The Philosophers' Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding
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The Philosophers' Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding

3.56 of 5 stars 3.56  ·  rating details  ·  39 ratings  ·  12 reviews
The rise and spectacular fall of the friendship between the two great philosophers of the eighteenth century, barely six months after they first met, reverberated on both sides of the Channel. As the relationship between Jean-Jacques Rousseau and David Hume unraveled, a volley of rancorous letters was fired off, then quickly published and devoured by aristocrats, intellect...more
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published March 3rd 2009 by Yale University Press
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Jim Coughenour
A few years ago I bought a book called Rousseau's Dog about the fractured friendship between David Hume and Jean-Jacques, written by the guys who wrote the entertaining Wittgenstein's Poker. Compared to the poker, the dog was a dry affair and I deserted the drama halfway through. Recently I've been reading Rousseau, so I picked up The Philosopher's Quarrel, which covers much the same territory but in more depth. It's still fairly academic, not what I'd call a riveting read, but the authors do a...more
Lauren Albert
A very readable account of the introduction, brief friendship and then unaccountable estrangement of philosophers Jean Jacques Rousseau and David Hume. The book is more about their personalities than about their philosophies and what philosophy the author discusses would be, I think, quite understandable for someone without too much familiarity with the history of philosophy. As I've mentioned before, I already do not like Rousseau (if you didn't know, he had, I think, five children with his hou...more
Nelson
I would recommend this book to anyone that has an interest in philosophy generally, or Hume and Rousseau specifically. The book starts off somewhat slow, but once it picks up you can hardly put it down.

The authors do a good biographical treatment of each philosopher before the two, Rousseau and Hume, meet and then eventually part ways. The actual encounter between the two men seems to last longer than the number of pages indicates. As the book progresses you also learn about philosophy during th...more
The American Conservative
'The strength of the book is that the story told is a pleasure to read. Zaretsky and Scott open a window into the 18th-century republic of letters... And the story is a page-turner, graced with colorful episodes, disregard of temporal order, flashbacks, and dramatic reversals.
The weakness of the book, however, is that it provides only the vaguest account of how this quarrel reveals limits to “the Enlightenment’s conception of human reason and understanding.” There is no explanation of what is m...more
Philip Chaston
David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau met in Paris and struck up a friendship. This led to a a period of love; the fleeting disillusionment of blame, tears and paranoia before they fell out, never to speak again.

Robert Zaretsky charts the lives of two (philosophical) teenagers in love: the rational boy perplexed by the moodswings and irrational charges of his lover; the girl, irritated and paranoid about the motivations of her friend.

Just as this friendship can be viewed through the prism of th...more
Franz
Covers the same ground as Rousseau's Dog by Edmunds and Eidinow, but with much more attention to how Hume's and Rousseau's philosophies was reflected in their characters, or perhaps it's the other way around. Hume's and Rousseau's personalities are sketched in more detail in this book. In spite of Zaretsky's attempt to picture Rousseau in the best light he can, it's hard not to recognize that Rousseau severely wronged Hume. He comes across as an ungrateful and self-regarding ass. Still, an inter...more
Andrew
This is a highly readable, blessedly jargon-free account of not only two giants of the Enlightenment, but of an age that can be said to spawn what we have come to know as contemporary celebrity culture. I have always admired the work of Robert Zaretsky, especially his work on Camus, so I came with high expectations when I began this book. I have to say that it did not disappoint. And although the book is rather short (210 pages excluding notes and index), one gets the sense of having experienced...more
David
The constant play by play became very tedious. I wanted more substance of the intellectual battle of wits, and instead all I got was the sense of an epistolary flutter of pages violently being dispatched through the mail. As a reader of intellectual histories, this one was straight up boring.
Michelle
I did manage to finish this, but just. And I had to spend a lot of time rereading portions of Rousseau's and Humes' writings, and focus all my attention, and I could just follow. Interesting in a way, but was a lot of effort for the payoff.
Ed Brown
Part social history, part case history this book about the brief and strange relationship between David Hume and Jean Jacques Rousseau helped clarify the great division in modern thought that these two philosophers initiated.
Robert Frandeen
Having studied french literature at an impressionable age, I considered Rousseau and company mystically unreachable, to be adored but never comprehended. It was good to get some down to earth understanding.
Athena
A fascinating read about the well-publicized quarrel between Hume and Rousseau. Makes today's spats in the New York Review of Books seem trivial!
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“Rousseau pounced. Men who dislike cats were tyrannical: "They do not like cats because the cat is free and will never consent to become a slave.” 24 likes
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