Rousseau and the minimal self: A solution to the problem of amour-propre

European Journal of Political Theory 13 (3):341-361 (2014)
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Over the past few decades, scholars have reassessed the role of amour-propre in Rousseau’s thought. While it was once believed that he had an entirely negative valuation of the emotion, it is now widely held that he finds it useful and employs it to strengthen moral attachments, conjugal love, civic virtue and moral heroism. At the same time, scholars are divided as to whether this positive amour-propre is an antidote to the negative or dangerous form. Some scholars are confident that ‘inflamed’ amour-propre can be overcome while others adopt a more fatalistic view. While mindful of Rousseau’s pessimism in his most famous works, this essay seeks to identify a middle position. By contending Rousseau’s discussion of amour-propre is largely concerned with the problems surrounding identity construction in commercial, urban societies, it will be argued that amour-propre can be lessened to manageable levels in more rural societies, that is, agrarian provincial life

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Michael Locke McLendon
California State University, Los Angeles