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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.

Product Description
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, intellectuals, and common readers alike. Everyone took sides in this momentous dispute between the greatest of Enlightenment thinkers.

In this lively and revealing book, Robert Zaretsky and John T. Scott explore the unfolding rift between Rousseau and Hume. The authors are particularly fascinated by the connection between the thinkers’ lives and thought, especially the way that the failure of each to understand the other—and himself—illuminates the limits of human understanding. In addition, they situate the philosophers’ quarrel in the social, political, and intellectual milieu that informed their actions, as well as the actions of the other participants in the dispute, such as James Boswell, Adam Smith, and Voltaire. By examining the conflict through the prism of each philosopher’s contribution to Western thought, Zaretsky and Scott reveal the implications for the two men as individuals and philosophers as well as for the contemporary world.