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Robert Zaretsky and John T Scott

The Philosophers' Quarrel

In 1766 David Hume was instrumental in find Jean-Jacques Rousseau a place to live in Britain, freeing him from the persecution he had faced on the Continent. One might have expected a lifetime of gratitude for this action, but in fact things turned out rather differently. In The Philosophers' Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding Robert Zaretsky and John T Scott tell the story.

The book describes the lives of Hume and Rousseau, telling of a few others such as Voltaire and Boswell along the way. Hume became a significant figure in European intellectual circles, Rousseau was constantly searching for a way to live the simple life, but seemed to be very good at getting on the wrong side of people. When Hume helped Rousseau to safe refuge, Rousseau seemed to think that it was a conspiracy to hide him away. Hume naturally wanted to tell his side of the story, and so a long standing feud was started.

I felt that the book could have done with an extra chapter, looking at the wider picture. A look at the longer term influence of the works of Hume and Rousseau would be one possibility, another would be a discussion on whether Rousseau's ideas were really untenable. But those are just my ideas on how the book could be rounded off. As it is the book gives an interesting glimpse into the mindsets of two influential philosopher, and a readable introduction to the intellectual life of the Eighteenth century.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews