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Historical Perspectives on the Human

Civic Identity and the progress of the Human Species: Rousseau on the Theatre

When D’Alembert suggested that Geneva should establish a theatre, Rousseau reacted with fury. “Theatres and Drama,” Rousseau writes in his letter to D’Alembert, “in any little Republic, and especially in Geneva, weaken the State” (Letter to D’Alembert, 336). For Rousseau the theatre is dangerous because it manipulates our emotions by appealing to our capacity to sympathise with the joys and sorrows of others. It thereby dissolves the “natural” fit between the citizens’ moral sentiments and the institutionalized social practices established and protected by the laws of the state. Yet at the same time Rousseau maintains that in order to integrate citizens into the wider sphere of the state we have to make use of our sympathetic capacity. In this paper I explore how Rousseau’s account of a sympathy-driven civic education undermines his conception of human nature as the ground on which society should be erected. I argue that ultimately it is society and its institutionalized practices that jointly determine which kinds of sentiments are to be cultivated, and thereby essentially shape our understanding of what it is that counts as natural.

Anik Waldow is Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at the University of Sydney. She mainly works in early modern philosophy and has published widely on the moral and cognitive function of sympathy, early modern theories of personal identity, scepticism and associationist theories of thought and language, and the influence of artifice and nature in the enlightenment debate. Her articles appeared in Philosophy and Phenomenological ResearchThe British Journal for the History of PhilosophyHume StudiesHistory of Philosophy Quarterly and Philosophy. She is the author of the book David Hume and the Problem of Other Minds (Continuum, 2009), and edited a special edition of Intellectual History Review on “Sensibility in Early Modern Philosophy: From Living Machines to Affective Morality.” She also co-edited Contemporary Perspectives on Early Modern Philosophy: Nature and Norms in Thought (Springer, 2013).

4.00pm Thursday 19 May 2016
Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower,
University of Queensland, St Lucia
For further information, please contact iash@uq.edu.au or 07 334 69492


Seminar Room, Level 4, Forgan Smith Tower (St Lucia)