Two Thinkers have a great Scrap - The odd couple of the Enlightenment

This was an unlikely friendship to begin with between David Hume and Rousseau, two Philosophical stars in the Age of Enlightenment.  In 1766 Jean Jacques Rousseau has to flee Europe where he's made himself enemies of many by writing incendiary lines like

'The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.'

Remember there is still a King in France when he is writing this stuff. A little over twenty years later, the Bastille is stormed and the powdered heads of aristocratic France started falling into baskets.  His writings had considerable influence and from what I picked up in this book I can see why.

The man who aided him in his escape from mainland Europe and even attempted to source him an income and support from the King of England - was David Hume.  He played in the game of politics at the time and had spent time in Paris as an Emissary, secretary to Lord Hertford to be exact.  He is now grouped with the British Empiricists(knowledge comes through experience) and appears to be an unlikely natural friend to Rousseau, all passion and indignation on the lack of rights for man and the corruption in society.  In fact Hume wrote 'Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions' and yet morals and a sense of rights and justice appear to be at the heart of Rousseaus thinking.  In Émile appears to write a treatise on how you can educate and raise a a citizen who as an individual maintains 'inate human goodness' whilst being in a corrupting collective society.

So should we be surprised when the whole thing falls apart for the thinking mans odd couple of the 18th century.  Not really.  We see it coming and in fact it is a selling point of the book.  Just as all TV appears to have devolved into fights ala Jerry Springer show, there is a fascination with a good public fight.

It appears that Hume was flattered to be 'seen' to help the infamous and lauded J.J. Rousseau at this time. The escaping thinker appears to be a deeply suspicious individual and he convinces himself that his protector is involved or the orchestrator of some plot against him and quickly the relationship unravels into a public slagging match.

The book filled out a clean slate for me - in terms of that part of history.  It takes a fight to get me to read a book on the 18th century, and I think in that there is something to reflect on human nature there.  Edmunds and Edinhow have figured this out and keep writing books that could fall into 'edutainment' field although they’d hate to see this written down anywhere.

What we find fascinating is that two great thinkers of their age, can, when they get right down to it, behave like children in a school yard.  Instead Hume extending a Scottish invitation to little crazed Jean Jacques to meet later for a pugilistic dispute resolution, they printed articles in the papers of the day to defend and attack one another.  As the authors state “Their reasoning about reason showed that reason could get us only so farand we enter an interesting world when we leave that reason behind.

  


Like what you are reading?  Get a notification whenever we post a new article to

Anarchist Writers via Facebook or Twitter

where you can also like and comment on our articles