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Warner, John M. Rousseau and the Problem of Human Relations.

WARNER, John M. Rousseau and the Problem of Human Relations. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2015. ix + 255 pp. Cloth, $79.95--This engaging and well-written work provides a thoughtful study for scholars who want to understand and, perhaps, appreciate the tensions and nuances embedded in Rousseau's treatment of human relationships. Indeed, it provides a way one can reconcile some of the contradictions presented in his writings and the way he lived his life. That Rousseau is infamous for his disagreeableness with others--for example, Hume--and his penchant for a reclusive life make this work all the more intriguing because the dichotomy between his writings and his life is perplexing at times. Moreover, in his Discourse on Inequality, he portrays human beings as naturally asocial but at the same time in later writings, he emphasizes that the need for humans to engage in politics is crucial and necessary because of this fact. Surely, the two claims--that human beings are naturally asocial and human beings need to engage in politics--present conflict. Thus the subject of how human beings relate to each other and live together is critical to understanding Rousseau's political theory.

Simply put, the impetus behind the work is to find out how Rousseau would answer the following questions: "What do we want out of relationships? Can we get what we are after?" Warner's considerable research and his apparent mastery of Rousseau's writings, as well as his engagement with other scholars, make this work highly recommended. It is not for initiates, however, because many of his arguments require one to have familiarity with not only Rousseau's oeuvre but also other scholarly interpretations. One needs this background to appreciate the perceptive and intelligent insights that he brings to this study.

Warner's aim is to deliver a comprehensive consideration of Rousseau's theory of human relations. To that end, he aims to provide "a study that presents a reasonably complete survey of the major forms of human association as they recur in Rousseau's work, along with a theory that explains both how they are connected and the extent to which they can satisfy the desires to which they give rise." In this book, Warner substantiates the continuing worth of engaging with Rousseau when thinking about the complexities of the human condition. Whether it is romantic love, friendship, or political engagement, each form of association carries with it, either alone or together, the problem of "dividedness" that lies at the heart of Rousseau's philosophy. While one may begin a relationship with high expectations, inevitably he or she will encounter frustration and disappointment. These obstacles lead to the fragmentation that prevents human beings from experiencing unity as one not only with ourselves, but also with our environment. Thus social life prevents us from enjoying any oneness with ourselves.

While many see Rousseau's preoccupation with freedom and autonomy, Warner presents a compelling case for an interpretation that focuses on the asocial individual's longing for oneness or unity within himself. He argues that the problem of dividing loyalties found in Rousseau cannot be solved. This is so because social relationships, whether platonic, romantic, or political, cannot bring unity to self-interested human beings. Far from being an oversight on Rousseau's part, the author argues that the quest for wholeness in his writings was deliberate and meant to reveal the sad and tragic state of human relations.

One of the most useful parts of the book is the author's engagement with different interpretations of Rousseau's work. Specifically, in chapter 7, his discussion of Rawls's and Cohen's treatments of the notion of "moral freedom," as a solution to the loss of autonomy once one enters civil society, lays bare their claims as well as the problems associated with their attempts to reconcile the two. Indeed, his discussion of the neoKantian and Rawlsian critics is reason enough to recommend the book.

Finally, the strongest recommendation is that one's reading of Rousseau will not be the same after Warner's work. This is so because he has persuasively argued that Rousseau's preoccupation with human relations points to the centrality of the complexity of what it means to be human. That is to say, a good portion of one's life entails engaging with other human relationships, and perhaps Rousseau clearly saw that rather than solitary withdrawal, an integral part of what makes us human is that struggle for oneness while being part of society.--Sharon K. Vaughan, Oklahoma City Community College
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Author:Vaughan, Sharon K.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2017
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