POLS 551-1: Topics in Modern Political Philosophy: Rousseau

Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science

Fall 2007


Professor Radasanu

Office: Zulauf 408

Phone Number: 753-7052

Email Address: aradasanu@niu.edu

Office Hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 1-3pm, and by appointment

Class Time: Tuesday 6:30-9:10pm

Classroom: DU 464


Course Description:


This semester we will tackle one of the most difficult and profound thinkers of modernity, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. His importance cannot be overstated. Rousseau has been credited with inspiring Romanticism, the French Revolution, nationalism, and socialism– and this is not an exhaustive list. But Rousseau is deeper than any one of his step-children, who claim to have been spawned by him. His project is to reawaken the search for human happiness and satisfaction on modern grounds. Rousseau sketches out the psychology of the bourgeois, and identifies his pathologies; much of his work, especially the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality (Second Discourse) and the Emile, is an exploration of the theoretical and practical possibilities of remedying these pathologies.


First, we will whet our collective appetite with a brief overview of the Second Discourse. This work is crucial for understanding the basis of Rousseau’s conception of human nature. We will pay close attention to his treatment of amour de soi (love of oneself), amour propre (vanity), compassion and perfectibility. For the bulk of the term, we will put our minds to interpreting the Emile, the work which Rousseau himself regarded as his most important. Not only is the substance of this work difficult, so is the form unusual and perplexing. It is a strange mixture of novel, treatise, and autobiography (for accounts of Rousseau’s own education also figure in it.) Emile is an ordinary man who is educated by an extraordinary tutor to be the “natural man in society.” What could this mean for Rousseau, who also seems to say that nature and society are mutually exclusive? We will hope to find out.


Rousseau takes us through Emile’s education from birth. Some of the most famous highlights of his education are his encounter with the Savoyard Vicar, whose sublime and dramatic Profession of Faith is the single most famous of all the passages in Rousseau; his education in love which culminates in marrying his female counterpart, Sophie; and his acquaintance with a draft outline of the argument of the Social Contract (then still unpublished.) Close study of this complex work rewards us with unparalleled insight into modern psychology, and is perhaps the deepest treatment of and response to Platonic education written by a modern.



Required Texts:


Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile, or On Education. Translated and edited by Allan Bloom. New York : Basic Books, 1979.


____. The First and Second Discourses. Translated by Roger D. and Judith R. Masters and edited by Roger D. Masters. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1964.

Recommended Primary Texts:

I recommend that you read the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts (First Discourse), the Confessions and Reveries of a Solitary Walker. The latter two are particularly useful in understanding the autobiographical aspects of the Emile, while the first gives us some insight into Rousseau’s Socratism.

As well, consider reading Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which is important to Emile’s earlier education. More broadly, do keep in mind that Rousseau understands himself to be responding both to Plato’s Republic, and Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education.

Recommended Secondary Readings

Bloom, Allan. Love and Friendship. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993. *


Grace, Eve N. “The Restlessness of ‘being:’ Rousseau’s protean sentiment of existence.” History of European Ideas 27.2 (2001): 133-151.


Kelly, Christopher J. Rousseau as Author: Consecrating One’s Life to Truth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Marks, Jonathan. Perfection and Disharmony in the Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

____. “The Divine Instinct? Rousseau and Conscience.” Review of Politics 68.4 (November 2006): 564-585. *

Melzer, Arthur M. The Natural Goodness of Man. On the System of Rousseau’s Thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.*

____. “The Origin of the Counter-Enlightenment: Rousseau and the new religion of sincerity.” American Political Science Review 90.1 (1996): 344-360.*

Orwin, Clifford. “Rousseau between two liberalisms: his critique of the older liberalism ad his contribution to the newer one,” In Joao Carlos Espada, Marc F. Plattner, and Adam Wolfson, ed., The Liberal Tradition in Focus. Problems and New Perspectives (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2000), 53-65.

____. “Rousseau on the sources of ethics,” in Norma Thompson, ed. Instilling Ethics (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), 63-83. *

____. “Rousseau’s Socratism.” Journal of Politics 60.1 (1998): 175-87.*

Orwin, Clifford and Nathon Tarcov, ed. The Legacy of Rousseau. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. (* Orwin’s essay on compassion is crucial).

Shklar, Judith N. Men and Citizens. Rousseau’s Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Strauss, Leo. “On the intention of Rousseau.” Social Research 14.4 (1947): 455-87.*

*Asterisk identifies the absolutely crucial works of interpretation. Please read them!

The literature on Rousseau is vast. The list I have provided represents very little of what is out there. Please feel free to look beyond this list. 

Formal Requirements and Basis of Grading:


·   Attendance and class participation: 15%

·   Short Paper: 15% (800-1000 words). Topic will be assigned.

·   Paper Proposal: 5% (one page). You devise your own term paper topic, and come up with a preliminary bibliography.

·   Take-Home Exam: 25% (1500-1800 words). It will consist of one essay question to be answered over the course of 48 hours.

·   Term paper: 40% (3000 words). Topic of your own devising; see paper proposal above.



Expectations of Students:




Attendance and participation are crucial components of this class. You are expected to attend and participate every class, or offer a very good excuse for not doing so. This means that you must read the text to be covered that day, and be prepared to discuss the text thoughtfully. Ask and answer questions, offer comments, and argue with the professor’s interpretation of the text. Without doing most of these things on a regular basis, it will not be possible to earn an A in the attendance and participation portion of your grade (15%).




To earn an A in the course, both active and thoughtful participation and excellent written work will be required. For written work, A’s are earned when compelling interpretations are provided (and expressed clearly) in response to the assigned topics or topics of your own devising.




Incompletes are given only for unforeseeable events which make

impossible completion of the course work by the end of the semester.

Students are responsible for informing the professor of such events,

and for securing her consent to an incomplete, as promptly as




Tentative Class Schedule:


The following can only be called a “schedule” in the loosest terms. We will begin with a quick overview (hopefully, a review for most of you) of the Second Discourse, and then spend the rest of the semester considering Rousseau’s master work, Emile. We will prize interpretive depth and rigor over amount of material covered. Although we will do our best to finish the work, given the length and difficulty of said work, we might fail in this secondary aim. If you must miss a class, it is imperative that you find out where we broke off, and what reading is required for the following class. What is certain is that you must be prepared to discuss the Second Discourse as of the FIRST class (August 28).



August 28


& Second Discourse (Part I).

September 4

Second Discourse (Part II).

September 11

Emile, Book I

September 18

Book I, con’d

September 25

Book I, end

October 2

Book II, begin

October 9

Book II, end

Short Paper due

October 16

Book III, begin

October 23

Book III, con’d

October 30

Book III, end

November 6

Book IV, begin

November 13

Book IV, con’d

Term Paper Proposal due (can be handed in earlier)

November 20

Book IV, end

Take-Home Exam is distributed (at end of class) –Due Thursday, November 22 at 11:59p.m.

November 27

Book V, begin

December 4

Book V, end

Term Paper due

December 11

Meeting to return papers, possibly some last comments on the seminar


Assignment dates are firm (unless changed by unanimous consent of students and professor). All assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day specified, with the exception of the take-home exam (see above).