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The Friendship of Hume and Rousseau
by Terry Barlow
07/21/14
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   I learned recently that the Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume of the 18th Century befriended Jean Jacques Rousseau,  the French philosopher whose ideas helped to fuel the French Revolution. Hume was home-schooled (Hume-schooled, sorry couldn't resist!) by the way, and came, through his belief in skepticism, to even doubt that there was such an entity as a self, much less a God, but chose instead to think of himself as a bundle of loosely-joined perceptions. From Rousseau among others we received the doctrine of the basic goodness of man who was contaminated only by the corruption of society, hence his belief in the “noble savage’ who in his remote location was untainted by the socialization process in society.  Rousseau thought that a democracy was in urgent need of every man's inherent wisdom!   Hume brought his new friend Rousseau back to England where the two had a falling out, with Rousseau falling prey to paranoia and accusing Hume of plotting against him. That resulted in the two of them feuding in public and openly denouncing each other. (Reminiscent of the tragic relationship between the two supremely talented painters, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin) These were two of the most brilliant minds of their times attempting to guide the ideas and philosophical/political views of their respective societies to a more “enlightened” state, but who couldn’t hold together their own friendship or, in Rousseau’s case, his own personal grip on reality.  (Psychosis is indeed the "ultimate autonomy.")  There’s some irony to be found in that fact.



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