Rousseau in the form of footnote and endnotes, but they can be inaccurate/misleading. Rousseau is notorious for not just contradicting himself across different works, but for contradicting himself across a single work. Without the editorial notes in the back of the book I would not have known that Rousseau casually mis-attributes quotations and mis-remembers basic things. The people at Cambridge deserve a medal for having to double-check everything he wrote.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Yotpseudba

    It has been a few years since i last read Rousseau, and through my further reading and musing about politics, i've come to appreciate his work a lot more. I think at the heart of Rousseau's writings is a question of the possible in political affairs. Looking at his surroundings, his intellectual climate, he was confronted with the issue: what is the foundation of the corruption of people and societies? At the time the prominent voices famously posited that people are by nature Prideful, Churlish It has been a few years since i last read Rousseau, and through my further reading and musing about politics, i've come to appreciate his work a lot more. I think at the heart of Rousseau's writings is a question of the possible in political affairs. Looking at his surroundings, his intellectual climate, he was confronted with the issue: what is the foundation of the corruption of people and societies? At the time the prominent voices famously posited that people are by nature Prideful, Churlish, Greedy and Selfish; that if we stripped away the state, people would live in a state of unending conflict with each other over power and protection. From this logic, it is only natural (and, in fact, possible) that government be legitimised on the basis of these negative characteristics which have been inherent to all of human life. The only interest that such imperfect creatures can have in common is a certain self interest in their own life: self-preservation. Such is Hobbes' argument (basically, though there is certainly more to it), and it is from this argument that Rousseau situates his response. Rousseau agrees with Hobbes' assessment of the character of people, though he doesn't believe that such flaws are due to human nature but rather the many influences of society. Such is the content of his first two dialogues, demonstrating how the arts and sciences, and society itself, corrupts the moral character of people. The second dialogue is the most interesting in this regard, as it introduces two key concepts central to Rousseau's philosophy: Amour Propre and Amour de soi-meme. Rousseau often gets flack (even from authors who should know better) for the historical inaccuracy of his State of Nature, of his portrayal of the "noble savage", as if his account is meant to represent an anthropological account. Rousseau himself states that we should "begin by dispensing with the facts" and that "hypothetical and conditional reasons" are "more suitable for illuminating the natureof things than for showing the true origin". Rather, the state of nature which Rousseau describes is used to demonstrate many of his ideas: the demonstration of how societal association corrupts Amour de soi-meme and produces Amour Propre, how the formation of government benefits the powerful and not the weak, how such a restrictive view such as Hobbes' ignores a central human characteristic of Pity (empathy), and how Locke's account of property is incorrect. It is a study of Human nature and society, not a historical account. Rousseau was very much influenced by the classical conception of government that you see in Aristotle: namely, that there are perfect forms of government and their degraded counterpart. What distinguished these different states of government is simply: does the government rule in interests of all the people, or in its own self interest? such it is that the corrupting essence of all government is that very concept of self-interest. This spurs his attack of Hobbes: If government is founded on nothing but the self-interest of others, is it not from its very inception corrupted? Certainly this consideration is all the more interesting when thinking of modern political-economy and neoliberal ideology. The motivation to find a way of founding government on the interest of all, and minimising self interest, would play a role in his later writings (in the form of the General and Particular Will). This i what i mean by the question of the "possible" in politics: If we constrain ourselves to the narrow account of Hobbes, then there really isn't much that is possible in Politics; if, however, we understand that these defects aren't intrinsic to our nature, then perhaps a brighter future can be reached. Of course, Rousseau notes that such a corruption of our character isn't something that can be completely undone: after all, as long as there is property, society, interpersonal relations, there will always be comparison, concepts of mine and thine, hierarchies, which foster animosity between us and cause us to consider ourselves in relation to others. Even still, it leaves open more options than the pessimists of Human Nature.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Egor Sofronov

    The paragon of insight, style, wit. I am under his spell. Also superb edition

  4. 4 out of 5

    Varad

    This is a superb collection of Rousseau's early political writings. The focus is of course on the two Discourses of the title, the Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts or First Discourse and the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality or Second Discourse. What makes this the best edition of those two seminal texts is the inclusion of Rousseau's various replies to critics of the First Discourse. These replies were quite significant in helping Rousseau clarify and elaborate his thi This is a superb collection of Rousseau's early political writings. The focus is of course on the two Discourses of the title, the Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts or First Discourse and the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality or Second Discourse. What makes this the best edition of those two seminal texts is the inclusion of Rousseau's various replies to critics of the First Discourse. These replies were quite significant in helping Rousseau clarify and elaborate his thinking. The preface to his play Narcisse is especially important as it portends the direction his thought would take in the Second Discourse. Gourevitch also includes two replies to critics of the latter; the reason there are no more is that Rousseau chose the second time around not to engage in a public debate. The volume is rounded out with several lesser known works. I hesitate to describe them as "minor" as they are all crucial in one way or another to taking a fuller sounding of Rousseau's political doctrines. These include his "Letter to Voltaire," in which Rousseau defends a position of philosophical optimism in the wake of the great Lisbon earthquake; the Essay on the Origin of Languages; and the "Discourse on Heroic Virtue." The inclusion of these works makes this volume of great use to anyone interested in Rousseau, eighteenth-century intellectual history, and early modern political thought. Gourevitch's translations and editorial work are excellent here just as they are in the companion volume. Together, they are likely the best compendium of Rousseau's political writings in English. It is unlikely they will be surpassed any time soon.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lovely Fortune

    Will definitely be reading this again outside of a class context. Rousseau's idea that inequality stems from the fact that we are too far removed from our primitive state thanks to the luxuries/conveniences that progress has given us along with a shift in focus on the talents/traits others have rather than ourselves and our own basic necessities is pretty radical (but I suppose that's what he's known for!). It's definitely something I'd like to respond to when I have more time to look into these Will definitely be reading this again outside of a class context. Rousseau's idea that inequality stems from the fact that we are too far removed from our primitive state thanks to the luxuries/conveniences that progress has given us along with a shift in focus on the talents/traits others have rather than ourselves and our own basic necessities is pretty radical (but I suppose that's what he's known for!). It's definitely something I'd like to respond to when I have more time to look into these arguments without a reading schedule for them!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    honestly i found the discourses (specifically the second) much better than the social contract

  7. 5 out of 5

    Robot

    It's a travesty to read The Social Contract without haivng read the Second Discourse. That's all there is to it. Take care of that immediately. It's a travesty to read The Social Contract without haivng read the Second Discourse. That's all there is to it. Take care of that immediately.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rifat Islam

    General will still seems very hand-wavy; tyranny of majority

  9. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    Often very witty, sometimes wrong but in thought-provoking ways. Worth reading again. This edition has a thorough set of notes.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Grant Li

    I read the Introduction, Preface to the Discourses, First Discourse, Second Discourse, and the Letter to Voltaire. The rest I didn't read because I'm not trying to be a Rousseau scholar. 'Twas a good read. The discourses weren't as fun to read as The Social Contract but they're essential. The Letter to Voltaire's discussion on religion was pretty great. I read the Introduction, Preface to the Discourses, First Discourse, Second Discourse, and the Letter to Voltaire. The rest I didn't read because I'm not trying to be a Rousseau scholar. 'Twas a good read. The discourses weren't as fun to read as The Social Contract but they're essential. The Letter to Voltaire's discussion on religion was pretty great.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Clare Cawley

    Not the easiest read in the world, but I learned a lot about Rousseau's political philosophy. Not the easiest read in the world, but I learned a lot about Rousseau's political philosophy.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Glen Pettigrove

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael Mallinson

  14. 4 out of 5

    John Miller

  15. 4 out of 5

    jesseDavid

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Gaunt

  17. 5 out of 5

    John

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tolga Karabulut

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Tackabery

  20. 4 out of 5

    George J. Edwards

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter Knechtle

  22. 5 out of 5

    Roberta Allen

  23. 5 out of 5

    John Tiedemann

  24. 4 out of 5

    Reese Austin

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ali

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gypsy Albin

  28. 4 out of 5

    Thina

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marcel H.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Feliks

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