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Rousseau's Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment

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  • Posted January 22, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Philosophy derives its name from the Greek, ┬┐love of wisdom┬┐, su

    Philosophy derives its name from the Greek, ‘love of wisdom’, suggesting that those who call themselves philosophers have at least a modicum of wisdom. ‘Rousseau’s Dog’ makes one wonder if this is true, given the childish behavior of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume, both major figures in the western philosophical cannon. After providing fascinating biographies of these two figures, the authors describe a practical joke initiated by a third person on Rousseau. Rousseau who was a bit of a nut-case anyway, totally crumples under this prank and blames it on his friend and long-time supporter, David Hume. Hume, in turn, takes great umbrage over the accusation and launches a huge counterattack against Rousseau. The plot reads like a soap opera, and is an amazing story. In fact, if the authors had not documented it as well as they did, it would be hard to believe. It’s also a sad story; in contrast to the plot of their earlier book, ‘Wittgenstein’s Poker’, there was genuinely little worth fighting over here. Consider that in ‘Wittgenstein’s Poker’, the main parties (Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper) had an intellectual difference that, while it may not have warranted brandishing a poker, as Wittgenstein allegedly did, was relevant to all individuals trying to come to grips with a major philosophical problem at that time (that is, Wittgenstein’s thesis that all philosophical problems were really just puzzles associated with the vagaries of language, a point that Popper strongly protested). In contrast, “Rousseau’s Dog” describes a battle over a practical joke initiated by someone else, and the silly response by Rousseau (an attack against Hume), and a silly response by Hume (an attack against Rousseau). Read this book to get a better understanding of two original thinkers. But don’t read it expecting to understand any deep rationale behind their conflict. There is none. I concluded that the dog referred to in the title of this book must be a metaphor for the crazy paranoia that followed Rousseau throughout his life. While Rousseau’s dog, Sultan, appears only a few times in the book, he does comes across as very sane and likeable character.

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