Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Judging Philosophies: Rousseau Edition
Is it fair for us to judge a philosophy by its founder or practitioners? Perhaps the better question is, can a person who is generally considered “bad” in a society, still provide good and useful ideas to be used by the society? I would consider Rousseau a “bad” man. Not only as an individual, but as a philosopher as well. As Russell so quickly pointed out, it was Rousseau’s doctrines at work in the Third Reich. Does this mean we are justified in dumping out every idea that came from Rousseau? Though it pains me to say it, I think not. I am a Christian, and I fully concede that a large number of professing Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, fail to live out the principles of their supposed belief. If I were to judge the religion solely on the lifestyles of its practitioners (which some do), I cannot say that I would not come to all that different of a conclusion than they have.
When we separate Rousseau’s philosophies from the man himself, then we may see them with unclouded eyes and arrive at honest conclusions. On the face, they seem to be too trusting, or at least too naïve, due to their support of totalitarian regimes. If a dictatorship is to work for the betterment of mankind, than there had best be assurance that the dictator is virtuous. When we burrow deeper, however, we find Rousseau has a far divergent definition of virtue than most of us. Such oversights welcome the Hitlers and Stalins. In this case then, it appears the philosophy of a bad man is actually bad, when weighed in fairness.