Reubens, The Four Philosophers, 1611-1612
Reviewed by Stephen Juan in Philosophy Now, January/February 2008
Philosophers may lead us in terms of profound ideas, but their personal lives can be quite another matter entirely. As historian Nigel Rodgers and philosopher Mel Thompson write in their marvelous little book, Philosophers Behaving Badly, “a life of reason does not necessarily lead to a reasonable life.” Their portraits of eight philosophers bring home this point again and again. Although monumental in their insights, these philosophers were screwed up!
When not too self-obsessed, greedy, proud and incredibly lacking in any semblance of a conscience, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) succeeded in setting out principles of society, democracy, education and humanity’s place in nature which greatly helped to form the foundation for intellectual, social and political revolutions in at least three nations. The impact of his ideas upon our world today is enormous. Yet Rousseau treated people terribly – particularly women – even those who showed him kindness for many years, of whom there were several. He dealt with the people closest to him as if their sole reason for existence was to serve him and stroke his massive ego. If alive today, he would come perilously close to being diagnosed as a sociopath.
Rousseau’s life was a disastrous mass of contradictions and inconsistencies. Praising conjugal love, he never properly married, but displayed a callous neglect of Therese, his lifelong partner. Adoring children, he readily abandoned his own. Believing that intellectual hatreds were the worst, he engaged in endless battles of ideas. Deploring the advent of printing, he was a prolific writer. A hater of privilege and wealth, he always relied on the rich and the great for support.
Entire review is here.