Rousseau's Relevance Today

Join us for a conference on February 17, 2017: UCEN's Flying A Studio, 8:30am-5:30pm.

Rousseau’s Relevance: Politics, Ethics, and (Self-)Care in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Works

February 17, 2017
University of California, Santa Barbara

The tercentennial of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s birth in 2012 has generated several recent publications, celebrations, encounters, and colloquia. These have highlighted the undying celebrity in France, Switzerland, and worldwide, of a thinker who presented himself as a “philosopher-tramp.” The cult of Rousseau after the publication of the century’s uncontested best-seller Julie, or the New Heloise (1761) and the French Revolution of 1789, derives not only from his philosophical and literary genius, but also from his own self-(re)presentation.  And yet there is no overstating the scope and relevance of his thinking and philosophical fictions since then. His relevance is a benchmark against which other philosophers, of the Enlightenment and thereafter, measure themselves. Rousseau’s notions about natural human kindness and the emotional foundations of ethics still furnish the core of today’s moral outlook, and much of modern political philosophy likewise builds on the foundation of Rousseau’s On Social Contract (1762).

In this one-day colloquium, to be held on the first day of the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Western Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (WSECS) at UC Santa Barbara, scholars will focus on the roots of Rousseau’s continued relevance and popular appeal in contemporary thought. Why such a fascination for Rousseau the man, for his ideas, and his works? Lines of inquiry include: 1) the timeliness of Rousseau’s work in the current context of deepening political, social, economic, and moral crises in the western world; 2) Rousseau’s pioneering work in On Inequality between Men (1755), which still speaks to the scandalous social disparities, which modern society is host to; 3) Rousseau’s praise of and care for our natural environment, which resonates in our era of ecological catastrophes and concern for sustainability; 4) today’s animal ethics and renewed notions of care and self-care, introduced by Rousseau in a challenge to the Enlightenment that still calls into question our own daily practices.

At UC Santa Barbara, this colloquium has received the generous support of the College of Letters and Science, the Graduate Center for Literary Research, and the Departments of Anthropology, English, French and Italian, Germanic and Slavic Studies, Global Studies, Philosophy, and Political Sciences, as well as the Comparative Literature Program. External sponsors include the Faculté des arts et des sciences of Université de Montréal, the AELLFUM, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, as well as France in the United States (and the French Cultural Services).

See program below.


date of event: 

Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 14:26