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Thinking Danger with Jean-Jacques Rousseau


This dissertation discusses danger as of one the central concepts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thought. While many classic inquiries have emphasized metaphysical themes like “evil” in Rousseau’s work, I focus on danger as it pertains to the relationship between man and the built environment, as distinct from interhuman relationships. I argue that dangerousness is most visible for Rousseau in human creative activities like architecture, urban planning, and other material makings, subjects poorly treated in Rousseauian criticism. Although some theorists of risk and danger like Georges-Yves Kerven have briefly touched on this problematic in Rousseau, literary and philosophical approaches have not, thus weakening our grasp on the totality of Rousseau’s thought. Thus, in classic readings such as Derrida’s as well as more recent studies like Rudy Le Mentheour’s Manufacture des maladies, danger is either kept on a secondary plan or has been largely limited to psycho-political approaches. Through readings of texts such as the Lettre sur le désastre de Lisbonne, the Discours sur l’origine de l’inégalité, and the Lettre à d’Alembert, this dissertation seeks to fill a gap in the Rousseauian criticism by showing that Rousseau offers a true « riskology », one that has no counterpart either in earlier thinkers such as Hobbes or in contemporaries like Voltaire. I believe that this dissertation will render Rousseau and his thought more accessible to non-literary and non-philosophical thinkers who cannot dialogue with Rousseau within the classical critical frames.

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