Rousseau on refined Epicureanism and the problem of modern liberty
Title: Rousseau on refined Epicureanism and the problem of modern liberty
Author: HOLLEY, Jared
Citation: European journal of political theory, 2018, Vol. 17, No. 4, pp. 411-431
ISSN: 1474-8851; 1741-2730
This article argues that in order to understand the form of modern political freedom envisioned by Rousseau, we have to understand his theory of taste as refined Epicureanism. Rousseau saw the division of labour and corrupt taste as the greatest threats to modern freedom. He identified their cause in the spread of vulgar Epicureanism - the frenzied pursuit of money, vanity and sexual gratification. In its place, he advocated what he called 'the Epicureanism of reason', or refined Epicureanism. Materially grounded on an equitable proportion of needs and faculties, this was a hedonist theory of self-command designed to cultivate the temperate enjoyment of sensual pleasure. I argue that Rousseau hoped that a shift from vulgar to refined Epicureanism would secure political freedom in modernity by grounding the politics of the general will in an economics of balanced growth and a reinvigorated appreciation of natural beauty. This perspective provides a new way of both clarifying the role of economic justice and aesthetic judgment in Rousseau's republican state theory, and of assessing the consistency of his moral and political thought.
Subject: Aesthetics; Epicureanism; inequality; Jean-Jacques Rousseau; judgment; popular sovereignty; General will
First published: 12 August 2018
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