Thursday, September 18, 2008

Rousseau, Self-Love and Recognition

Frederick Neuhouser, who is well-known for his work on Fichte and Hegel, published this week Rousseau's Theodicy of Self-Love: Evil, Rationality, and the Drive for Recognition. I expect that the many of us who work on Fichte and Hegel's theory of recognition will find much of interest in this work. Here is the publisher's book description:
This book is the first comprehensive study of Rousseau's rich and complex theory of the type of self-love (amour proper ) that, for him, marks the central difference between humans and the beasts. Amour proper is the passion that drives human individuals to seek the esteem, approval, admiration, or love--the recognition --of their fellow beings. Neuhouser reconstructs Rousseau's understanding of what the drive for recognition is, why it is so problematic, and how its presence opens up far-reaching developmental possibilities for creatures that possess it. One of Rousseau's central theses is that amour proper in its corrupted, manifestations--pride or vanity--is the principal source of an array of evils so widespread that they can easily appear to be necessary features of the human condition: enslavement, conflict, vice, misery, and self-estrangement. Yet Rousseau also argues that solving these problems depends not on suppressing or overcoming the drive for recognition but on cultivating it so that it contributes positively to the achievement of freedom, peace, virtue, happiness, and unalienated selfhood. Indeed, Rousseau goes so far as to claim that, despite its many dangers, the need for recognition is a condition of nearly everything that makes human life valuable and that elevates it above mere animal existence: rationality, morality, freedom--subjectivity itself--would be impossible for humans if it were not for amour properand the relations to others it impels us to establish.

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