Vol. 7 (2022)
Focus: Enlightenment and extra-European cultures

«Ce que notre nature nous permet d’être». Rousseau et l’autre de l’Europe

Christophe Martin
Sorbonne Université
Published November 18, 2022
  • Rousseau,
  • eurocentrism,
  • perfectibility,
  • travel,
  • Derrida
How to Cite
Martin, C. (2022). «Ce que notre nature nous permet d’être». Rousseau et l’autre de l’Europe. Diciottesimo Secolo, 7, 65-73. https://doi.org/10.36253/ds-13321


At least since the rise of postcolonial studies, the questioning of the supposed European-centrism of the Enlightenment has been recurrent. How can we situate Rousseau in this respect? In his justly famous analyses, Claude Lévi-Strauss recognised him as the “founder of the human sciences” and the Discours sur l’origine de l’inégalité as “the first treatise on general ethnology”. In De la grammatologie, however, Jacques Derrida proposed another reading, arguing that “Rousseau’s dynamics is a strange system in which the critique of ethnocentrism organically composes with eurocentrism”. Should we then consider that Rousseau, far from offering a counter-example to the European-centrism of the Enlightenment, would give an illustration of it which is all the more remarkable because it is more insidious? These are the questions that we would like to try to shed light on, by insisting on Rousseau’s grievances with regard to the European “philosophical mob”, which commit the egregious error of ignoring the essential plasticity of the human species. It is obviously no coincidence that the art of travelling constitutes Emile’s ultimate apprenticeship: it is on this condition that he will be able to become both a man and a citizen, capable of judging customs and mores while remaining radically alienated from the prejudices of his contemporaries, who despite all their books and all their travels, know of men only Europeans.


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