Self-love and Selfishness

by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

from Emile,

or On Education


Discussion Questions

1. What passions are not entirely natural, according to Rousseau? How do we come to possess them?

2. How does Rousseau distinguish human sentiments from the impulses of animal nature?

3. How does Rousseau define "self-love" (amour de soi) and selfishness (amour-propre)? How does the latter rise from the former?

4. How according to Rousseau do our hateful and angry passions arise?

5. What does Rousseau argue is the role of reason in love? What does he mean when he says that "love does not spring from nature"? How does this effect his evaluation of love?

6. How does Rousseau explain the rise of our gentler passions, including our love of others and our pity?

7. What sort of society or community would result from the development of the passions that Rousseau associates with selfishness (amour-propre)?

8. What sort of society or community would result from encouraging our sentiment of pity, as Rousseau urges us to do?

9. What role does human equality play for Rousseau in this selection from the Emile? What benefits or disadvantages would come in Rousseau's analysis by recognizing equality as a core principle of society?

Paper topics
1. What harmful effects does Rousseau see in our reliance on the opinions of others? How does Tocqueville have a different view of the place of opinion in human life, including our desire to achieve honor? In what ways does this selection from Rousseau address Tocqueville's and Lincoln's concerns with ambition?

2. Compare and contrast Rousseau's concern with nurturing pity with Tocqueville's advice to encourage ambition. How did they arrive at their different prescriptions for society? Do they have different views of what is best in human nature?

3. To what extent do can we understand the thought of Rousseau, Tocqueville, and Jefferson as different responses to democracy? What sort of democratic political orders might be grounded in each's view of humanity?

Rousseau Reading

Guide to unit 2

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