Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Noble Savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1754-1762 III

As far as I've read, Rousseau is forty-seven and has spent two years in the rundown cottage in Montmorency, which was known as Petit Montlouis, because it was on a larger estate named Montlouis. Since Mme. Levasseur had moved back to Paris, he was alone with Thérèse. His health was poor because of urinary problems and a hernia, and the house was cold during the winter due to a lack of heat; he thought that he didn't have long to live. He became increasingly religious and said that he wanted to go to heaven. Initially he had few visitors and spent most of his time writing. His main work during this period was an essay titled A Letter to Monsieur d'Alembert on the Theatre. D'Alembert had written an article for Diderot's Encyclopédie in which he discussed Geneva and argued for adding a theater there to give a spark to the arts. The Calvinists had banned theaters because they thought that they had a corrupting effect on the population. Rousseau was on neutral terms with d'Alembert but was miffed because he hadn't been consulted. His essay supported the ban and included barbs against Voltaire and Diderot. At the time, Voltaire was living in Geneva, and Rousseau assumed that the essay was for his benefit, because a theater would allow him to stage his own productions there. The veiled criticism of Diderot had nothing to do with the article or Geneva and served only to solidify their split. Rousseau had been on cordial terms with Voltaire, but his essay caused a breach. Other than this essay, Rousseau continued to work on Julie and maintained correspondences, some of which pertained to copyrights and publishers who had cheated him out of money. At this stage he was entirely self-financing and paying rent.

Cranston is good at providing important biographical details, but I am finding him weaker when it comes to analyzing Rousseau's psychodynamics. Rousseau's behavior was considered unusual then, and it would be now. In the absence of discussion on this topic, I am piecing together a model to try to make sense of this. Some of Rousseau's antisocial behavior probably stemmed from his urinary problems, which made it necessary for him to urinate very frequently, making normal social interactions awkward. Part of it may also have had to do with the fact that Rousseau was not an extroverted person and tended to be shy. Another part may have had to do with the fact that he was not accustomed to urban living as he encountered it in Paris and felt uncomfortable there. He seems to have had a theatrical flair, so it may have been easiest for him to invent a persona as a hermit, an ascetic and a citizen of Geneva. One of the areas in which he was most confounding was in his reluctance to take ordinary steps to secure a sufficient income. He could easily have accepted an undemanding job that would have covered his expenses, or he could have found a suitable patron whose support he accepted graciously, but he did neither. I'm not sure whether he was stubborn, stupid, or both.

There were other complexities which are subtler and more difficult to resolve. He seemed to develop frictions with his friends among the Parisian philosophes, not always with clear causes. One aspect of this may simply have been male rivalry. His relationships with women were no less problematic, perhaps because he was more emotionally dependent on them than on men. For the time, Mme. de Warens had met his needs, though he cannot be said to have loved her as much as he loved Sophie, who was doubly unavailable as a spouse and mistress. His relationship with Thérèse seems to have been based primarily on sex until his mid-forties, whereupon she became a mere servant.

Perhaps what I like to speculate on the most about Rousseau are the inconsistencies of his ideas and his role in the Enlightenment, though ideas are not the main focus of Cranston's biography. I get the sense that Rousseau was not a great thinker, but that he was able to leverage the abilities he did have to the best possible effect. I think that he was unusually capable at looking inward and identifying what was most important to him, and then use this as a basis for his writings. That included an appreciation of nature and rural life. Though he probably made many blunders in writing Émile, he understood that a certain kind of life would be the right one for him and would allow him to express who he was; this countered the ideas of his more scientific friends, who, at the time, were thinking of humans as blank slates. In at least this respect, Rousseau was far ahead of his time. In other areas, I'm not so sure that he warrants much attention, except as a compelling writer, primarily in his autobiographical works.

The main incongruity that I see is Rousseau's endorsement of Calvinism while pursuing a completely improper relationship with Thérèse. That relationship was not one of equals, and I have seen no evidence that she had say in the disposal of the five children that they produced together. Would she have liked to have kept them? It is possible that she concurred with Rousseau that they couldn't afford them, but there is no record of her having a voice in the decision. Outwardly, Thérèse may as well have been a sex slave with no rights. Rousseau conveniently labeled himself a Calvinist while living in France, when his behavior would have landed him in jail in any puritanical jurisdiction. The moral high ground that he took in his writing is absurd if you look closely at his actual behavior. It should also be noted that while he was willing to accept charity at the expense of friends who could ill afford it, I see no evidence that he ever extended himself to help anyone else. Thérèse, his lifelong companion, lived in poverty just as he did. Arguably, she was an unpaid sex worker.

In regard to the Enlightenment, Rousseau did not seem to fit in well with it in a broad sense, unless you include his political theories. Compared to the other philosophes of his era, he was notably conservative and anti-scientific. I think perhaps that this was an early demarcation that still manifests itself in the rift between the arts and the sciences. Literary types and scientific types remain poorly integrated.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Noble Savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1754-1762 II

1757 turned out to be an excessively melodramatic year for Rousseau, who was then forty-five. A sister-in-law of Mme. d'Épinay, Comtesse d'Houdetot, known to friends as Sophie, lived in a rented house near the Hermitage and Mme. d'Épinay's chateau, which was called La Chevrette. Although she had known Rousseau from earlier encounters, they struck out on a romantic relationship. She was eighteen years younger than Rousseau and nine years younger than Thérèse, attractive but not pretty, with a good figure and a warm personality. The relationship included a few encounters of an undetermined sexual nature, secret meetings in the woods, hiding letters to each other in a tree, etc. – all a little corny to me. Sophie belonged to an ancient aristocratic lineage and had three children, and, as was the norm for aristocratic women at that time, had a lover; he was named St-Lambert and was away at war. It appears that Rousseau's celebrity status had attracted her to him, and that he may have been drawn to her aristocratic credentials, but they still managed to form a genuinely close relationship.

Maurice Cranston makes a valiant effort to sort out exactly what transpired, and there are mountains of extant evidence in the form of letters, but the whole situation still seems murky to me. By current standards, Rousseau may have been going through a midlife crisis, with sexual boredom and early inklings of his death. Sophie became the model for Julie in his novel, and clearly he was obsessed with her. Unfortunately, Mme. d'Épinay took an interest in this and may have used Thérèse, who also must have been displeased, to intercept his letters to Sophie. Moreover, Sophie loved St-Lambert and didn't want to hurt him. The situation boiled out of control when Mme. d'Épinay decided to make a winter trip to Geneva to see her doctor, who was an acquaintance of Rousseau. She wanted Rousseau to accompany her, but he didn't want to go. This resulted in a flurry of letters full of recrimination, which left Mme. d'Épinay, her lover, Grimm, a fellow encyclopédist, and Diderot, who somehow got dragged into this, displeased with Rousseau's conduct. The turn of events may have been an early example of Rousseau's paranoia causing ill effects, and it seems to me that he could easily have prevented the outcome by exercising greater tact. If he had consulted each person face-to-face and stated his position plainly without any innuendos, it seems that the situation might have been salvaged.

That outcome, however, was ruined relationships. In a letter to Grimm, Mme. d'Épinay described Rousseau as "a moral dwarf on stilts." Grimm wrote to Mme. d'Épinay, "You know madmen are dangerous, especially if one panders to them as you have sometimes done to that poor devil through your ill-judged pity for his insanity." Diderot became involved with this fiasco, and his relationship with Rousseau was subsequently ruined. Though Rousseau managed to remain on good terms with Sophie and St-Lambert, in late 1857 Mme. d'Épinay's entourage departed for Geneva without him and he moved out of the Hermitage to a cottage two miles away in Montmorency. There was a side to Rousseau that was not at all flattering: on the one hand he seems to have been a sensitive soul who became closely attached to people, particularly maternal women, but on the other hand he was not always straightforward in his dealings with people and generated unnecessary confusion. I think that he may have unconsciously engaged in social climbing, and when confronted he took solace with sympathetic women without dealing effectively with the men. One might surmise that he does not appear to have been emotionally self-aware.

I should mention at this point that the aristocratic women who participated in the French salons of Rousseau's time seem remarkably sophisticated. By current standards they seem unusually intelligent, well-informed, sensitive and articulate, certainly more so than any American women I've ever met. One begins to get a sense of what was lost when the aristocratic institutions of France collapsed. When the hordes of bourgeoisie finally took over public life in France, the salons were replaced with boring social gatherings like those hosted by Mme. Verdurin in Proust's Swann's Way, and a little later Simone de Beauvoir avoided them like the plague. It would seem that one of the highlights of Western civilization has vanished forever. The apparent social equality that arose with the death of monarchies was accompanied by a kind of crudeness that came at an aesthetic cost.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Noble Savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1754-1762 I

This second volume in Maurice Cranston's series starts where the first leaves off, in 1754. After returning to Paris from Geneva, Rousseau resumed his salon participation while living frugally without a regular job and supporting Thérèse and her mother, Mme. Levasseur, who was getting old. He sought a publisher for his Discourse on Inequality. At the age of 42, Rousseau's eccentricities become more apparent. In those days, publishing a book was generally not very profitable for the author, and his friends, such as Diderot, earned a living in the same way that many intellectuals do today, by writing commissioned articles for journals. Rousseau refused to engage in this type of work and, besides his income as a copyist, he depended on handouts that he would accept only when they didn't compromise his ascetic lifestyle. It seems that many aspects of his life as a principled philosophe were a bit of a sham, because Mme. Levasseur was constantly going behind his back and soliciting funds from people to support the three of them.

Rousseau disliked living in Paris, because it was congested, unhealthy and corrupt, and he preferred the outdoors. It seems that his plan had been to take Geneva by storm and retire there. His Discourse on Inequality was dedicated to that city, but, when it was published, it turned out to be flop in Geneva, which was not an intellectual hub. Furthermore, although he seems to have wanted to idealize Geneva as a utopia which reflected his ideals, in fact it was a patrician city with distinct classes that hardly demonstrated his ideas regarding equality. One of the Parisian salon hostesses, Mme. d'Épinay, had a house to the north of Paris in Montmorency, and she remodeled a building on the property, which she named the Hermitage, so that Rousseau, Thérèse and her mother could live there. In 1756, the three moved in. Generally, this arrangement suited Rousseau, and he began to write his first novel, Julie. His house was a mile from the nearest neighbor, and, far ahead of his time, he enjoyed walking in the country. He usually walked alone, since Thérèse didn't like walking.

When Mme. d'Épinay was staying at her house there, Rousseau socialized with her, though the conversation was not at salon levels, and sometimes he found her boring. She was not sexually attractive to him, and they did not become involved in that way. By this time, Thérèse was also unattractive to him, and although they seem to have had a good relationship, she came to resemble a servant and nurse in her household role. Despite the fact that Montmorency is close to Paris, in those days getting there often involved walking through five miles of mud, so Rousseau didn't get many visitors. He communicated with friends via letters, and, much as what happens today with emails, misunderstandings sometimes arose. In particular, Diderot, who was busy supporting his own family and secretly subsidizing Mme. Levasseur to assist Rousseau, didn't like to take time off to trudge through the mud, and this produced some animosity. He was probably irritated by Rousseau's "hermit" act because of the inconveniences it caused for everyone else.

My reading of this biography falls broadly into my analysis of intellectuals, and I am particularly interested in thinking about how much importance should be placed on their ideas after you have seen how they originated. In Rousseau's case, I identify with his appreciation of the outdoors and rural living and his disdain for being an employee, but I think that some of his ideas were simply idealizations of Calvinism and Geneva. In the case of all intellectuals, they may have some insights or special knowledge, but, in the end, they suffer from much the same ignorance and prejudice as everyone else. From the vantage point of the present, Rousseau had little or no understanding of what the effects of the Industrial Revolution and population growth would be. Regardless of what he thought, people were about to move to cities and take industrial jobs rather than work or live rurally. He advocated small, democratically-governed republics without recognizing that economies of scale would soon render such political and economic structures obsolete. Moreover, he engaged in a lot of fuzzy thinking regarding who would actually vote in his ideal republic. Certainly, he would not place illiterate servants or farm laborers on the same level as educated people like himself. Thus, "equality" coming from Rousseau had a specialized meaning which did not provide all people with identical rights. Nor, so far as I'm aware, did Rousseau delineate in a useful way the conditions under which rights should be restricted. Rousseau was one of the most original thinkers of the Enlightenment, but I think it is important to view even the most influential of thinkers as having thoughts of limited applicability, simply because, at best, they are likely to be only somewhat less ignorant than their peers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019


The Rousseau biography is quite long – over 900 pages in small print – but I am finding it worthwhile and think it deserves a close reading. I apologize to those of you who have no interest in the subject, since I'm only about a third of the way through, and it will take a month or two for me to finish it at the current rate.

This is the perfect time to be settled indoors, as cold weather and permanent snow have arrived. From footprints on the roof, I can see that one of the mice that I blocked out in 2017 is still trying unsuccessfully to enter the house. Other than reading and an occasional walk, there isn't much to do. I have been following the Trump debacle and hoping that it will end soon. I think that he is hanging by a thread, and that he could be gone quite rapidly, depending on the Mueller findings. A possible scenario would be that Mueller provides proof of Trump's direct involvement in the obstruction of justice, which causes a drop in Trump's popularity and a loss of support by Republican senators. Under such a scenario, Trump would face immediate impeachment and would probably resign under pressure. Even if the Mueller investigation doesn't pan out, there are several separate investigations underway in the House of Representatives which will probably uncover damaging information about Trump and perhaps reveal crimes not examined by Mueller.

Some pundits think that the normal democratic process – presidential votes – should be the deciding factor in what happens to Trump. I disagree, in that Trump is a menace to society, and the risks associated with his remaining in office for two more years outweigh the desirability of normal electoral procedures. Even if I were able to convince myself that he had a coherent set of policies that are plausibly in the American interest, he has repeatedly demonstrated that he has very little understanding of his responsibilities or what actions he should take to exercise them. For those who somehow manage to agree with him on anything, chances are that he will be unable to fulfill his promises, because he is demonstrably incompetent. Beyond this, it seems possible that he will ultimately be found guilty of multiple crimes. The writing is on the wall: he will be regarded as the worst president in American history, and, with any luck, Congress will pass a law to prevent such a mistake from occurring in the future. Trump is unfit for the presidency, and I would prefer to see him dead or in prison. Allowing him to remain the most powerful person in the world is beyond absurdity.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1754 VII

A second competition was announced by the Academy of Dijon in 1753. The question this time was "What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by Natural Law?" Of course, Rousseau immediately began writing, and, although he didn't win on this occasion, he managed to produce his best essay to date. It was here that he set out his "natural man" theory for which he is best known today. Rousseau was usually a lyrical and literary writer, but he closely consulted Diderot, and the essay has a more scientific ring to it. In what might be called a pre-Darwinian description of the evolution of mankind, he articulated how humans evolved from less-sophisticated animals. He argued that, at some time in the distant past, man was morally good in comparison to his current state. The change began when agriculture became popular, along with the concept of private property. Eventually, man had to earn his living by wages, subjecting himself to the will of others, and society imposed new rules, such as monogamy, in order to maintain order. Rousseau argued that this was a corruption from the earlier state in which man was happy. The essay was published and drew much public attention. He sent Voltaire, an acquaintance but not a friend, a copy. Voltaire was then enjoying a bourgeois life and was not about to have his lifestyle challenged. In characteristic wit, he replied:

I have received, Monsieur, your new book against the human race, and I thank you. No one has employed so much intelligence to turn us men into beasts. One starts wanting to walk on all fours after reading your book. However, in more than sixty years I have lost the habit.

Besides Voltaire, the younger encyclopédistes of Rousseau's set were generally rationalists and not amenable to the religious undertones of the essay. Despite this, it was widely read and contributed further to Rousseau's fame.

In the summer of 1754, Rousseau traveled to Geneva with Thérèse and visited family members and old acquaintances. In order to do so, he had to renounce Catholicism and become a Calvinist again. Because of his celebrity, the Genevans made this easy for him, despite his living arrangements with Thérèse. The moral laxity of Paris was not accepted in Geneva, but Rousseau was able to meet the requirements simply by stating that Thérèse was his nurse. They enjoyed the summer and early fall there, spending much of their time walking outdoors before returning to Paris in October.

This brings to a close the first of three volumes. Although there is more detail here than necessary, I am enjoying the richness of the description. Though I don't take Rousseau completely seriously as a thinker, the information is useful for understanding the history of ideas. What I like about Rousseau is that he wrote from the heart, and that his ideas lack the opacity that pervades most academic writing. It is interesting to me that basic questions such as the rights of individuals and the meaning of equality have scarcely advanced since the eighteenth century. Academic writing usually consists of a regurgitation of what someone else said, and along the way the meaning of the original thought becomes lost. It is shocking how few original thinkers there have been throughout history, and when you find one like Rousseau, it is difficult, despite his limitations, not to marvel at his rarity. The valuable lesson from Rousseau is not primarily conceptual: it is his articulation of the visceral feeling that he had in response to nature and his repulsion to the aspects of civilization that made him feel ill-at-ease. Such observations do not generally arise in the circles of modern academics or intellectuals. When I think about my life, the most absurd and unsatisfactory aspects of it were usually related to my status as an employee. My caveat regarding Rousseau is that going back in time is not a real solution to human happiness. If other species are "happier" because they are not conscious in the same sense that we are, then so be it. I don't think that most people would like to revert to a lower state of consciousness even if they could. Nevertheless, I agree with Rousseau in his rejection of an economic system that subtly enslaves some people to others. Of course, the solution to such a problem was well beyond the scope of what Rousseau could hope to offer the modern world, but I have always felt that the state of being an employee is an unpleasant subjugation that I would have avoided if it had been tenable. Rousseau lacked the sophistication to provide a comprehensive outline of the shortcomings of modern capitalism, but he had the right reaction. Unfortunately, such questions also seem to be beyond the scope of contemporary writers such as Thomas Piketty – thus it is difficult not to admire Rousseau as a powerful writer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1754 VI

During the late 1740's and early 1750's in Paris, the new breed of young intellectuals who had contributed to Diderot's Encyclopédie became respected participants in the salon set, and intelligence and wit became part of the package, perhaps for the first time. Rousseau did well at this, though he was shy and, since he never had much money, didn't like to dress up. His next big break came with the composition of the opera Le Devin du Village in 1752. At this stage, Rousseau was advocating the Italian style of opera over the French, and it caught on. The opera was first performed for the King at Fontainebleau and was a great success. This plunged Rousseau into the musical world, and before long he was getting into fights with Rameau, the elder statesman of French music who had criticized Les Muses galantes. Soon after, Rousseau staged a play that he had written much earlier at Chambéry, but it was more or less a flop.

In his late 30's and early 40's, Rousseau's final adult personality emerged, and it wasn't all pretty. In my opinion, he willfully remained poor long past the time that he had to be, and he refined his poverty as an odd sort of act. Because wealthy people were more than willing to help him once he became famous in Paris, he received a high-paying job as a cashier in an office of the Receiver-General of Finances. However, having a regular job made him ill, and he soon quit. The King so liked Le Devin du Village that he was prepared to offer Rousseau a pension. Somehow, Rousseau rationalized not accepting a pension on the grounds that it would compromise his integrity. This occurred while he was living in near-squalor, supporting Thérèse's parasitic and intrusive family and earning a pittance by copying music. This kind of obstinate impracticality eventually irritated his closest friend, Diderot, who seems to have been far more sensible.

What irks me at the moment is that while Rousseau could easily have increased his income substantially without much effort, he was sending what little money he had to Mme. de Warens, apologizing as he did that he wished that he had more to send. Apparently her financial situation had become dire when she lost her pension from Turin. Moreover, Rousseau abandoned all of his five children and never saw them again. It is hard to recognize this as some sort of principled behavior: he was simply a disingenuous friend and an irresponsible parent. He seems to have thought that by remaining poor he could never be accused of malfeasance. Unfortunately, for all his braying about equality, he didn't seem to think that he had to make any sacrifices for women, children or friends as long as he could stay poor or sick. In addition, he does not seem to have thought about or addressed the problems associated with Thérèse's family. As far as I am able to determine, Rousseau's ideas regarding personal austerity did not stem from the refinement of a belief system, but rather derived from the dogma that he had passively absorbed while growing up in Calvinist Geneva.

I am still reading this with great interest, but not because I want to emulate Rousseau. I merely think that he was a talented writer who lived an interesting, well-documented life during interesting times. Though he may have possessed excellent language skills and a reasonably good knowledge of music, a lot of his thinking seems half-baked, leading me to conclude that he was not as great a philosopher as some have made him out to be. This wouldn't be of much significance in itself were it not for the fact that he influenced later political thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson. Reading about Rousseau, it is no surprise that Jefferson, who lived in style, complete with French wines imported to Virginia at great expense, was in debt throughout his life and didn't treat slaves, women or non-landowning males as equal citizens. Furthermore, Jefferson had five illegitimate children with his slave, Sally Hemings: how enlightened was that? Some of the elements of Rousseau's legacy, it must be noted, are about as unequal as you can get.

I will make one more post on this book, take a short pause, and then start the next volume.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1754 V

Initially, life in Paris was good when Rousseau returned from Venice. A new friend whom he had met in Venice, the Spanish nobleman Ignatio Altuna, allowed him to stay with him in his Paris apartment and paid his expenses. However, Altuna returned to Spain in the spring of 1745, and Rousseau was then left to his own devices. He moved into a low-budget hotel, where he met Thérèse Levasseur, the illiterate laundress who was to become his lifelong mistress. There he composed his operatic ballet, Les Muses galantes. Though he managed to arrange for a rehearsal, the ballet never went into production. In 1746, he attended the salon of Mme. Dupin, and after they became acquainted he took a position as secretary within her household. The Dupins were wealthy dilettantes who were trying to make names for themselves in their writings, but, despite Rousseau's talent, they did not produce any memorable works. He received another small inheritance in 1747 when his father died, but his financial state remained weak, because he received little pay from the Dupins. By 1749, Rousseau was making contributions to Diderot's Encyclopédie, along with Diderot and d'Alembert. Rousseau provided entries on music while d'Alembert focused on math and science. This work, however, produced no immediate income.

In 1749 there was a crackdown on heretical writings in France by Catholic authorities, and Diderot was arrested and jailed in Vincennes. He was allowed visitors, and Rousseau visited him by walking about six miles each way from Paris. To occupy himself while walking, Rousseau read, and one day he noticed an article announcing a prize sponsored by the Academy of Dijon. The prize would be awarded for the best essay on the subject "Has the progress of the arts and sciences done more to corrupt or to purify morals?" Rousseau was immediately inspired and wrote the winning essay, which was to be a major turning point in his life. He took the more controversial anti-arts-and-sciences position, in which he seemed reactionary, but his essay won, and soon he was famous. While there were inconsistencies and flawed logic in his essay, it was widely debated in France, and Rousseau became a celebrity for the first time. He wrote that the arts and sciences "cast garlands of flowers over the chains that men bear, crushing in them that sense of original liberty for which they were born, making them like their slavery, and turning them into what is called a civilized people." The main thesis of most of Rousseau's subsequent work was that man is good but is corrupted by culture.

After living with the Dupins, Rousseau moved in with Thérèse Levasseur's family and provided most of their financial support. During the course of his relationship with Thérèse, she produced a total of five babies, all of which were sent to the orphanage. Rousseau is thought to have been their father, though there have been skeptics. Rousseau apparently had a birth defect which made it difficult for him to urinate, and he was subject to various infections and illnesses. While he later expressed regret about abandoning the children, the practice was normal then, when modern birth control didn't exist, under those conditions in which parents couldn't afford to raise them.

As I proceed through these books, I hope to comment more on Rousseau's ideas. At this stage in his life, he felt oppressed and abused by the wealthy, who, for the purposes of his essay, were the primary advocates of the arts and sciences. Clearly, in Paris at the time, there was a lot of unpleasant, competitive behavior among them, and their servants, Rousseau, for instance, often bore the brunt of it by being overworked and underpaid. I don't think that Rousseau's idea that life was better before civilization came along holds up well if you use conventional measures of the quality of life, but if you view his main point rather as an indictment of social inequality and its ill effects, his thoughts are still relevant today. Thus, I think that his ideas regarding inequality have held up, while his harkening back to an idealized past is mistaken. Although I frequently criticize the current state of the arts, I would never suggest, as he did, that they should not exist. Similarly, I think it would be idiotic to renounce all of science. However, in the history of ideas, Rousseau is worth considering, with the proviso that he wrote at a time when social science was in its infancy, and that he could not have known how our distant ancestors actually lived.