Allan Ramsay, Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1766

A Strange Enlightenment: The Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Instructor: Heather Ohaneson
A Public Space
323 Dean Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217

This intensive course will provide an introduction to the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, showing how his thought fits, albeit uncomfortably, within the period of the French Enlightenment. Over four weeks, we will read from each of Rousseau’s “major” texts—Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, On the Social ContractÉmile, and Confessions—as well as the delightfully “minor” Reveries of the Solitary Walker. We will study Rousseau’s views on self-love, the quest for recognition, civil liberty, the state of nature, the value of autonomy, motherhood, memory, and the relationship between education and religion. Throughout these sessions, we will pay special attention to the relationship between Rousseau’s biography and his philosophy. Thus, students will gain familiarity with the complex figure and colorful life of Rousseau: from his experiences as a wandering autodidact, and his relationship with Madame de Warens—said to be the paradigm for the Oedipus complex, as Freud describes it—to the paranoia-fueled collapse of his friendship with the Scottish philosopher David Hume. In sum, we will examine Rousseau—a compatriot of Calvin and a contemporary (and acquaintance) of eighteenth-century giants Diderot, Voltaire, and Rameau—as one of the Enlightenment’s most paradoxical thinkers.

Course Schedule

Thursday, 7-10pm
April 16 — May 07, 2015
4 weeks

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