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CENTRE ROUSSEAU
Groupe d’Études dédié à Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau sceptique? 1 Christopher Kelly

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mardi, 14 janvier 2014 12:29 Written by 

J’ai demandé à Christopher Kelly comment il pouvait mettre en doute la foi de Rousseau. SA position non conformiste mérite d’être examinée attentivement. Christopher Kelly est un grand traducteur, sa connaissance des textes est intime et profonde. Il a écrit deux livres de premier plan : Rousseau’s Exemplary life et Rousseau as author.

Mes arguments contre sa position sont on ne peut plus classiques :

1)      Rousseau a prêté à deux personnages qu’on ressent comme ses porte-parole, Julie et le vicaire savoyard, des professions de foi développées et argumentées.

2)      A de nombreuses reprises, il a fait état en son nom d’un élan vers Dieu et d’un besoin de lui. Son sentiment religieux a deux faces : la gratitude relative au monde naturel, le besoin de consolation relatif au monde humain. Tantôt Rousseau s’élève vers la divinité, dans un mouvement de reconnaissance, tantôt il se tourne vers elle en espérant la réparation des injustices qu’il subit.

3)      Sa brouille avec le milieu encyclopédiste serait inexplicable, sans une différence entre la foi de Rousseau et l’athéisme de ses anciens amis. Rousseau a l’impression -peu fondée- qu’il est le dernier croyant sincère : « Toute la génération présente ne voit qu’erreurs et préjugés dans les sentiments dont je me nourris seul. » (Rêveries du promeneur solitaire, Troisième promenade,  Le livre de poche, p. 77. Or il rédige ses Rêveries dans une France majoritairement catholique, même si la déchristianisation y est perceptible. Les encyclopédistes n’ont pas tort de se sentir persécutés : leurs opinions ne sont pas licites, ils ne pourraient les affirmer qu’au péril de leur vie. On ne voit pas quoi d’autre que la foi empêche Rousseau de comprendre que ses amis sont une minorité (qui a de bonnes raisons de se penser comme minorité opprimée).

C’est la configuration la plus difficile, humainement : se défendre d’un groupe sur la défensive, être le dissident d’une minorité. Une telle position entraîne des distorsions de perspectives. Rousseau voit un dogmatisme impérieux là où les encyclopédistes éprouvent leur héroïque résistance à la majorité. Inversement, ils interprètent sa défection comme une trahison, là où il fait l’épreuve de sa liberté, c’est-à-dire de la fidélité à soi.     

                                             Claude Habib

I see from your accusation that I am guilty of dogmatic atheism that I haven’t made myself clear enough. All I meant to claim in what I wrote to you is that I see Rousseau as a skeptic, and not as either a believer or as a dogmatic atheist. I may have sounded dogmatic because I wanted to state my conclusions without giving my reasons for them. What my chemical essay tries to show is that just before the “illumination” Rousseau had been seriously thinking about Diderot’s argument for atheism (Pensées Philosophiques, 21eme). This had made him skeptical about attempts to demonstrate the existence of God using reason alone, but it also left him doubts about the sorts of demonstrations of atheism given by the materialists because he saw that the argument was better as an attack than as a defense of their own position. What I think he had seen as early as the chemical writings is that rational theology is not really supported by natural science. Later in the Lettre à Voltaire, he puts the point this way, using optimism as one version of natural theology: “Les vrais principes de l’optimisme ne peuvent se tirer, ni des propriétés de la matiere, ni de la méchanique de l’univers, mais seulement par induction des perfections de Dieu qui preside à tout; de sorte qu’on ne prouve pas l’existence de Dieu par le systême de Pope, mais le systême de Pope par l’existence de Dieu.” The questions remains, then, what proves the existence of God?

In the Lettre, the answer to this question seems to be “sentiment,” particularly moral sentiment. This is also the answer of the vicaire who also gives some arguments, but relies very much on sentiment. He believes in God because his experience of the fact that justice does not lead to happiness makes him long for a compensation after his death. Consequently his faith in God is based in large part on his view of the soul as separate from the body. He summarizes his view, “Quand je n’aurois d’autre preuve de l’immatérialité de l’ame que le triomphe du méchant et l’oppression du juste en ce monde, cela seul m’empêcheroit d’en douter.”  Indeed, he claims that the body is the cause of wickedness and the soul is attached to justice. This view of the body makes me wonder whether Rousseau can possibly share the vicaire’s understanding. The vicaire, himself says, “si se préférer à tout est un penchant naturel à l’homme, et si pourtant le premier sentiment de la justice est inné dans le Coeur humain, que celui qui fait de l’homme un être simple léve ces contradictions, et je ne reconnois plus qu’une substance.” Rousseau, himself, answers the challenge of the vicaire in the rest of Emile and elsewhere. This was the subject of my essay on the sentiment of the unjust. This doesn’t mean that Rousseau is a materialist like d’Holbach, but that he is very skeptical about dualism as well as materialism.

What I think Rousseau has done is to account for the human root of religious belief by analyzing the hope to unite happiness and justice in the face of the triumph of injustice in this world. I believe that his own account of justice and, even more, natural goodness, is an attempt to give an alternative to the religious account. It explains our attachment to justice, but argues that goodness is more fundamental than virtue and that happiness is—in principle—possible in this world, even with the triumph of injustice. Someone might say, but doesn’t Rousseau himself show an attachment to justice along with a sense of his own weakness? What about his account of conscience? Rousseau certainly says that the repose of the conscience is a great good, but in the 8 th Promenade he says, “un innocent persecuté prend longtems pour un pur amour de la justice l’orgueil de son petit individu.” He goes on to say that this is hard to overcome, but that he has overcome it in spite of some lingering effect. What this means is that Rousseau thinks he does not ultimately need, although he occasionally feels, the hope that religion be true. I do not present this as a refutation of religious belief, but I do think that it is evidence that Rousseau thinks that religious belief can be explained in natural terms and that he is strongly inclined to that explanation. Again, I say only that he is a skeptic.

His explanation of the root of religious belief (but not its truth or falseness) seems convincing to me, or at least persuasive. You seemed to say that the suffering of innocent people in this world is a sufficient reason not to believe in God, but Rousseau seems to think it is the most important reason for believing in God. If justice were automatically rewarded why would we need to believe? For moral reasons Rousseau does not wish to disturb such a view too much, although he wants to separate it from fanaticism.

To get back to the argument, I continue to think that Rousseau is a nonbelieving skeptic, but not a dogmatic atheist. Even before the illumination, he had discovered that reason alone cannot prove the existence of God. After the illumination, he understood that sentiment makes us desire to believe, but that this sentiment is better accounted for by his doctrine of natural goodness. The desire to believe is based on a misunderstanding that has lingering effects even when corrected. Again, this doesn’t prove atheism, but it denies the force of the arguments for God. What is left as a justification for belief would be a mysterious grace that reveals to us something unknown to and unknowable by our reason and unproven by our sentiment—in short a sort of miracle. This is what I meant by referring to revealed religion. I didn’t mean the literal truth of the Bible. But after the illumination, I don’t find any evidence that Rousseau believes in grace or other miracles. To be sure, in the Lettres ecrites de la montagne, he says that he never claimed to refute the possibility of miracles, but he never indicates that he believes in them. In the Lettre à Beaumont he pretty clearly indicates that he doesn’t believe in creation out of nothing, although he also doesn’t refute it. Again, I would say that he is a skeptical non-believer, but not the sort of dogmatic atheist who thinks that materialist science refutes miracles.

You asked why, if Rousseau doesn’t believe or want to believe, he would read the Bible over and over every night? An excellent question. If he was satisfied that he had an iron-clad refutation of religion, he could read only out a perverse sense of amusement, but if he did not believe and regarded an adequate understanding as the most important thing to have, what else could he do except continue to try to understand? Of course, in the Reveries, it is Plutarch, rather than the Bible, that he says he continued to read up to the end. At any rate, I don’t think that in the end he longed to believe, although he treats very seriously this longing as he tries to account for it. One final frivolous remark occurs to me. Rousseau frequently expresses his admiration for Jesus. Many people have noticed that he does not discuss either Jesus’ divinity or the resurrection. It also seems to me that in many places, such as the Morceau allégorique, and Lettre à Franquières he also gives no particular indication that he thought that it was important to know whether Jesus believed in God in order to admire him the way he does.

Your questions have succeeded in exposing the dilemma I face. I continue to believe that Rousseau is not a believer, without being a dogmatic atheist. I am also satisfied that he thought that neither reason nor sentiment—including hope--ultimately support religious belief, although he does not think that he provides a simple refutation of the claims of either. I am not sure, however, that skepticism will do as a description of his final position, although it certainly describes several stages on the way. It also indicates the reasons for his respect for genuine believers. Of course, he didn’t think there were many of them. What I continue to puzzle over is how strong he thought the grounds for his disbelief were. I hope I live long enough to figure this out and your doubts about my understanding of Rousseau help me to make progress.

Christopher Kelly

Additional Info

  • Auteur: Hammann Christine
  • Année de publication: 2013
  • Sujet: Confessions
Read 4346 times Last modified on jeudi, 30 janvier 2014 13:53

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