Looking at Rousseau’s Style

I’ll be honest — I don’t really know what to write about Rousseau. After hours of staring at a blank computer screen and flipping through A Discourse on Inequality, I still find myself banging my head against the wall. What is it about Jean-Jacques Rousseau that makes writing a simple response about him so difficult?

I feel that my lack of response to A Discourse on Inequality may partly be due to the style in which it is written. While it is a translated text, the writing style presented certainly makes the ideas presented in the work very easy for the reader to consume. Thus, it seems that the reader can easily fall into a state of passivity while reading. In Plato’s Republic, the dialogue form utilized forces the reader to remain active in the relentless exchange between Socrates and his interlocutors. Hobbes’ Leviathan is constructed with such mathematical precision that a reader must remain thoroughly engaged and critical in order to follow his argument. Because Rousseau’s writing is much less intimidating, it is absorbed almost instantaneously and an understanding of his philosophy forms much faster (and with less resistance).

That being said, the catchy, story-like fluidity of A Discourse on Inequality does not mean that words are wasted — Rousseau manages to saturate his words with many ideas. Rousseau works through many ideas regarding the development of man as he nostalgically describes a glorified, nascent state — these arguments are of great complexity and he finds a successful way to deliver them in a simple and understandable manner.

A Discourse on Inequality was definitely much easier to digest than other philosophical texts, and maybe that is why it doesn’t seem to leave a strong aftertaste.

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