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Rousseau and the Problem of Human Relations

by John Warner Penn State University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 272 pages
AU$65.00 NZ$67.83
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In this volume, John Warner grapples with one of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s chief preoccupations: the problem of self-interest implicit in all social relationships. Not only did Rousseau never solve this problem, Warner argues, but he also believed it was fundamentally unsolvable - that social relationships could never restore wholeness to a self-interested human being.

This engaging study is founded on two basic but important questions: what do we want out of human relationships, and are we able to achieve what we are after? Warner traces his answers through the contours of Rousseau’s thought on three distinct types of relationships - sexual love, friendship, and civil or political association - as well as alternate interpretations of Rousseau, such as that of the neo-Kantian Rawlsian school. The result is an insightful exploration of the way Rousseau inspires readers to imbue social relations with purpose and meaning, only to show the impossibility of reaching wholeness through such relationships.

While Rousseau may raise our hopes only to dash them, Rousseau and the Problem of Human Relations demonstrates that his ambitious failure offers unexpected insight into the human condition and into the limits of Rousseau’s critical act.



List of Abbreviations


1 Rousseau’s Theory of Human Relations

2 Social Longing and Moral Perfection

3 Pity and Human Weakness

4 Romantic Love in Emile

5 Romantic Love in Julie

6 Friendship, Virtue, and Moral Authority

7 The Ecology of Justice

8 The Sociology of Wholeness





“Warner’s book offers a lucid and intelligent interpretation of Rousseau that understands the challenge of human relations not as a problem to be solved but rather as a fundamental, insoluble condition to be lived with and within. Warner successfully resists the twin poles of the radically individualist and radically collectivist interpretations of Rousseau by emphasizing the dynamic, irreducible tension at the heart of Rousseau’s project. This book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of that tension and its role in Rousseau’s different models of human association.”

—Denise Schaeffer, The Review of Politics

John M. Warner is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Kansas State University.