August 11, 2013

Some Philosophy: Kant and Rousseau

I've taken up a new Coursera course called The Modern and the Postmodern. I'm not sure if I like it yet, there's too much philosophy and nothing about modernity so far, but I've decided I'll give it a chance. The first two weeks were dedicated to Kant and Rousseau, and as I'm still very bad at reading philosophical works, I'll write just short reviews here.

Immanuel Kant

Title: An Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?
Author: Immanuel Kant
First published: 1784
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Rating: ★★★★☆

Kant sees enlightenment as a willing "growing up" of a man. He must stop being afraid of thinking by himself and start doing it. But Kant doesn't think that independent thinking is always appropriate. He divides everybody's lives into two parts: private, including his work and family life, and public, which means written articles or public speeches. And an opinion is not out of place in public life, whereas in everyday life people must follow rules. The most important is that these rules must be the ones consciously imposed by men on themselves.

In my book:
Overall, Kant seems to be a reasonable guy, who steers a middle course which doesn't look either dangerous or impossible.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Title: Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau
First published: 1750
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

In his first discourse, Rousseau tries to prove that the development of arts and sciences doesn't make people better or happier and isn't good for the nation as a whole. His argument can be summarized as this: Sparta was better than Athens. He references a lot of research works of others and brings to the reader's attention some very selective historical facts that support his idea, but on the whole his point is so contrary to what we all, I assume, believe now that it's really hard to relate to his writing.

Title: Discourse on the Origins of Inequality
Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau
First published: 1754
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The second discourse is much longer than the first one, and I think this length is quite unnecessary. Rousseau tries to trace the human history to pre-society times to explain how this society appeared. I expected a lot from this work, because the topic is really interesting, but I got nothing except vague suppositions. I guess much less was known then than is known now about the early history of humankind, but I still got the feeling that Rousseau is not trying to get to the core of the problem but only wants to support his ideas about the incompetence of the state and the wonderfulness of the barbaric existence.

In my book:
I find it really difficult to get Rousseau not only because of his rather controversial and disturbing ideas, but also because of a very abundant writing style. What I mean is that it is not at all concise and sometimes is not very structured, and has such a lot of references to other works, that I spent half of the time reading commentary. It is tiring. 


  1. That you read not one but two philosophers has simply blown me away! I don't know what I want to say or even that I have anything to say. I guess this comment is just here to say I read your blog post and am impressed.

    1. Oh, thanks :) I'm secretly mildly proud of me myself...


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