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On the Happiness of the Philosophic LifeReflections on Rousseau's Rêveries in Two Books$

Heinrich Meier

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226074030

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074177.001.0001

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(p.178) Chapter 6 Love
On the Happiness of the Philosophic Life

Heinrich Meier

, Robert Berman
University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the significance of love in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's reflection on his œuvre and the philosophic life as a whole. The philosophic life is supported by love of the truth, love of knowledge, and love of learning. It is nourished by the loving turn to the world and presupposes a “loving soul,” which knows how to find its “inner delights” in contemplation. This chapter considers how Rousseau's being alone is related to his love, focusing on his presentation of himself at the outset of Les rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire as “the most sociable and most loving of humans.” It also explores whether Rousseau, who writes the Rêveries for himself as a future friend, is able to be a friend only to himself. It argues that the experience of Rousseau's capacity for love, the knowledge of his power, the consciousness of being able to say yes to life, was the basis for his inner independence and his confidence in himself.

Keywords:   love, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, philosophic life, truth, knowledge, learning, loving soul, contemplation, Les rêveries du Promeneur Solitaire

Love occupies a special place in Rousseau’s reflection on his œuvre, and the same is true for the consideration of the philosophic life as a whole. Love yields a gift of a special kind. It produces a “free good deed,” which also follows inclination in the actions that grow out of it, as long as love lasts. It is the outstanding case of a shared joy, which becomes joy duplicated. In regard to the œuvre, love comes into play as love of familiar persons and as love of the most distant, as love of kindred natures, as love of oneself and as self-love. The philosophic life is supported by love of the truth, by love of knowledge, by love of learning. It is nourished by the loving turn to the world. It presupposes a “loving soul,” which knows how to find its “inner delights” in contemplation. It becomes actual only for a “truly loving heart,” which engages with objects of contemplation in their particularity and takes an interest in them in themselves, which pays attention to them as they are for themselves because it wants to know them and because it wants to know itself.1 Yet how is Rousseau’s being alone related to his love? When he presents himself at the outset of the Rêveries as “the most sociable and most loving of humans,” does the second determination, insofar as love of others is concerned, prove to be as misleading as the first determination in the further course of the promenades? Is Rousseau, who writes the Rêveries for himself as a future friend, as he informs us in the Première promenade, able to be a friend only to himself?2 As we learn in the Dixième (p.179) promenade, however, Rousseau had a female friend who sufficed for his heart. And his love for her is more to him than a pleasant memory; it is to him a present happiness, since he understands it as the event of his life that led him to embark on the path on which he became what he is.

Rousseau dedicates the final walk to his first love. The Dixième consists in one paragraph and twenty-nine sentences, of which eight begin with “Je.” Next to the Cinquième it is the most intimate of the ten promenades and the only one to which Rousseau affixes a date: “Today, Palm Sunday, it is precisely fifty years since I first met Madame de Warens. She was twenty-eight then, having been born with the century. I was not yet seventeen.”3 The encounter deserves to be marked historically, since, as Rousseau records, it would be decisive for his entire life, “and by an inevitable chain of events, shaped the destiny” that determined his path up to the very end. His reflection on the beginning of the encounter is dated exactly, since in this moment it presents his adult life to him in as it were a single piece. Today, on April 12, 1778, it becomes present to and is present in Rousseau’s thinking and feeling. The destiny he discerns in returning to the beginning is no longer an impenetrable weave of threads, stitches, meshes that made him into a plaything of alien intentions and purposes, but rather the expression of an inner necessity that commenced as he discovered himself through the love for Madame de Warens. For she first freed Rousseau for himself. She awakened what lay concealed within him and helped to give his soul its own shape. The first encounter with the “charming woman full of spirit and grace,” whom he called Maman his entire life, made him feel gratitude. Along with gratitude she gave him “more tender feelings,” which at the outset he nevertheless did not know how to distinguish: “My soul, whose most precious faculties my organs had not yet developed, still had no determinate form. It (Elle) awaited, with a sort of impatience, the moment that would give it that form, and this moment, accelerated by our encounter, did not, however, come at once, and owing to the simplicity of morals that education had given me, I saw this delightful but fleeting state in which love and innocence inhabit the same heart prolonged in me for a long time.” After Rousseau has introduced love into the promenade—there will be only this single mention of l’amour—he changes the subject: “She (Elle) sent me away.” She, (p.180) either his soul or the woman who awakened the love in his soul, had distanced him or sent him away from her. In the text, Rousseau’s soul and Madame de Warens, by whom in the next breath his soul will be completely fulfilled, pass smoothly into one another. A device that announces the decisive turn: “Everything called me back to her; I had to come back to her. This return fixed my destiny, and for a long time yet before possessing her, I lived only in and for her.”4 The return to Madame de Warens fixed Rousseau’s “destiny,” since the expansive feeling of love found support and fulfillment in her and at the same time his expansive soul assumed its “form.” In Rousseau’s presentation of the development of his love, like that of the formation of his soul, “retour” is the key term. Turning back, in contrast to wandering forth, supplies content and orientation for the sentiment expansif, transforms his longing and seeking into goal-directed and conscious action. It translates an indeterminate possibility into concrete reality, allowing the âme expansive by its concentration on one human being to experience the sources of its power and to know the range of its capabilities. An experience and knowledge essential to the developed “form” of the soul. Rousseau owes to the reality of his first love the knowledge that his heart can find satisfaction in something, that when it comes to what is most important his heart does not need the movement of distancing or change, but rather of return or of deepening. What remains indelible for him from his love for Madame de Warens is that in this love “I was myself, fully, without admixture and without obstacle,” and that for once in his life he could truly claim “to have lived.”5

The experience of his capacity for love, the knowledge of his power, the consciousness of being able to say yes to life, was the basis for Rousseau’s inner independence and his confidence in himself. “Without this short but precious time,” he begins the second presentation of the genesis of his love and the formation of his soul, “I would perhaps have remained uncertain about myself.” Now for the first time Rousseau speaks of being loved: “But during those few years, loved by a woman full of desire to please and of gentleness, I did what I wanted to, I was what I wanted to be, and through the use I made of my leisure, aided by her lessons and example, I was able to give to my still simple and new soul the form that better suited it, and that it has always kept.” Being loved promoted Rousseau’s harmony with himself, the trust in his nature, the unfolding of his capabilities. In the second iteration of the presentation being loved (p.181) precedes loving.6 This accentuation makes good sense, since being loved, or the requiting of love, leads back to oneself, to the confirmation of one’s own capability, to the clarification of identity, which first allows loving in the most demanding sense, as a life in and for another, a life that neither flees from nor forgets itself but is aware of itself. The love for Madame de Warens, his being loved and loving in that sense, made Rousseau free for her and for himself.7 And for his later way of life. For Rousseau traces his inclination to solitude and to contemplation back to the formative time of his first love. Love and preference for solitude and for contemplation have the same origin in him: “The taste for solitude and contemplation arose in my heart along with the expansive and tender feelings made to be its nutriment. Tumult and noise constrict and stifle them; calm and peace restore and exalt them.” How is the inclination to solitude to be brought into harmony with love for another human being? Rousseau first wrote: “The taste for retreat and contemplation,” only later to replace retraite with solitude.8 The inclination to reclusiveness would certainly not have stood in tension with the happiness of the togetherness that the Dixième promenade describes. Rousseau’s tension-filled correction is all the more remarkable. It is based on the thought that the love that tied Rousseau to Madame de Warens must be understood as an expansion of his soul and at the same time as the circumscription of the lovers that liberated them from the tumult of the world. Maman was in a certain way a part of Rousseau’s Beisichselbstsein, part of a common autarky, consequently, part of his solitude. Until the end of his life, Rousseau will be dependent upon solitude, on circumscription, on being collected in order to be able to love, which is what he expresses succinctly in what immediately follows: “I need to collect myself in order to love.”9 Conversely, the solitude within which Maman was enclosed opened Rousseau up for the first time to the experience of a kind of self-sufficiency. Substituting (p.182) solitude for retraite thus goes far beyond providing insight into the genesis of Rousseau’s love. It sheds light on the path the solitary walker has traveled. The connection between solitude and contemplation—this is the final use of solitude in the Rêveries—confirms the outstanding significance of the constellation of solitude and méditation, in which we first encountered nature in the Rêveries. Rousseau closes the circle at the opening of the Deuxième promenade in which he determined his nature and his Beisichselbstsein when he spoke about his solitary walks and about the rêveries that fill them: “These hours of solitude and meditation are the only ones in the day during which I am fully myself and for myself, without diversion, without obstacle, and during which I can truly claim to be what nature willed.”10

At the end of the Rêveries Rousseau considers the most important event in the prehistory of the philosophic life. He looks back at the opening up of his erotic nature, which becomes visible in the devotion to “the best of women,” in coming back to himself in solitude, and in the love of contemplation. This not only allows him to think the alpha and omega of the book from a single origin, but also puts him in the position to see his happiness together with the happiness of the good beginning that continues to have an effect on him. The exact point in time and the more specific circumstances are contingent. Even the sequence could significantly deviate from Rousseau’s own sketch without affecting the importance of the event. I offer an example. Let’s suppose the encounter with the great love had occurred a few years later. Our philosophically talented young man would have become clear to himself about his inclination to solitude and contemplation. He would perhaps already have taken a few steps on the path from “contemplation” to “meditation,” whether the objects with which he occupied himself sent him back to himself or his expansive soul was compelled by the encounter with political enmity to turn back to himself. In such a state of being collected, he would thus be struck by the love of “the best of women.” Then the happiness of the good beginning would consist in the experience of being able to accord with this love despite the preference for solitude and contemplation, and beyond this, it would consist in the insight, owing to that preference, of being able to accord with this love so that it would suffice for him: that he collected himself in solitude, contemplation, meditation did not stand in the way of his capacity for loving another human being, but rather strengthened it and made it richer. To return to the Dixième promenade, the happiness of the good beginning is expressed by the fact that in his love for Madame de Warens Rousseau “desired nothing but the continuation of such (p.183) a sweet state.” The love broke up, since it did not suffice for the heart of the beloved as it did for his heart. However, its formative significance for Rousseau, for his coming to himself, for his confidence in himself, and for his later happiness is not lessened by the breakup. Rousseau speaks in the Dixième promenade, therefore, without any bitterness. There is no echo of a complaint aired in public, as in the case of the broken friendship with Diderot.11 Instead, Rousseau emphasizes that not a day goes by without his remembering “with joy and tenderness” the time of his love for Madame de Warens, when he “was fully myself” and acquired his shape.12

The time spent with Maman at first comes to mind in the last part of the walk within the horizon of that time’s potential permanence, its duration, its timelessness. This belongs to the happiness of the good beginning, even though we know that it will be a brief, limited span of time.13 Rousseau got his beloved to come live with him in the country. Their refuge was an isolated house on the slope of a valley. There, “for a period of four or five years,” he “enjoyed a century of life and a pure and full happiness.” A happiness “that covers everything with its charm,” everything “dreadful” in Rousseau’s “present lot.”14 This judgment coming at the end of the book strikes a very different tone from that of the exposition of the Première promenade and eloquently underscores the continually effective force of the good beginning. In his first love Rousseau had what he needed, he was where he desired to be, he enjoyed the freedom he needed. He had a woman friend suited to his heart, was withdrawn in the country, and did only what by inclination he wanted to do. The state seemed to suffice as far as Rousseau was concerned. How else in this state could he have enjoyed “a pure and full happiness”? He wished only for its continuation. But the state was not stable, since it did not concern Rousseau alone. Rousseau had reason to fear that it would not last: “My only worry was the fear that it might not last for long; and this fear, born of the distress of our situation, was not without foundation.”15 The final use of la gêne in the Rêveries, which in regard to the biographical chronology is the first, refers once more to the onerousness, the constraint, the distress that sociability carries within itself. Rousseau’s self-sufficiency rested on a borrowed and consequently fragile (p.184) autarky. He remained dependent upon Madame de Warens and her fate. Her misère had to penetrate to him. The Beisichselbstsein, which included her, would break apart as soon as his love no longer sufficed for her and she turned to another. This fission finally put them both again in relation to one another in a sociable situation in the strict sense. To counteract the breakup, yet also already in anticipation of the end of their autarky, Rousseau tried to mobilize what was in him and up to him: “I thought that a provision of talents was the surest resource against misery, and I resolved to use my leisure to put myself in a position, if it were possible, to give back one day to the best of women the help I had received from her.” Rousseau utilized the leisure that the years with Madame de Warens offered him. He occupied himself with philosophy and mathematics. He learned Latin. He acquired knowledge of natural science, literature, and music. He developed his abilities. He worked on himself in order to suffice for the woman who for him was the first and the best, in order to be able to support her as she supported him, in order to instruct her as she had instructed him, in order to provide an example to her as she had been an example to him.16

The conclusion of the two manuscript pages making up the Dixième promenade indicates a dynamic from which Rousseau’s later development can be derived. The efforts he undertook out of love for Maman, to form himself and develop his talents, created the presuppositions for his career and thus for the œuvre. In view of his public existence and the enmity to which it will be exposed, Rousseau speaks of “destiny,” which was sealed by his “return” to Madame de Warens. Mention of the “inevitable chain” into which his love flowed supplies reason for the assumption that Rousseau, if he had proceeded to recount his life to himself, would not have presented the œuvre as a “grave mistake.” The approach he chooses in the Dixième, the recourse to his erotic nature and the emphasis on the inner necessity his life followed, suggests that he classified the œuvre rather as the expression and the means of his ability to perfect himself. And it was up to him, he gives us to understand, to put the ability to perfect himself in the service of precisely that erotic nature. The development of his talents was merely the first step toward the œuvre that Rousseau took on many years later. When he explains that the first moment of his encounter with Madame de Warens was decisive for his entire life, he refers to the principle that sets this life in motion, which determines it step by step and which has persisted from challenge to challenge. If Rousseau had continued (p.185) the narrative he begins in the Dixième, if he could have gone through his life once more, he would perhaps have come back to the friendship with Denis Diderot and its significance for the œuvre, which was strongly aided by and received its precise direction from their close familiarity as well as undeniable conflicts. It is possible that Sophie d’Houdetot also would have been assigned a place in the narrative in regard to a considerable side wing of the œuvre. Nor should it be excluded that Rousseau would even have said more about Thérèse, who represents in the Rêveries that residue of sociability in contrast to which the Promeneur Solitaire’s solitude in what is most important stands out all the more sharply.17 If Rousseau offers no evidence that she was included in his Beisichselbstsein, she nevertheless supported the œuvre in her own way.18 Whatever Rousseau could still have taken up in a late retrospective glance and illuminated more closely, the main lines are discernible from what we have before us in the Dixième. On the one hand, they lead from love to the œuvre. On the other, from a kind of second birth, which Rousseau ascribes to his love for Maman, to the philosophic life. The philosophic life begins neither with the first nor with this second birth. But it presupposes clarifying and becoming aware of one’s own nature, just as it presupposes philosophizing. The clarification might take place gradually, becoming conscious might be accomplished in phases, whereas the beginning of the philosophic life cannot be thought but as an outstanding moment, as an insight that makes a difference in the whole. As we have seen, Rousseau treated the beginning of the philosophic life in the Troisième promenade and marked the deep break by speaking of the “great review” and the “great revolution.” The first and sole mention of Madame de Warens outside the Dixième is in the Troisième. She is so much a part of the prehistory of his philosophic life that in the biographical sketch Rousseau prefixes to the great review she was not allowed to be left out—no other person from Rousseau’s life is mentioned by name in the sketch—even if he could not have shed light on the most profound reason for her special position in the final walk. Another reason for mentioning her, immediately relevant for (p.186) the subject of the third walk, is the importance of faith, which Rousseau highlights with the “lessons and examples” he in the bloom of his youth received from her, a convert. Madame de Warens thus stands in the Troisième first of all for the seriousness of the confrontation that grounds the beginning of the philosophic life, and for that from which the Promeneur Solitaire freed himself. The Dixième offers a glimpse into the source from which the strength for that confrontation, the courage, and the confidence in himself grew and which kept him going on his path up to the end.19

In the center of the tenth walk Rousseau praises the time of his first love as “that unique and brief time of my life when I was myself, fully, without admixture and without obstacle, and when I can truly claim to have lived.” To underscore the hyperbolic praise even more, he continues: “Almost like that praetorian prefect who, disgraced under Vespasian, went off to the country to bring his days peacefully to a close, I can say: I have spent seventy years on earth and lived seven of them.” One last time Rousseau agrees to a judgment that appears plausible from the perspective of Everyman and supports the overarching rhetoric of the Rêveries. Does not the claim to have lived only in his youth, only during the brief period that was set for his love, testify to the misery of the persecuted, whom “one sequestered from the society of men”? It will make a much stronger impression on many and linger longer in memory than what Rousseau earlier, “alone and forsaken,” told himself: “I was made to live, and I am dying without having lived.”20 For, eight promenades later, it can certainly no longer be hidden from any reader that the Promeneur Solitaire at least at times experienced profound happiness. The most obvious mollification of which the author can now avail himself is to locate this happiness far back, to make it a matter of the past. In the œuvre, however, Rousseau had already applied the memorable formula of affirmation for honoring the true life. He could be sure that the praise in the Dixième promenade would be compared with the earlier praise. In the Lettre à Malesherbes from January 26, 1762, he put forward the Roman saying in order to characterize the time corresponding to his life of withdrawal in the Hermitage: “I first began to live on April 9, 1756.”21 The years 1756–62, which in the third Lettre à Malesherbes (p.187) Rousseau elevated to the time of his true life, are the years in which the greatest part of the œuvre came into being, from the Lettre à d’Alembert and the Nouvelle Héloïse to the Profession de foi du Vicaire Savoyard to Du contrat social and Émile. But if the exposed formulation in the center of the Dixième invites a comparison with praise for the œuvre, the praise in the Dixième as a whole calls for comparison with the Cinquième. It induces one to return to the middle of the book, where Rousseau treats the happiness of his life with an intensity and exactitude that he never equaled either before or after. The sojourn on St. Peter’s Island from the fall of 1765, which he chose as his example, he calls, without restriction or reservation, “the happiest time of my life.” He adds that it was so happy, “it would have sufficed for me for my whole existence without the desire for another state arising for a single instant in my soul.”22 The time with Madame de Warens, the time in the Hermitage, the time on St. Peter’s Island, are three examples of Rousseau’s Beisichselbstsein. That Rousseau singles out various episodes through elicitations of praise that seem at first glance to be incompatible with one another has the purpose of making the reader aware that the Promeneur Solitaire in the most multifarious circumstances and in the most diverse phases of his existence emphatically knows how to live, to be bei sich selbst, to be happy.23 The variable, contradictory, or overlapping information about the duration, beginning, and end of the “delirium” Rousseau was plunged into by his persecution apparently serves the same purpose.24 In fact, Rousseau explains in just so many words at the end of the Huitième promenade that the state of happiness he described in the Cinquième promenade is his most constant state.25 The comparison to which the praise in the Dixième promenade induces us leads to a further, no less important result. The two episodes that the Dixième and the Cinquième have as their subject share in common that they precede by years and decades, respectively, the time of the Rêveries. What distinguishes them is the “great review” that took place (p.188) between them. Rousseau treated both in detail within the œuvre. In the Rêveries the episode of Les Charmettes presents the peak of happiness prior to the beginning of the philosophic life, and the episode on the Île de St. Pierre refers to the happiness of this very life. In the Dixième, Rousseau speaks of a bonheur pur et plein, in the Cinquième of a bonheur suffisant, parfait et plein. In Les Charmettes, Rousseau could not know why his happiness was not sufficient and not perfect.26

The line leading from love to the œuvre is not drawn out in the Rêveries. The tenth walk directs one’s gaze to the beginning and recalls the end without tracing the development of what lies in between. But it not only shows the beginning of the development. It names the principle. Rousseau early on incidentally pointed out to his reader that when “two facts are given as real,” if the history is lacking, the task of thinking is to establish their connection. Beyond the initial biographical constellation, to which the final promenade returns, what connects love to the œuvre? Evidently, the answer lies in the addressee, that is, in that addressee to whom Rousseau turns with the œuvre as a whole. This is the addressee who has an overview of the diverse conceptions Rousseau has worked out for diverse readers and who can correctly classify what the teacher of humanity presents to citizens, lovers, and moral men, respectively. This is the addressee who knows how to think the œuvre in its inner structure, and knows how to understand the œuvre from its underlying intention. In short, this is the addressee whom Rousseau determined from the outset as the primary or ultimate, in any case as the true addressee of the œuvre: the few “who know how to understand.” Translating into the three-figure image of the frontispiece Rousseau chose for the prelude of the œuvre, we must consider the youth on whose shoulder Prometheus lays his left hand and for whom he carries the fire in his right. We have to return to the Dialogues: Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques once more, which bring the œuvre to a close by treating definitively the question of diverse addressees, and in which the author puts Rousseau the reader before us as his ideal reader.27

In the allegory of the “monde idéal,” which Rousseau the reader offers at the outset of the Dialogues in order to get his interlocutor, the Frenchman, to understand that the author Jean-Jacques appears to the Frenchman to be a “monster” because Jean-Jacques belongs to a world alien to the Frenchman that will always remain closed, Rousseau comes to speak explicitly about why someone belonging to that world becomes an author. The allegory, which (p.189) treats the problem of the philosopher among nonphilosophers in a complex manner, ends with a discussion of what is able to motivate the “inhabitants of the ideal world” to write books and to publish them. Rousseau mentions four reasons that could motivate his “superlunary beings,” who follow their amour de soi and care about their fundamental independence, to write and publish books, for they would never make a profession of writing. “Interest” and “even glory” would not supply a sufficient motive,28 but very much so (1) “a felicitous discovery to publicize”; (2) “a beautiful and great truth to share,” which in contrast to a lucky, surprising, and felicitous discovery, might be an ancient truth, only to be presented anew or in a new way; (3) “a general and pernicious error to combat”; (4) “finally, some matter of public utility to establish.” These are “the only motives that can bring them to take up the pen; and even then the ideas must be new enough, beautiful enough, striking enough to put their zeal in effervescence and force it to express itself.”29 Rousseau the reader, who seeks to show and protect Jean-Jacques the author in his uniqueness, wants to convince his interlocutor that there is one thing the “inhabitants of the ideal world” are not: authors who write to make a living. No less than three times he stresses that for them being an author is not a métier. It is an accident of their manière d’être, something ephemeral in regard to their nature, something secondary by contrast with their primary activity, which distinguishes them and makes them unique. Rousseau’s remarkable catalogue thus leaves the impression that their writing amounts to, as it were, discrete interventions or isolated undertakings that stand alone. In fact, the context is presupposed. The inhabitants know themselves in their belongingness to the ideal world and are in a constant exchange. To produce an œuvre, by contrast, goes decisively beyond a communication of this discovery or that insight. It requires above all creating a context. Constructive energy belongs to the œuvre, an architectonic overview, a center that founds its unity. It makes the question concerning the author’s intention and the appropriate understanding of the reader urgent. The reasons Rousseau names might suffice to explain why the “uniquely constituted beings” of the “ideal world” take up the pen. They do not suffice to explain why Jean-Jacques the author devoted a great part of his life to his œuvre. And none of those reasons answers the question why the author of the œuvre might want his intention to be understood by the few who know how to understand. What is most remarkable about the catalogue of the (p.190) four motivating reasons is the fact that the most profound reason is missing. It is not spoken about as part of the doctrinal content. It is not a fifth reason that could be added to the four cited reasons on the same level. The most profound reason is submerged in the action of the dialogue. The reader must discover it himself, raise it to the surface, name it. In the digression of the first dialogue, into which Rousseau places the key words of the opening of the Rêveries, “alone on earth,” Rousseau the reader confesses that he was alone until he found himself again in the writings of Jean-Jacques the author.30 For Rousseau, who finds himself in the writings of Jean-Jacques, this means that he is no longer alone, since he discerns in Jean-Jacques a kindred nature, who by his writing made possible precisely Rousseau’s self-discovery and recognition, the experience of understanding and of not being alone. From the author’s perspective, it means conversely: Jean-Jacques writes in order to be understood by Rousseau. He wants to put Rousseau in the position to understand himself and to find himself again in Jean-Jacques. For the Rêveries, which proclaim the unity of author and reader, this follows: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who communicates in the Rêveries that he now writes only for himself, is no longer alone at that moment in which he anticipates the reader who understands that the Rêveries are written for him.

Still, let us return to the œuvre, which is directed to diverse addressees. It pertains to what we are discussing, namely, the erotic relationship of knowing-oneself-in-another and finding-oneself-again, that the author can predict the experiences of the reader, experiences he has had and recognized as necessary or felt as felicitous and that, since experiences cannot be taught, he communicates to the reader in such a way that the reader is able to have them himself. Here is the most profound justification for the art of exoteric-esoteric writing, of which Rousseau availed himself from the Discours sur les sciences et les arts on and in which he achieved mastery in his work on the œuvre. For this art not only permits one to have diverse addressees understand different things. It opens to the philosophic addressee the possibility of experiences that no philosophic doctrinal content can convey: There is no other way for the philosophic addressee to find out what the author has thought about a subject matter he treats than to engage wholly with the movement of thought that underlies the exoteric-esoteric presentation. He must respond to the art of careful writing with the art of careful reading, and starting from the given work, (p.191) which demands his full attention to the rhetorical details as well as to the internally structured whole, move back to the question of the author’s intention and employ his own powers in order to be adequate to the philosophic activity that has found its precipitate in the work without being absorbed or at one with it. The philosophically inspired art of writing thus does not have solely the task of protecting within the limits of the possible the political community from philosophy and philosophy from the political community. It especially serves the purpose of leading those who are capable of it to philosophy and of accompanying them in philosophy, not in the sense of exhorting them to philosophy, but instead as a challenge to and testing of their specific potential. Philosophers who practice the art of careful writing, whatever their differences in the doctrinal contents of their published works, agree that the philosophic life is good. If they did not understand it as good for themselves and for kindred natures, they would not in full awareness lead by their works to that life, being uncertain whether future philosophers will agree with their teachings or contradict them. The wish of the author to be understood by the true addressee of the œuvre attests to the same fundamental experience and is confirmed by an analogous reflection. Rousseau would not want to be understood by the youth whom the etching of the Discours places in the middle, if he harbored doubts whether this understanding, this finding-oneself-again in the confrontation with the œuvre, is good for his ideal reader.

Love is a sufficient motive for the œuvre of the philosopher. Unlike glory, love stays with the author. The profit from love remains with the lover regardless of whether the œuvre will yield glory. In comparison with the striving for glory, love is not at a disadvantage regarding the intensity it sets free or the disciplining effect that starts from it, the care it maintains or the concentration it promotes. But above all, the author who is determined by his philosophic eros and the reader for whom the author determines the œuvre come together in their love for truth, for learning, for knowledge. They share a common good. And this common good opens a common space in which the separations of time are suspended, past and future fluid and collected: interlaced in thinking and feeling. Rousseau calls this shared space “the ideal world.” Its inhabitants recognize one another, as we have seen, with a sign that is characteristic for those who gain access to the common space and know how to move within it. The sign is visible in their whole mode of being; it can be read off from their conduct of life as well as from their works; and it is not dependent on the time in which they exist. He who belongs to the “ideal world” is not subservient to his age, is not bound historically concerning what is most important. The (p.192) “ideal world” rests not on the fusion of historical horizons, but rather on the encounter of kindred natures. Their exchange is carried out in timeless simultaneity.31 It is supported by the unanimity of the fundamental experiences. It is inspired by the desire to make plain the insights of the other “inhabitants of the ideal world” and to expose one’s own insights to their judgment. It is maintained by the restless interest in the truth, an interest that remains in motion both forward and backward, following the force of argument that affects both sides. Thus, in the evening Machiavelli, royally attired, invites the “antiqui huomini” into his study, in order to gain from his conversation with them the only food that suits him and for which he was born.32 And Rousseau goes to the school of Athens in order to present to those of his own kind the philosophic speech he addresses to man, and to hear what they have to say to it.33

(p.193) That glory is not a sufficient reason to motivate the philosopher of the “ideal world” to write in the most demanding sense does not mean that glory should be neglected. Whoever “wants to live beyond his century” in order to reach the philosophers of the future34 cannot be entirely indifferent to his glory. For an author who expends considerable energy and ingenuity to work out an œuvre that speaks to diverse addressees, this is all the more true. A minimum of public visibility is the gateway to the attention also of those to whom the œuvre is primarily addressed and who do not yet count as “inhabitants of the ideal world.” And even for those inhabitants the principles of an economy of attention remain in force. It is no accident that when speaking in the Dialogues about “fatal celebrity,” for which Jean-Jacques felt no need at all and which was not made for him, Rousseau mentions at least one gain from his celebrity: The “unfortunate question of the Academy” threw his soul into the “lively effervescence” that is able to compel the “superlunary beings” to the publication of books;35 from this arose his œuvre, which demanded the most extreme concentration from him; “he learned to meditate profoundly, and for a time he astounded Europe by productions in which vulgar souls saw only eloquence and wit, but in which those who occupy our ethereal regions joyfully recognized one of their own.”36 As little as la gloire, which he was able to earn with les âmes vulgaires, might have mattered to Jean-Jacques, the sensation caused by the œuvre proved no less helpful for Rousseau, i.e., for reaching the true addressee. The glory the author can reap with the œuvre in the “régions éthérées” depends upon whether it contains a significant discovery or opens up an entrance to truth worth considering, whether it effectively opposes a general and pernicious error or increases public utility. Last but not least, the relationship between his glory and the œuvre must be considered. In the long run the contribution to the common good is determinative for glory. The author enters a competition by means of his œuvre. He compares himself with others, interprets them, draws on them, deviates from them, falls behind them, outstrips them. The agreement about what is most important, the way of life common to the inhabitants of the “monde idéal,” does not contradict the agonal character of their exchange. However, it gives the struggle for recognition that takes place there its peculiar stamp of seriousness and playfulness. Its seriousness lies in the fact that the agon is about the truth. It remains play insofar as the individual’s glory does no harm to the common good.

(p.194) Philosophic eros provides entrée to the “ideal world.” It does not have to have a precipitate in an œuvre or be expressed in a writing. Yet if the inhabitant of that world involves himself in an œuvre, along with love recognition plays a role. What share is due to love, what share to striving for recognition, is a question of the self-knowledge of the author. Bringing together in love the love for kindred natures, the love for knowledge, the love for oneself in order to place it in opposition to the struggle for glory and recognition, puts the accent on the main issue. The opposition goes back to the distinction between amour de soi and amour-propre, which Rousseau introduced as an analytical distinction for purposes of self-knowledge. As an homme de la nature éclairé par la raison, Rousseau remains oriented toward amour de soi-même. As an author he has according to his own judgment a prodigious amour-propre.37 In the œuvre, the two, amour de soi and amour-propre, encounter one another. If Jean-Jacques Rousseau can say yes to the œuvre, since it contributed to his having come to be what he is according to his nature, he can in the end say yes to the amour-propre of the author, insofar as amour-propre was governed by amour de soi, put into service by the latter, and consequently brought back into the “order of nature.” But the distinction with which he creates distance from himself and his œuvre is necessarily prior to the yea-saying of the philosopher. The questioning gives content and significance to his affirmation.38 In his self-consideration of what is owed to love and what to striving for glory, it is not purity of the heart that matters. He gives an account of his reasons. He tries to gain clarity about himself. He examines the deviation from himself in view of the return to himself. His self-investigation is the expression of his love of himself.


(1.) I, 1 (995); I, 15 (1001); II, 3 (1003); III, 5 (1013); III, 22 (1021); V, 2 (1040); VI, 8 (1053); VI, 14 (1056); VII, 21 (1068); VII, 23 (1069); VIII, 16 (1079); IX, 7 (1088).

(2.) I, 14 (1001).

(3.) X, 1–3, numbered according to sentences (1098). Rousseau’s dating of the promenade is accurate, although his information about age is not: Madame de Warens was born on March 31, 1699, and was twenty-nine in 1728; Rousseau, born on June 28, 1712, was not yet sixteen. Françoise-Louise-Eléonore de La Tour married Sébastien-Isaac de Loys de Warens in 1713. She left her husband in 1726, renounced her Protestant faith, and settled in Annecy.

(4.) X, 6–10 (1098). I have corrected the punctuation of sentence 9, bringing it into line with the manuscript.

(5.) X, 10 and 14 (1098–99).

(6.) In the Dixième, amour, aimé, and aimer each appear once: amour in the first iteration of the account (sentence 7), aimé and aimer in the second iteration (sentences 17 and 20). The peak of the account, which determines the articulation, is sentence 15: “Je puis dire à peu près comme ce Prefet du pretoire qui disgracié sous Vespasien s’en alla finir paisiblement ses jours à la campagne: j’ai passé soixante et dix ans sur la terre, et j’en ai vécu sept.” (The punctuation is corrected, bringing it into line with the manuscript.)

(7.) X, 16–17 (1099). Cf. the repetition and confirmation in sentence 24: “j’étois parfaitement libre, et mieux que libre, car assujeti par mes seuls attachmens, je ne faisois que ce que je voulois faire.”

(8.) The apparatus of the OCP does not mention this important variant. It is not difficult to discern in the manuscript and is correctly reproduced in the editions of Spink and Roddier.

(9.) X, 18–20 (1099).

(10.) II, 1 (1002). Compare with this in particular X, 14 and 18.

(11.) III, 2 and 11 (1011 and 1015). See the complaint about the loss of the friend in the Lettre à d’Alembert, Préface 9, p. 7.

(12.) X, 11, 14, 17, 26, 29 (1098–99).

(13.) X, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17 (1098–99).

(14.) X, 22 (1099).

(15.) X, 27 (1099). See Chapter V, Pp. 176–77 with Footnote 120.

(16.) X, 17 and 29 (1099).

(17.) Consider Chapter IV, Pp. 108, 110, and 113. Cf. Chapter V, Pp. 168–69. Rousseau mentions Thérèse twice by name: V, 7 (1043–44). He refers to her four times as “ma femme,” II, 12 (1006), IV, 29 (1034), IX, 11 (1090), IX, 12 (1091); once as “ma compagne,” V, 5 (1041); and once as “ma Gouvernante,” V, 7 (1042). The four references that deviate from “ma femme” concern the time when Rousseau was not yet married to Thérèse.

(18.) In the Confessions Rousseau wrote about himself and Thérèse: “pour que, de quelque façon que je m’y sois pu prendre, nous ayons toujours continué d’être deux.” IX, p. 415, my emphasis.

(19.) III, 6 (1013). Cf. X, 16 (1099) with III, 14 and 15 (1016–17). See Chapter II, Pp. 53–55.

(20.) II, 6 (1004).

(21.) “Mes maux sont l’ouvrage de la nature mais mon bonheur est le mien. Quoi qu’on en puisse dire j’ai eté sage, puisque j’ai eté heureux autant que ma nature m’a permis de l’etre: je n’ai point eté chercher ma felicité au loin, je l’ai cherchée aupres de moi et l’y ai trouvée. Spartien dit que Similis courtisan de Trajan ayant sans aucun mecontentement personnel quitté la Cour et tous ses emplois pour aller vivre paisiblement à la campagne, fit mettre ces mots sur sa tombe: J’ai demeuré soixante et seize ans sur la terre, et j’en ai vecu sept. Voila ce que je puis dire à quelque egard, quoique mon sacrifice ait eté moindre. Je n’ai commencé de vivre que le 9 Avril 1756.” Lettres à Malesherbes III, p. 1138. For the historical source of Rousseau’s appeal to Similis under Trajan and his deviating memory of the pretorian prefect under Vespasian in the Dixième promenade, cf. John S. Spink ad locum.

(22.) V, 5 (1042).

(23.) Cf. II, 3 (1003).

(24.) Cf. I, 2 (995); I, 3 (996); I, 7 (997); II, 2 (1002); II, 3 (1003); II, 22 (1009); III, 1 (1011); VI, 11 (1055); VII, 6 (1062); VII, 15 (1065); VIII, 12 (1078).

(25.) VIII, 23 (1084). Consider II, 1 (1002) and II, 3 (1002–3).

(26.) X, 22 (1099) and V, 14 (1046). Cf. V, 12 last sentence and V, 15 last sentence.

(27.) See Chapter I, Pp. 5–7 and 27ff., 44–45.

(28.) Cf. Du contrat social II, 7, 1, p. 381 and Chapter V, Pp. 173–74 with Footnote 112.

(29.) Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques I, “le monde idéal,” the eleventh and last paragraph, p. 673.

(30.) Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques I, pp. 728–29. See Chapter I, Pp. 31–33 and Chapter III, Pp. 93–94.

(31.) In the second Unzeitgemäße Betrachtung Nietzsche speaks about “individuals who form a kind of bridge over the wild stream of becoming” and live in “timeless simultaneity” “thanks to history, which allows for such cooperation”; “they live as the republic of geniuses, of which Schopenhauer speaks somewhere.” Individuals live in timeless simultaneity insofar as they are inspired in turn “to the production of what is great” by the great individuals of the past, who are made present by the monumental consideration of history. Schopenhauer, who in his last work will make Rousseau’s motto, Vitam impendere vero, his own, using it as an epigraph, says about the republic of geniuses: “In this it goes as follows:—one giant calls out to another across the bleak interval of centuries, without the world of dwarfs, creeping along below, perceiving any more than noise and without understanding any more than that something is happening: and again, this tribe of dwarfs below ceaselessly pulls its pranks and makes a lot of noise, drags along what those giants have let fall from above, proclaims heroes who are themselves dwarfs, and more of the same, which leaves those giant minds undisturbed, to continue their elevated conversation of spirits. I mean: each genius understands what those of his kind once said, without being understood by the living, either contemporary or during the interval, and he says what those he lives among do not understand, but which someday his equal will appreciate and answer.” The agreement with Rousseau is obvious. Still, there are differences. Unlike Rousseau’s “inhabitants of the ideal world,” Schopenhauer’s “giants,” to judge by this short text, remain in their historical location. And neither Schopenhauer’s geniuses nor Nietzsche’s individuals are more specifically determined or more precisely identified by un signe caractéristique. Despite all his dissatisfactions with historicism, Schopenhauer’s speech about the conversation of spirits among the geniuses, which impressed the young Nietzsche on his way to philosophy, does not rise to the concise reply Rousseau gave to historicism in his allegory of the world of the philosophers. See Arthur Schopenhauer, Der handschriftliche Nachlaß, vol. 3: Berliner Manuskripte (1818–1830), ed. Arthur Hübscher (Frankfurt am Main, 1970), p. 188. Friedrich Nietzsche, Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben IX, 6; KGW III, 1, p. 313; KSA 1, p. 317.

(32.) Niccolò Machiavelli to Francesco Vettori, Florence, December 10, 1513, in Opere VI, Lettere, ed. Franco Gaeta (Milan, 1961), p. 304.

(33.) Discours sur l’inégalité, Exorde, pp. 72–74. See Chapter III, Pp. 82–83.

(34.) Discours sur les sciences et les arts, p. 3. See Chapter I, P. 21.

(35.) Cf. Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques II, p. 829 and “le monde idéal” 11, p. 673. See P. 189.

(36.) Rousseau juge de Jean-Jacques II, pp. 827–29.

(37.) VIII, 16 (1079). Consider Discours sur l’inégalité, Seconde partie, p. 256 and commentary ad locum.

(38.) Cf. Chapter IV, Pp. 117–18.