Rousseau as a Historian

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Jean Jacques Rousseau (Photo credit: Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara)

Rousseau as a “historian”: what do you make of Rousseau’s use of “conjectural history” in the Discourse (and to some extent the Contract)? Are we to assume that Rousseau really believed in the historical stages he describes? If not, or not entirely, then what is he up to?

Rousseau gives an overview of history as he sees in order to present the reader with the process by which he came up with his conclusions. This approach to rhetoric is very effective in that it allows him to control what information (about history) that the reader has access to and make his conclusions seemed to be the only reasonable ones. I am not saying that he’s necessarily wrong about his historical perspective or anything else for that matter; all I’m saying is that this kind of presentation of historical context/conjectural history for his arguments allows him to buttress his conclusions in a very natural way.

Williams, David. The Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.

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