A Rousseauian Genealogy of Morality

Abstract: Rousseau characterizes the method of his moral theory as a genealogy. I argue that in doing so Rousseau presents a philosophical undertaking in surprising ways akin to Nietzsche’s later Genealogy of Morality and critique of nihilism. My reading sheds new light on some of his least understood a) discussions of the problem of evil and b) critiques of disputes whether the existence of nature’s productions is more rationally grounded than their non-existence. Moving away from a standard Kantian reading of Rousseau, I show that he develops an original amoral concept of goodness which, in his own language, would be aptly described as an affirmation of will to power.

Bio: Christophe Litwin is Associate Professor of French and Philosophy at UC Irvine. A specialist of early modern moral and political philosophy, he is the author of Politiques de l’amour de soi: La Boétie, Montaigne et Pascal au démêlé (Classiques Garnier, Paris, 2021) and the editor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Affaires de Corse (Vrin, Paris, 2018).