The Ethics of the "Lettres Morales" and Rousseau's Philosophical Project Author(s): Marco Di Palma Source: Modern Philology

, Vol. 100, No. 2 (Nov., 2002), pp. 227-257 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: Accessed: 09/11/2010 07:01
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The Ethics of the Lettresmoralesand Rousseau's Philosophical Project
MARCO DI PALMA London, England

During the winter of 1757-58, Jean-Jacques Rousseau composed the six letters known as the Lettresmorales,which were never sent to their intended addressee, Elisabeth-Sophie-Franeoise Lalive de Bellegarde, the comtesse d'Houdetot.' Setting out, in Rousseau's own words, the principles or rules of his moral teaching,2 these letters disclose a vision of spiritual progress toward a unifying state of happiness and wellbeing which, Rousseau affirms, constitutes the proper end of human life ("l'object de la vie est la f6licite de l'homme," 4:1087). Despite such authorial declarations, the letters have not only failed to attract the critical scrutiny they deserve, they have also been largely misunderstood when attended to. Commentators may frequently allude to them en passant, but such references serve principally to chart the destiny of metaphysical and theistic positions elaborated beyond the text in question. The ancillary status widely conferred on these writings stems from the long-standing view that they represent a set of gestating, incomplete religious and philosophical positions still too "naive" in themselves, which must await re-embodiment in the meditations of the Professiondefoi in Emile (1762) to emerge as coherent and mature theses. 3
1. Rousseau refers to these letters as "lettres morales" in his correspondence. See 51 Correspondance compklte, vols., ed. Ralph A. Leigh (Oxford: Institut et Musee Voltaire and Geneva: Les D61ices, 1965-71; Oxford: The Voltaire Foundation, 1972-95), 5:21. 2. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Lettresmorales, (Euvrescompletes, vols., ed. Bernard in 5 Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond (Paris: Pliade, 1959-95), 4:1081-1118, esp. 4:1081; see also Rousseau, Correspondance, 4:384. All references to the Pliade edition of Rousseau's complete works appear parenthetically in the text by volume and page number. I have modernized the spelling throughout. 3. See Henri Gouhier's critical introduction in Rousseau, (Euvres 4:cxci-cxcii. completes,

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Deviating from the nearly universal practice of simply acknowledging in these letters a source for Emile, meanwhile, a second class of readings no less reductive than the first challenges the designation of the letters as "moral" letters. Scholars point to Rousseau's justifications of morality through pleasure and aesthetic self-realization, which, they claim, problematize or even obliterate the intended ethical meaningfulness and value of these writings. For Paul de Man, the Lettresmorales entangle themselves in conceptual circularity by advocating a "eudaemonic valorization" of virtue through the "narcissistic economy of well-being" that ushers back the very self-conceit that Rousseau attempts to overcome.4 This view ignores, however, the inherent paradox that every moral reeducation must start by appealing to the corrupted nature of those it seeks to reform. More recently, Laurence D. Cooper cites the letters to support the argument that Rousseau "never proposes either a code of conduct, or a set of principles of action, or even a catalogue of virtues. He has written no Ethics. Rather than provide guidance for conduct, he addresses the sources of good conduct-which is to say, the circumstances favouring the development of a healthy soul." Instead of practical recommendations about how one should live, Rousseau generally restricts himself to the issue of "what one should be and how one might become what one should be" and the "education of the soul."5 The limitations of the Lettres morales exemplify this presumed insufficiency. Instead of providing principles, as they claim to do, they are concerned with nothing more than the achievement of a correct "setting" for the good life, and the measures they prescribe "have more to do with where to place oneself than with what to do."6 Skeptical of their moral content and destination, Cooper dismisses them as little more than "a handbook for enjoying rustic simplicity."7 These conclusions diminish the merit of the letters by masking from view a creative response-the earliest of its kind in the Rousseauian corpus-to the social and moral predicaments of modernity previously diagnosed in Rousseau's Discours sur les sciences et les arts (1750) and Discours sur l'originede l'inigaliti (1755). Their central objective, I wish to argue, lies in offering a practical vision of the moral life conceived as unfolding within the framework of society-as-it-is. This vision addresses the individual deprived of the assistance of a
4. Paul de Man, Allegoriesof Reading:Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche,Rilke, and Proust (London: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 243. 5. Laurence D. Cooper, Rousseau, Nature, and the Problemof the GoodLife (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), p. 3. 6. Ibid., p. 3, n. 1. 7. Ibid., p. 3.

nor because they signpost the subtle shift in philosophical allegiances that appears in the doctrines defended by the Savoyard Vicar. published in 1825] and Considerationssur le gouvernementde Pologne [1772. concrete solutions to circumscribed problems by attending to the possibility of personal reform and profitable engagement with an imperfect society. the moral life as Rousseau envisages it. The Lettres moralesdemand a formulation of Rousseau's philosophical project in 8. cannot count on the resources of a natural education. the Lettres moralesillustrate Rousseau's underestimated capacity to formulate realistic. against established readings. the social and ethical reflections formulated for the benefit of Sophie d'Houdetot exemplify the reconstructive side of Rousseau's thinking prior to Emile and provide a protocol for interpreting the malaise of modern Europeans diagnosed in the work on education. in so doing. their prescriptions about what one ought to be issue into considerations on the formative practices toward. and the acts that define and advance.MarcoDi Palma o TheEthicsof theLettres morales 229 fully ethical community who. To vindicate this interpretation requires a reading sensitive to the inescapable sociological dimension of Rousseau's moral reflections. By illustrating how individuals might recapture spiritual unity through ordinary but enlightened endeavors. the letters eliminate the contradictions later depicted in Emile and. to Emile-not simply because the letters anticipate the conception of conscience that eventually finds its way into the Profession de foi. . this essay also seeks to advance a position. published in 1782]). The letters are not short on detail about how one ought to live. n'entenderontjamais rien a aucune des deux" (4:524). on the wider question of interpreting Rousseau.I want to suggest further that this continuity extends forward. Rousseau issues this warning in Emile: faut 6tudier la soci&t6 par les hommes. in turn. question the validity of the sacrifice which those contradictions seem to necessitate as the purported price of future harmony. In addition to restoring prominence to an unfairly neglected text. I have already hinted that a common thread connects the early Discours and the Lettres morales. Examining the first in isolation from the second risks a mistaken interpretation of both. Rather. Like Rousseau's political writings on Poland and Corsica (Projetde constitutionpour la Corse[ 1765. furthermore. one that ties his ethics firmly to the reality from which they arise.8 Only by so contextualizing the letters may we proceed further and show that they outline a practical ethics attained through a combination of correct settings or postures and disciplined efforts directed toward the good life on the part of the moral agent. et "II les hommes par la soci6te: ceux qui voudront traiter s6par6ment la politique et la morale.

the question that subtends the Lettresmoralesmay be formulated thus: in the absence of an encompassing polis or an extended. We must either refuse history and retreat into nature where we may shelter innocent and good natural men or else hasten the progress of corruption toward a fuller. to speculate on this possibility involves rejecting in principle-or so it seems-the stark choice Emile subsequently proceeds to place before its readers. the alienated and self-concerned being that henceforth represents modern man. autarkic oikos. With this predicament in mind. where can we find a fulcrum to reconcile the natural self with the demands of morality amid a decadent society? Of course. Bringing an end to self-division appears to demand a choice between two incompatible ideals: an individualist philosophy of existence. nor a devastating yet essentially sterile Utopian critique. This everyman represents the stuttering victim of history. not to mention contradicting a good deal of well-informed secondary literature treating that choice as inescapable for Rousseau. torn between inclination and duty. short of the support afforded by an unlikely ideal Republic.230 MODERN PHILOLOGY terms quite unlike those that have come to characterize it in some critical quarters. virtuous citizens. and democratic collectivism of republics. essentially sentimental. socialized but inevitably "denatured" condition to fashion moral. how might it be possible to enjoy psychic unity and happiness in a private sphere and yet still act virtuously with public and exemplary success? In other words. Rousseau draws a portrait of the bourgeois. but by a redemptive synthesis able to respond to the many-sided challenges of modernity. let alone nurture. Rousseau's project emerges more clearly when set against the background of the central crisis of modernity as he perceives it. He stands poised between the demands of a private but deeply unsatisfactory existence that no longer reflects an original self-sufficiency and the pressures generated by a pernicious community that abjectly fails to embody. the human potential. Taking this framework as . and the virtuous. patriotic.and equally setting aside the Natural Man like Emile educated to withstand corruption. the project ought to be defined neither by a fundamental duality of conflicting ideals. its arts and its sciences. and agonized by the combined disadvantages of two imperfectly embraced conditions. aesthetic or Romantic in temper. Viewed from this new perspective. In the opening pages of Emile (4:249-50). the dream world of Clarens and the miracles worked by the tutor through natural education.

Speaking for Rousseau's detractors. the letters elaborate a position that reconciles human nature and morality by making the self's duty to and productive coexistence with others a condition for its ultimate. and Alexander Pope to the pessimists and detractors of human nature like Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville. These serve to unmask our present crisis and to underline the significant restrictions we face if future prospects for regeneration are to rank as a possibility. The letters reveal that the malaise Rousseau describes does not simply arise between the impulses of nature and the imperatives of morality. 1969). And yet. This ambition might sound like little more than a restatement of the familiar moral psychology and politics that various eighteenth-century thinkers deduce from the empirical study of human needs. see his Rousseau's "SocialContract": Interpretative An Essay (Cleveland: Press of Case Western Reserve University. p. 137. pp. Bernard Groethuysen. quotation on p. Robert Wokler (Manchester University Press. J-J Rousseau (Paris: Gallimard. 159. can never."9 The widespread acceptance of this reading may be demonstrated by the fact that commentators hostile and sympathetic to Rousseau's reconstructive thought both endorse its underlying assumption of the mutual exclusivity of natural and civil freedoms. 1968).ed. Iain Hampsher-Monk similarly argues that the theoretical basis of freedom in Rousseau rests on the explicit opposition of "the natural" to "the political." in "Rousseau and Totalitarianism-with Hindsight?" in Rousseau and Liberty. Earl of Shaftesbury. Judith N. Shklar pursues this reading by denying that Rousseau ever proposes any end to the spiritual dissonance he so eloquently exposes. be made-but a castigation of actuality. however. For Rousseau's supporters. 140-69. he is far from 9. Without choosing between them. Judith N. I Yet the Lettresmoraleshold out a rather different prospect. Like many French philosophes. These demands collide when the inclinations of the human personality prove unequal to the onerous duties generated by an iniquitous society. 10. Lester G. . Bernard Groethuysen accordingly identified in Rousseau a "duality of ideals. which overwhelm the individual who strives to be moral. 1949).MarcoDi Palma o TheEthicsof theLettres morales 231 basic. p. Crocker insists that access to the civil state demands the axiomatic elimination of natural freedom and independence. 1995). pp. Shklar. 267-88. but neither is society. Seeing in the two choices forwarded by Emile not a call for a decision-for one will never. and interests. Men and Citizens:A Study of Rousseau's Social Theory(Cambridge University Press. desires. "Solitude is not the answer. 11.Rousseau indeed supports the response of Anthony Ashley Cooper. 10 Groethuysen's duality also bolsters a further influential reading that characterizes the Rousseauian project as an essentially critical exercise organized around a series of provocative antinomies. In fact there simply is no solution". 278. natural fulfillment.

19-26. he holds. see Mark Hulliung. Rousseau claims that we have inborn feelings and emotions deriving from an instinctive need of the human heart that. is the preexisting moral spontaneity of human nature that counterbalances the adverse accretions of its history. . let alone able to lend themselves to the ends of collective utility and social peace. the divine instinct of conscience acting 12. Human nature.which constricts and impedes these natural impulses (1:8056). self-enclosed love of self (amourpropre). the progressive excrescence of amourproprefrom the social thwarting of amour de soi signifies that authenticity and moral truth are available to very few. Modifying the arguments of those who appealed to natural law. our fundamental propensities are for Rousseau no longer conducive to our own immediate happiness or prosperity. Rousseau evokes the well-known polarity of the two loves: legitimate selflove (amour de soi) or the spontaneous. 1994). This philosophical anthropology bears enormous consequences. not a set of decisive rational arguments. and negative. as Rene Descartes's Enlightened followers believed. for Rousseau. Autocritiqueof theEnlightenment: Rousseauand thePhilosophes (Cambridge.:Harvard University Press. attractive force of nature that affirms and extends our sympathy to others and constitutes the basis of all the social virtues. when eventually enlightened by reason. means something different from the same prescription advocated in the rationalist projects of Denis Diderot and Paul Henri Dietrich d'Holbach. The transformation of morality. as its condition of possibility. he echoes Platonic and Stoic calls for a return to the true self where one meets. but a standard that any plain person adequately reflecting on his or her own moral experience can immediately grasp. requires not an increase in rational or scientific knowledge. Central to this reeducation. has undergone profound changes. pp. to the point of dividing itself into two distinct and opposing orientations. Mass. which is not the simple." once Rousseau has finished with this overused imperative. To "follow" or to "act in accordance with nature. give us notions of justice and goodness (4:522-23). by which we become capable of judging competently of moral matters and ordering our desires. Travestied by society. To describe these competing motivations. For this reason. not least of which is the impossibility of standard eighteenth-century vindications of self-love. Furthermore.232 MODERN PHILOLOGY echoing the comforting reconciliation of self-interest and virtue often heard among leading philosophesof the period. For an account of this debate.12 Rousseau disturbs this cozy alliance by insisting that the philosophers have got it wrong concerning self-love. but a profound reeducation of the human personality that calls for the renunciation of one condition and training for another. basic element of the human psyche they think it is.

Any genuine happiness. a corrupt the ambitious task of the Lettresmorales. society-defines II That Rousseau never produced an Ethics in no way indicates that he failed to come up with guidance for the good life. a sound milieu in which that education must unfold. He does so not to rediscover a set of virtues by the light of reason. Seeking to innovate a way out of the crisis of modernity. Rousseau argues. The project of morality thereby consists in eliminating those obstacles that subdue this truth and prevent us from fully articulating it to ourselves as a principle of action. a motivational principle deep within the human personality that can serve as a secure basis of morality. we must set aside some of our usual modern assumptions about formal ethical methods and enquiries. We "possess" in advance the moral truth we search for.MarcoDi Palma o TheEthicsof theLettres morales 233 as infallible judge of good and evil ("instinct divin . Yet to characterize the ethics of the letters properly. To conclude these preliminary reflections. as a religious thinker and a psychologist. Full access and sensitivity to this principle depend on the excellence achieved by dint of exercise and self-discipline sponsored by a carefully orchestrated. the condition for the reconciliation of interest and virtue rests on the proper cultivation of the inner life. Far from being unsatisfactory on this count. but rather to recover. When these interests are seen as essential rather than peripheral to the question of the good life. one that Rousseau characterizes as the dictate of conscience. as some commentators suggest. ought to be immune from the frustration and pain attendant on the loss of those fragile possessions we usually think of as goods. juge infaillible du bien et du mal" [4:1111]).. Rousseau revisits the premodern ethical project.. a different picture of Rousseau's intentions emerges. the Lettres moralesare concerned with the principle of morality from which all considerations about the good life must proceed. not outside or beyond. are sidelined. as Plato argued in the Meno. Rousseau's interests inevitably appear para-ethical if the education of the soul and its correlate. and the reward attendant on. Only then can self-governing individuals prosper by placing themselves in the service of their fellows. . The reconciliation also depends on gaining correct insights into what constitutes our true self-interest or happiness. We need a principle that will unify morality and self-interest by making a desire for personal happiness both the motive that impels us toward. benign environment. genuinely virtuous behavior. The search for this to a release from the contradictions endured by principle-leading the bourgeois and allowing individuals to recapture and live authentic lives at one with their essence within.

rather than as rules or injunctions abstracted from it. The second. Given that this well-being represents the proper goal of the intrinsically good human life ("l'object de la vie est la f6licite de l'homme" [4:1087]). as we will observe later on. Having identified the sage supreme good. places these interests at the center of its enquiries to discover the ultimate or sovereign human good. indicating what relates to "character" (ithos) on the one hand. this good represents a practical end attained through the excellence of character comprising those dispositions which lead a person to live a particular kind of life in a particular context or milieu. given that securing private happiness and performing duties constitute the same order of excellence. the ethical judgment implicit in the second letter takes a hypothetical form. will. or character--leading to recommendations of practical forms of behavior and social duties. Rousseau naturally addresses the means by which one might attain it. expressed in terms of what Sophie ought to do if she does not want her natural desire for happiness to be frustrated. which are intrinsic to the good being sought. Where modern deontological ethics asks "which rules ought I to follow?" ancient virtue ethics asks "what kind of person should I become?" The first question typically involves an investigation into right conduct and duty. The Lettres moralesseek to refashion Sophie into a member of an immediate community and someone capable of establishing new social relationships in which some localized justice may find expression. and what is ultimately good or desirable as an end in itself on the other. original meaning of 'ethics' (ithikos). while references to the agent's own interests or happiness are usually considered of subsidiary importance. en dedans et heureux pour soi" [4:1088]). determined by human nature and which the good life seeks to realize. It is with the summum bonum ("souverain bien" [4:1087]). the Lettresmoralesturn to the perfection of their addressee's nature and the virtues most conducive to achieving that good.. So conceived.. however. This practical ideal can be deduced from generic considerations of . those recommendations possess a categorical force by virtue of belonging to an overall view of the good life. the former imply the latter.234 MODERN PHILOLOGY The Lettresmoralesstick closely to the well-known. rather. the aims of private interest or happiness do not exclude rule following or duty. Explicit too is the intrinsic goal of all human endeavors: the happiness Rousseau calls filiciti. Rousseau's project demands an initial transformation of the moral personality-the education of the soul. that Rousseau is concerned in his letters. Crucially. by contrast. an inward fulfillment that brings inner well-being and wisdom ("elle remon devient plit l'ame de tout ce qui fait le bonheur de l'homme. But. Distinguishing what we are from what we should be.

Stoicisme valeurs et chezj-J." even though this has been disputed by those who would annex them to the productions of literary confession. and especially Seneca. Epicurus. Gisele Bretonneau. As with other instances of Rousseau's considerable correspondence-notably.'6 Indeed. Charles William Hendel views them as a spiritual testament of value only to Rousseau himself as he considers his soul in the face of impending death brought on by serious ill health. resemblances to Rousseau's own philosophy 13. and misanthropy. Hendel detects an overly personal. strong moral impulses inform Rousseau's mode of writing. . 18:115-24. Their themes are typical of philosophical. 1:315. Other epistles written to lesser-known contemporaries similarly provide substantial considerations of ethics. polemic. 15.' "15 What should we expect. Aristotle. Cooper concludes that the Lettresmoralesare "not what we might normally expect from 'moral letters. and autobiographical literature. 152. See Rousseau. 1934). cannot extricate himself from the incidents that occurred during his sojourn at L'Ermitage and an obsession with "the shadows of guilty passion. Rousseau(Paris: Sedes. ingratitude. Philosophical letters and those providing spiritual guidance tend to overlap. provide one obvious important model. Indeed. it seems. (n. as their title indicates. their tone alternating among discursive."'4 In a similar vein and for the reasons outlined earlier. 19:197-200. Cooper. p. and imputations of disloyalty. The resources of philosophical epistolography serve the directeur de conscience when advising those like the young Franquieres (4:113347). p.41. education. apologetic. (London: Oxford University Press. who addressed him in a state of moral doubt. and 33:238. 1977). and politics. 9:143-47. Rousseau. 14. 13 As always.whose title Rousseau's work echoes. moralist. 16. Correspondance 1 above). Jean-Jacques Rousseau:Moralist. the Lettres morales belong to the genre of the "moral letter. Rousseau was well acquainted with the Stoic's epistles. Rousseau is working within an identifiable ethical genre. 3. confessional style that compromises the soundness of the moralist's recommendations and deprives them of the reassurance needed to encourage Sophie to adopt them. the reply to Voltaire on Providence (4:1059-78) and the polemical defense of Emile sent to the elucidate or problematize Archbishop of Paris (4:925-1030)--they central aspects of eighteenth-century thought by recalling the philosophical epistolography of Plato. A reader and translator of Seneca. then? Seneca's Epistulae morales. 2 vols. Charles William Hendel. and hortative registers. The letters to Sophie communicate on several levels.Marco Di Palma o The Ethics of the Lettres morales 235 the text as much as from a close examination of its fundamental philosophical submissions.

Kennedy E Roche suggested that we might "by an almost random dipping into the Epistles to Lucilius. 19. Stowers. Uncovering the Stoic inspiration of Rousseau's ethical and political thought. 18. Sensitive to the changing psychological dispositions involved in this undertaking.17 Seneca gave the epistolary genre its most accomplished expression as a vehicle for promoting the moral progress of an aspiring protege.. x. Is Friends remain present in heart and mind even though absent to one another. Stanley Stowers identifies two kinds of letters that meet the demands of such progress. Epicurus. the protrepticor "conversion" letter and the paranaetic or "confirmation" letter. but the letter offers more than simply a vehicle for sharing affections. to a greater or lesser extent. 92.236 MODERN PHILOLOGY are clearly visible throughout the Senecan letters. the protreptic letter refutes possible objections or doctrines deemed erroneous. 1986). p. p. stand apart from society. Recourse to so confidential a medium as the letter of friendship appears perfectly intelligible once the Stoic horizons in Seneca and Rousseau are reinstated to reflect the fragmented sociopolitical reality exerting its influence on the transmission and cultivation of ethics. Grounded in friendship. see his Rousseau:Stoic and Romantic (London: Methuen. for instance. p. subjective dimension in which wider external conditions make it incumbent on the individual will. Stanley K. Letter Writing in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Philadelphia: Westminster. the moral letter typically involves an invitation to the philosophical life and a progressive transformation of self to ensconce the principles of that life in the beliefs and actions of the recipient. A pedagogical dimension of the exchange of letters makes explicit the connection between the interests of friendship and those of virtue. not the community.19 Protreptic letters (after Aristotle's Protrepticus)call on the recipient to accept a new way of life unlike that ordinarily pursued in society. Taking the formation of character as the framework for a comparison. meet some of the salient features common to Seneca and Rousseau". to bring about and sustain an inevitably localized good. Subject to these restricted horizons. classical writers tailored their letters to take account of the dynamics of moral progress. . Letter writing enshrines the moral life in a rapport between individuals who. While obviously stating in positive terms the ends the correspondent ought to seek. it is possible to identify several formal features which the Lettresmoralesshare with the Epistulae moralesand other instances of classical philosophic letter writing. takes 17. 1974). Ancient theorists of the letter writing tradition held that maintaining friendships was the fundamental function of the letter. the focus of the moral life returns to a private. 58. Ibid.

116-18. Mass. Ad Lucilium epistulae morales(Lettersto Lucilius) 6.137. 22. cited in Stowers.trans. 21. Demetrius. Overcoming the destructive effects of time and physical separation. a spiritual presence acts as the medium to nourish and perpetuate the memory of special moments in the past during which the friends exhorted each other to virtue ("deux aimes sensibles s'encourager mutuellement tala vertu" [1:1085]). 75. Rousseau similarly excludes as false those forms of happiness that emphasize ownership of material goods (commoditis). On Style.1). and which the correspondent is invited to imitate. p. and the refinement of manners (4:1089). 1958). Uniting two absent friends in spirit is the desideratum of Rousseau's first letter ("cet &crit n'aurait d'autre usage que celui de nous rapprocher quelquefois et de renouveller dans l'Floignement ces doux entretiens" [1:1085]). 1932).21 Though he expressly denies that his aim is to give Sophie lessons.3-5. Paraenetic letters (paraenesis.1. All subsequent citations of this work (hereafter abbreviated as Ep. encourage and guide correspondents to persevere in the life they have chosen.20 In his letters. Letters. W. Borrowing from the psychological rhetorical proofs set out by Aristotle in his Rhetoric(2. Richard C. mor) will be given parenthetically in the text. and the nature of pleasure.moral exhortation or advice). ancient epistolography presented philosophy with an effective framework for moral education. 227. 2.Marco Di Palma o The Ethics of the Lettres morales 237 issue with what he deems mistaken views on the gods. An exemplary character that embodies wisdom in living delivers a powerful invitation to. The writer enjoins his correspondent to adopt good habits that conform to a model character. 1:27. meanwhile. 38. 3 vols. Rhys Roberts (Cambridge. pp. The epistolary genre also possesses a second virtue. cited in Stowers. .money. luxury.22 By nurturing friendship. Epicurus's letter to Monoeceus. reprint. ed. 1935. as the Greek rhetorician Demetrius observed. Gummere. the paraenetic letter promotes the formation of character.: Harvard University Press. death. Letters generate the illusion of spontaneous conversation by recreating the "living voice" [viva voce] and the intimacy of the "common life" [convictus] that is so fundamental to the teacher-student relationship between Seneca and Lucilius. Originating with Epicurus and receiving its most comprehensive treatment from Seneca. 20. one capable of directly furthering ethical objectives within the restricted confines of a privileged friendship. p. (London: Heinemann. its success rests on the recognition of hthosor the persuasive force of model characters. Rousseau draws on the same illusion. Seneca. excel in giving expression to the writer's character as well as in maintaining friendships. typically the writer's own. Philosophical protreptic also highlights a deficiency in the recipient's character which he or she is encouraged to overcome through selfknowledge. and trans.

Seneca has merely traveled further down the road that continues to stretch before him. and as he prompts himself to do things. But Rousseau's apologetic anxieties are never far away from the central questions of the moral letter. Both the Epistulae moralesand the Lettresmoralesattempt to bring about the moral transformation of their respective addressees through friendship..7. mirroring the inescapable openness of self-improvement. arise repeatedly in the Epistulae morales. mor. Authors benefit from their own moral discourse since letter writing simultaneously exercises and rehearses the principles it advocates. The improvement of both lies at the heart of the moral letter..238 MODERN PHILOLOGY and encouragement to persist in. Reciprocal self-improvement. 27. these anxieties find an appropriate outlet for expression in the disclosure of character and its moral principles. they train their own: "The wise man also needs to have his virtues kept in action.5). Indeed. provides the ostensible justification for Rousseau's letters. The reality and necessity of mutual self-improvement. mor. The work of selfimprovement denotes an ongoing experience common to both writer and recipient. so is he prompted by another wise man" (Ep. Seneca insists that examples (exempla) are more beneficial than mere "precepts" (praecepta)for impressing his Stoic teaching on the mind of Lucilius (Ep.2). 27.6.109. on the recipient who receives advice and exhortation.1). He considers himself an invalid. mor. Advancing and sustaining the commitment to the life of philosophical wisdom falls to the writer as much as his addressee. In training the excellence of another. 68. Letter writing bears a dual effect: obviously.Rather than posing as a sage who has fully achieved the wisdom he imparts to Lucilius. The fundamental equality and reciprocity of benefits enshrined by the institution of friendship points much actual fact. exploit the opportunity for self-scrutiny and self-revelation to pursue a complex strategy that operates by way . 26. but in neither case does this mean that the letters' effect is destined for the benefit of the correspondent alone..8).. Yet persuading others to accept the life of wisdom and sponsoring their progress to reach its goals only partially captures the significance of character. for men learn while they teach" (Ep. who enter into ajoint act of self-transformation: "Welcome those whom you yourself can improve. not a doctor (Ep. presenting himself as the addressee of his own advice (Ep. the philosophical life. mor. The Lettresmorales. mor. 7. expressed by the didactic and hortatory intentions behind the representation of character. The process is mutual. underwritten by the basic equality of author and addressee.1. For this reason. but equally on the writer of the letter who offers these.8-9). and feels the continuing need to take himself to task.

The desire to make his conduct speak as eloquently as his writings defines Rousseau's relationship to his contemporaries at this time. who has helped him to master himself. Rousseau acknowledges that his force has derived from Sophie. For Sophie. But unlike the voluntaristic personal reform undertaken in 1751. in offering himself as a model for her to imitate. a sublimation of his passion and a recognition of this young woman as a dutiful wife and mother. and in relation to which the decision to abandon the capital and its seductions signaled the latest development. she is naturally predisposed to virtue but lacking the necessary instruction and training that would enable her to be fully what she is only potentially. Recognition that each owes their transformation to the other establishes their equality.. But this example is not the outcome of any independent efforts on his part. Rousseau considers Sophie's transformation as coextensive with his own redemption. daignez m'expliquer les raisons de votre choix. for Rousseau. choississez. he had taken his leave of Paris and the philosophesin a highly public move designed to set an example of how to live the principles proclaimed in his works. At the end of a strikingly confessional passage in the fourth letter. His letters on morality will improve him because. The effect and recognition of an ongoing transformation. to the duty of friendship. Some eighteen months earlier. the Lettresmoraleshope to occasion a further transformation . en m'6fforpant de vous donner l'exemple des vertus dont je veux vous inspirer l'amour" [4:1084]). holding him to virtue. et puissiez-vous tirer autant de profit de ces lettres que l'auteur en attend de vos refl xions" (4:1085). Each offsets the deficiencies of the other: while he is experienced in wisdom but subject to weakness. much as St. from which his own efforts to nurture her moral progress spring. discernez. Preux in La nouvelle Hiloise (1761) will later perceive Julie on his return to the Wolmar household.Marco Di Palma o The Ethics of the Lettres morales 239 of superimposing both the mimetic ends tied to the exhibition of character and the introspective discovery of the true foundations of ethics onto concerns arising from personal apologetics. he will need to give the example of his teaching ("ce que j'aurais fait pour vous rachetera l'inutilit6 de ma vie entiere . I will examine each of these superimpositions in turn.j'en deviendrais meilleur moi-mime. The guide has proven himself a good pupil and the letters serve to invite further reflections from which their writer hopes to profit: "Examinez.. the Lettres morales construe Rousseau's character as the outcome of the spontaneous goodness of Sophie's personality. described in the Confessions (1:362). and to his own principles: "Tel est l'1tat d'une ame qui s'osant proposer tavous pour exemple ne vous offre en cela que le fruit de vos soins" (4:1104). this transformation involves an initiation into an authentic way of living.

prescriptions he offers to others because he has found them efficacious for his own ills (Ep. and Jean-Frangois. The profession is delivered in a confessional passage (4:1102-4) that coincides with the letters' enquiry into the basis for morality. Daniel Defert and Frangois Ewald (Paris: Gallimard.24 Writing offers a concrete. No hiatus intervenes between spiritual autobiography and the moralist's central message about the true foundations of morality. identified with the working of con23. Rousseau claims not to be delivering lessons as such but to be making a profession of faith (1:1085). Louise-Florence-Petronille Lalive Epinay. Rousseau strives to demonstrate that they and the man who espouses them are all of a piece." in Dits et icrits (1954-1988). that we are concerned with here. Michel Foucault. It is precisely the ethopoetic role of writing. 4:415-30 (quotation on p. Setting forth his views on how Sophie ought to live.2). calling to mind a principle. the joint task of friends who advance virtue as a common interest recalls both Seneca and the private ethics of friendship that Aristotle articulates in books 8 and 9 of the Nicomachean Ethics. rule. 8. 24. based on advancing moral excellence by sharing and amplifying virtuous activity through mutual recognition and admiration of the other's virtues. Catherine Edwards. whose importance for the art of living has been emphasized by Michel Foucault. and he deliberately commits to paper salutares admonitiones. "L'6criture de soi." to use Catherine Edwards's phrase. Self-scrutiny reveals that certain moral dispositions. Seneca conceives his letters as so many opportunities for personal exercise. . Although the Lettres morales never explicitly refer to this ideal. ed. Rousseau's example confronts Sophie as the catalyst for her own improvement. or example on which it reflects and subsequently assimilates into action in advance of circumstances that call for that knowledge to be summoned in practice. The self-intensifying nature of these exchanges reminds one of Aristotle's ideal of friendship. Fr6d6ric-Melchior Grimm. mor.23 Communication with the other is essential to maintaining one's moral identity and the discursive reflection generated by the medium of writing prevents it from atrophying. 417). objective substratum in which thought exercises itself and reactivates what it knows. (198088). Inspired by her native goodness. Reaffirming his principles." Greece and Rome44 (1997): 23-38 (quotation on 27). The forum of friendship constitutes a necessary condition of the self's improvement since the inner life is incapable of being fully "interiorized.240 MODERN PHILOLOGY in the subject for whom they are destined. 4 vols. This unity had been questioned by the recent fiasco of his personal dealings with Diderot. Marquis de St Lambert. But friendship and the moral letter also express an unavoidable fact of private ethics. "Self-Scrutiny and Self-Transformation in Seneca's Letters. 1994).

her moral makeup.Marco Di Palma o The Ethics of the Lettres morales 241 science at the end of the fifth letter. Compare the passage in the third "Promenade" of Les Rlveries du promeneursolitaire (posthumously published in 1782) that begins: "Fixons une bonne fois mes opinions" (1:1016). For Georg Misch (A History of Autobiography Antiquity. remain intact despite the vicissitudes of good and evil. Retracing this profession of faith for Sophie enables Rousseau to reexpress the principles of his moral self in a characteristic practice of rassemblement performed in the autobiographies. and living well on the other. their proteges who are fellow travelers and. III The moral letter concerns itself with the pursuit of well-being. It remains to be shown how these endeavors. 1950]. What both search for and discover within is conceived as of use to themselves.25 Situated in biographical context. and place within a given social milieu. Literary confession is essential to the methods of the moral letter. The practical advice Sophie will receive. subsequently. and Rousseau.26 Addressing a specific individual. 2:421). meanwhile. their recommendations mirroring and affirming his prior endeavors. . Rousseau's letters exhort Sophie to cultivate specific virtues and accept specific duties appropriate to her condition. These act by way of a secret judgment that directs our present actions equally by self-prescribed rules and by those of our past. 2 vols. experiential morality Seneca and Rousseau strive to impart. A successful outcome will depend on Sophie's conversion to the life of wisdom made possible by overcoming the character deficiencies that obstruct her self-knowledge and. Introspection and self-scrutiny represent an exemplary spiritual act that cannot be divorced from the reflexive. understood as the highest good. the uninitiated majority ignorant of the philosophical life. is identical to that which the author of the letters has already followed. cannot be 25. blaming or approving them as if they belonged to the present. It also presupposes a view of human nature and the conditions of its flourishing (eudaimonia) in which actions or moral aims on the one hand. translate into practical advice on how to overcome a defective personality and attain self-knowledge and virtue. retreating into solitary conscience is common to Seneca. through self-knowledge and the progressive cultivation of the soul. implicitly. belonging to the aims of the protreptic and paranaetic letter outlined earlier. confirming this insight by acquiring ethical habits that prevent her from falling away from the path of wisdom. [London: Routin ledge & Kegan Paul. the Lettresmoralesrehearse and renew the deliberations that motivated the personal reform. Augustine. 26. status.

des moyens de perfectionner votre heureux naturel" (4:1082). On the contrary. Seen from the predicament of man and citizen highlighted earlier.1). creatures estranged from our essential good. are "moral letters" in the sense that they involve the practice of ethics understood as a concern with the qualities or virtues of character (ithos) and those settled dispositions. Sophie. Of course. is favorably inclined to moral beauty (4:1083) but this intuition remains inoperative in the absence of full self-knowledge 27. des vertus qui vous conviennent. Rousseau's letters. We are. This tenet insists on the agonist character of virtue as a hard-fought victory against nature. our moral ills the result of competing motivations whereby the accretions of a decadent society incessantly war with the promptings of a residual. .. de vos devoirs. they contribute to the flourishing of the distinctive human excellence and. as Aristotle taught (NicomacheanEthics 2. Le mot de vertu vient de force. to act in a certain way and in certain circumstances in relation to the supreme good. we learn. Rousseau promises: "Je m'occuperai de vous. an overcoming of self beyond the capacity of most to achieve.. acquired through habit. States of character. vertu sans combat. arise from like activities.27 Yet the letters challenge precisely this view.. But the duties of the social life and the virtues are in no way divorced from a perfectionist concern with Sophie's most important natural capacities and potentialities. The possibility of uniting happiness with virtue lies not in the eradication of nature. represent the apotheosis of nature realized through the progressive efforts of the ethical will working through the habits of moral freedom. this pursuit signifies that the solution to modernity's dilemmas is not to destroy the residue of natural goodness but to build on and strengthen it. the continuity I am proposing between the natural (inclination) and the ethical (virtue) contradicts a fundamental tenet familiar to all readers of Rousseau. like Seneca's. This ambition is significant.242 MODERN PHILOLOGY separated. Addressing Sophie in the very first letter. natural goodness at once irreducible and incapable of bringing the inner conflict to a successful end. la force est la base de tout vertu" (4:817).. Rousseau conceives to Sophie's progress in relation to her discharging appropriate obligations and virtues. I will argue. Setting the well-known tableau of inner conflict (vertu-combat) one side. But Rousseau's letters also convey wisdom in living as a pursuit of virtue as well as happiness. La Nouvelle Hiloise expresses a similar view: "La vertu est un 6tat de guerre. Rousseau holds. pour y vivre on a toujours quelque combat Arendre contre soi" (2:682). "I1n'y a point de . but rather in the successful elimination of recalcitrant motivations that obstruct self-knowledge and stifle the good instincts we should nurture.

Neither proves capable of capturing moral truth. Access to these crucial insights. Rationalists. a settled disposition for right choices achieved through exercise and training. duty. or end ("sa nature. only lead us astray. In Hellenistic . 3:6]). habitual acts. depends on the will: "Ce qui vous manque encore ne depend plus que de votre volonte" (4:1083). constitutes the condition for moral truth delivered by self-knowledge. but then virtually all purely intellectual efforts are sustained by a defective will that clamors for an outward distinction inimical to the truth found only in the inward self. In the first instance. it thwarts personal happiness and beneficial human relations by enslaving individuals to a narrow self-interest indifferent to public welfare. for instance. however. Taking the problem of self-knowledge as fundamental. Rousseau calls on Sophie to sustain and preserve the awareness of this truth as a new identity or motivation of the will through the transforming power of repeated. therefore. as the second and third letters understand them. which proves elusive for those whose unregenerate impulses impel them to exist outside themselves. relativizes and confines all knowledge to the sphere of utility (4:1092-93). that same will works toward the "art of happiness" (l'art d'tre heureux [4:1115]).MarcoDi Palma o TheEthicsof theLettres morales 243 or knowledge about human nature and its end. Rousseau's idea of spiritual progress involves two key moments in which the will figures centrally. able to unite personal fulfillment with virtue. the empiricists' appeal to the senses. Thereafter. the first letter states. meanwhile. the problem of the bad will (amourpropre) operates on two interrelated levels. A reorientation of the will. ses devoirs et sa fin" [Discours sur les scienceset les arts. At this juncture. Second. the task of recapturing this knowledge is of primary importance and precedes the restoration of harmonious social relations. Rather than providing a reliable source for the knowledge Sophie is encouraged to seek. As the subsequent letters make clear. For the letters. The principle of askesisprovides an ideal way of articulating the mood and practices of the transformation Rousseau outlines. Rousseau introduces a familiar critique designed to disqualify a rival candidate to truth. First. Only there can the individual discover his true frame. In the second. traditional and vain philosophical endeavors. erect shaky systems which empiricists then simply restrict or undo completely (4:1090-91). this state of affairs also coalesces with the absence of self-knowledge. a residual ethical will allows the individual to assume the correct spirit for conducting the search for an intellectual and moral guide that sweeps away the errors and absurdities of philosophical conceit to establish contact with the "inner voice" (voix int&ieure [4:1104]). Artificial desires created by vanity and incapable of being satisfied create frustration and the nurturing of feelings incompatible with peaceful coexistence with others.

Editions Universitaires. which considers knowledge a merely technical operation leaving the knower wholly unaffected. and Position et approchesconcretes mystereontologique(Paris: Desclee de Brouver.The first endeavors to achieve spiritual self-possession. consisting in a return to the original core of self and leading to a universality beyond private desires and attachments through practical forms of behavior. in other words. Rousseau often reThe second emphasizes training and fers to this state as recueillement. aletheia becomes Nthos. The act of knowing binds knowledge to a mode of participation. p. 30. 4:783813. The later Foucault.28 Two key moments define the progressive askesisin the Lettresmorales. 800. demands a propaedeutics propelled by an intense self-involvement. Far from simple introspeca discition. On askesisin ancient and contemporary thought. askesisdesignates the sum of "spiritual exercises" necessary for the art of living. reprint. du 1991). 1954-1988. as we shall soon see. 138. we may turn to two very different French thinkers from the twentieth century who interpreted askesisas a divestment and a perseverance of the will. 29. Vrin. Through askesis. reprint.244 MODERN PHILOLOGY and Roman schools of philosophy. The Rousseauian search after truth. see Pierre Hadot. See Michel Foucault. truth a motive for the will. it points to a necessary condition of moral progress in Rousseau. the infallible guide provided by conscience. Detached or purely speculative thought.30 Before turning to the positive recommendations of the Lettresmorales. meanwhile. the self-discipline achieved by progressively assimilating learned truths into permanent principles of action. access to the core of self-one's conscience-represents 28. is indistinguishable from that which enables us to seek it. respectively. starting with the methods by which Sophie achieves self-knowledge and regains contact with her moral sources. I would like to explore this twin-sided askesis. The circularity of this statement will not pass unnoticed. 57. 1933. "Les Techniques de soi. To illuminate this distinction further. That which we seek. . Indeed. 1949)." in Dits et icrits.29 Rousseau echoes this in the Third "Promenade" of Les Rovenies produ meneursolitaire (posthumously published in 1782) when he faults his contemporaries for seeking to investigate human nature and cosmology through dispassionate philosophizing while neglecting to ascertain their relation to the knowledge they sought to establish (1:1012-13). Etre et avoir (Paris: Aubier. cannot hope to seize it. 1981). deliberately exercised dispositions that foster practical habits. p. highlighted the aspect of askesis concerned with exercise or drill. Exercisesspirituels (Paris: Etudes Augustiniennes. acise involves a purification that vouchsafes genuine insight into truth only when fully deserved. For Gabriel Marcel. p. 1935. Gabriel Marcel. esp.

the soul rediscovers its original nature. alienated consciousness without a reorientation that divests the will of its amourpropreand redirects its attention away from a fascination with outward things. in turn. In the second. Philosophiede la volonti. and "Les Techniques de soi. (Paris: Aubier. as I have suggested. Its reception by consciousness may be likened. Paul Ricoeur. pp.MarcoDi Palma o TheEthicsof theLettres morales 245 plined mode of apprehending that exercises what Rousseau." 4:799. 1954-1988. we are free to heed or turn a deaf ear to this voice and direct our inward gaze toward or away from the soul. for instance. In Platonic anamnesis. Central to the first is the quality or intensity of apperceptions: the clarity with which the voice of conscience speaks. calls an "inner sense" (sens intrieur [3:196]) and by which we become morally selfcritical.31 Genuine philosophy accordingly requires adopting the perspective of inwardness ("il faut commencer par rentrer en soi pour apprendre a philosopher" [4:1113]). The receptivity of consciousness and the subsequent response of the will jointly determine the destiny of moral impulses. the inward journey to self-illumination proves too difficult for the self-enclosed. 1950. Discours sur les sciences et les arts. uncovering and disclosing the truth within and making itself. For Stoicism. A relation between inward values and their conscious perception 31. reprint." Dits et &crits. thereby strengthening or weakening our moral sources. 1:76. truth belongs not in oneself but in the logoi. a comparison of the Lettresmorales with Platonic and Stoic doctrines of moral education will prove useful. Foucault has dealt with this pedagogical aspect of Stoicism in "L'Hermeneutique du sujet. . In order to get to the heart of Rousseau's message. While we must render ourselves fit for truth. Rousseau insists we must first secure the conditions through which the truth of conscience emerges. the place where that truth may take up residence.32 It is this pedagogical relationship that Rousseau transposes into the Platonic relation of the soul to itself. the true discourses or teachings of the master that imparts it. 359-60). in his first published work. to borrow two of Rousseau's favorite metaphors. The soul appropriates a truth from within that it then internalizes as consubstantial with itself as a subjective grounding (habitus) for the will. What we seek relates entirely to how we seek it. and which the pupil subjectivizes as abiding principles of action. it is also true to say that the self already houses that truth. as Paul Ricoeur holds. The reorientation and subsequent reeducation of the human personality indicate. 2 vols. 1988). However. to a form of hospitality in which the individual acts as host to the values received in a private space qualified by oneself. two moments that characterize spiritual progress. 32. 4:353-65 (esp. or the distinctiveness of the traces it writes on the heart.

To understand how she enters a condition characterized by the full internalization of new values as motives of the will. The spiritual progress at the heart of the letters relies on the abandoned project for La Moralesensitive. they affirm the autonomy of one's soul. the full realization of this capacity for dialogue is not automatic but further represents an achievement won through effort and training. Thus. the Rousseauian self is thus causa sui. but intermittently present. ethical will that Sophie is encouraged to acquire. contingent wills and that also characterizes the general will expressed by the political community (Du contratsocial [1762]. Although an innate given of the human personality. A synthesis of the Platonic and the Stoic. the enduring inner dispositions of which do not correspond to the destiny of one's fortune or the world of external vicissitudes ("ces dispositions interieures ind6pendantes du sort et des ev&nements" [4:1102]). Stoic ambition of the letters. 1756) (1:408-9). Sophie must first alleviate the tension between a residual good will and the counterwill of amour-propre fostered by life in society. by communication with others. such as one feels during remorse or. Modifying Platonic and Stoic sources. The recovery and possession of insights that provide the starting point for the moral life remain provisional. superior unity. Rousseauian moral perfectibility demands the development of an interior. Rousseau elsewhere refers to this hegemonic capacity as the constant will (volonti constante [4:65152]). may emerge from within to reassimilate and permanently embed itself as a disposition for future action. and then annul the distance between knowledge and action by contracting a disposition for virtue through habit. In the first instance. Beyond the wellspring of desires and sensations continually succeeding one another. which it holds up to scrutiny. readers need to recall an extraordinary work which Rousseau was contemplating at this time. as we have seen. positively. They teach that the discontinuous and intermittently perceived awareness of moral truth. Its cardinal idea is . ou le matrialisme du sage (ca. the voice that intrudes involuntarily to judge the phenomenal self-represents the second. dialogic relationship of the soul to itself mediated. 3:440). Rousseau claims that individuals are also gifted with an irreducible and persisting moral anchor unmoved by the momentary states of their phenomenal self. It is this grounding for the constant. an apprentice of itself able to become fully in act what it was merely potentially. a sovereign ethical will that stands over inferior. Fully capturing this capacity-the sensitivity to injustice and moral beauty. in the satisfaction of doing good.246 MODERN PHILOLOGY may eventually yield a new. both master and pupil. the Lettresmoralescombine the work of recovering moral truth with that of subjectivizing it as a motive for the will. their continuity depending on subsequent cultivation.

moreover. Unlike the miroir intellectuel (4:1092). This concentration of self is achieved by an "art"of divestment rendered difficult because of a deficient will rather than insufficient knowledge: "Cet art n'est pas si difficile qu'on pourrait croire. . Obstacles turn my gaze away so that I cannot attend to my inner self and discern my nature. The first task of unifying the will requires askesis to provide the proper mood and spirit for inwardness. a reliable epistemological capacity denied to me as a fallible creature of sense. I possess. il ne faut point un appareil d'etudes et de recherches pour y parvenir. 132b-133b). this does not mean that I automatically behold myself. sufficient light for my soul to contemplate the divine part of itself connected to wisdom and knowledge but.Marco Di Palma o The Ethics of the Lettres morales 247 brilliantly simple: identifying in the external environment and in our own physiology the seat of dispositions at odds with the imperatives of reason and virtue. Le jour nous eclaire. and by progressively recovering an authentic selfhood from routine dissipation and projection into the external world of people and objects. Sophie must strive for an awareness that acquaints her with the "voice" of conscience (4:1104). ou du moins la difficulte n'est pas oi on la croit. How can I remove such obstacles and obtain an untrammelled vision? In Republic 518-19. proves instructive." Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century5 (2000): 73-227. the innate "principle" of moral truth (4:1108). To know the self. The metaphor of the mirror. il depend plus de la volont6 que des lumieres. Plato invokes an "artof conversion" acquired 33. see my "Rousseau's Enlightenment Ethics: The Synthesis of Materialism and Morals.33 Set in the context of the Lettresmorales. the mirror relation of the soul to itself creates the possibility of dialogue and self-knowledge. mais pour le voir il fautjeter les yeux et le moyen de les y fixer est d'&carter les objects qui nous en detournent" (4:1113). et le miroir est devant nous. my legitimate aspirations and duties. To bring this voice within audible range. Rousseau sees that these same material conditions offer us an opportunity to favor the moral order they so frequently disturb.the insights of the Morale sensitive provide initial support for fostering an environment and a material regimen conducive to reorienting the will so that it may then begin to contract dispositions to support moral reform. Rousseau urges a circumscription that detaches the self from everything artificial or nonessential to it. Through introspection. For Rousseau as for Plato (Alcibiades1. a mirror for self-cognition through introspection already lies at my disposal. Rousseau suggests. signifies discovering its moral source in the wellspring of conscience. unless I remove these. for Rousseau. used on two contrasting occasions in the letters. For an assessment of the significance of the Morale sensitive to Rousseau's moral philosophy and its place in eighteenth-century thought.

cherchez la solitude. unlike the Platonic account. There is no need to implant vision into the instrument of sight.. eternal truth. it is already there. et lui donne un interit contraire l'ordre general qu'elle est pourtant capable de voir et d'aimer. the will inclines toward the cosmic design to which it belongs and which it loves spontaneously but. Rousseau's qualified materialism unambiguously accepts a correlation between moral virtues. 35.. a defective will promoted and sustained by the material self and its routine choices and habits. sensible world a further obstacle. the emergence of natural bodily habits paves the way for a strong ethical will and the child's reign of freedom ("le regne de sa liberte" [4:282]).34 Yet. apres une si longue habitude d'exister dans tout ce qui vous entourne" [4:1113]) and a certain expertise or art. c'est alors que le bon usage de sa liberte devient a la fois le merite et la r&compense. Impelled in our motives and behavior we by amour-propre. et qu'elle se prepare un bonheur inalterable en combattant ses passions terrestres et se maintenant dans sa premiere volont&" (4:603). given the dual ontological condition we inherit as immortal creatures provisionally cloaked in flesh and blood. but turned in the wrong direction and not looking where it ought to. but 34. we sense competing urges for both moral e'lvation and abaissement. il est vrai. and virtues of the body. says Socrates.. belonging to the soul. voilt d'abord tout le secret" [4:1113]). implanted by habit and exercise. Although it is not feeble. flee from ourselves and persist in perceiving everythe eyes of others.248 MODERN PHILOLOGY through education to turn the soul around and make it behold the immaterial. Environmental factors and the invisible resistance posed by existing psychological and vital habits hinder the self's interior dialogue. Emile identifies education with habituation: "L'Vducation n'est certainement qu'une habitude" (4:248).35 Rousseau's account adds to the Platonic view of the soul's inclination toward the lower. whose imprisonment in the body constitutes a condition of morality. quel merite aurait-il d'aimer et suivre l'ordre qu'il verrait &tabli et qu'il n'aurait nul interet a troubler? Il serait heureux. la gloire de la vertu et le bon temoignage de soi . A . illustrates this Platonism: "Si l'esprit de l'homme ffit reste libre et pur. All of this accords with Rousseau's view of corruption since. retreat proves difficult to accomplish. mais il manquerait a son bonheur le degre le plus sublime. but this takes time ("ce n'est pas l'affaire d'un jour de savoir etre seule au milieu du monde . while Sophie's concentration of self consists in nothing more dramatic than solitary retirement ("recueillez-vous. Disclosing to ourselves the truth thing through within depends on overcoming a long-standing resistance to an initiative for solitude. at the origins of human nature. From the very start. Later.. le soin de la conservation de ce corps excite l'Fme a rapporter tout a lui. Thus. encumbrances that stand in its way force the soul's vision to serve evil. The following conjecture in the Professiondefoi concerning the will-soul.

Modify the environment and one consequently begins to modify the tenor of sensibility and the dispositions of the will. through cues provided by the environment. Rousseau tells us. In anakhoresis. "Les Techniques de soi. In the sixth Lettre. elle fuit ou se tait devant eux.a rural retreat is of some importance because nature helps put one in contact with oneself. Un &tre. quoiqu'anime. published in 1780]. 1:805). not personal sequestration from others. elle cherche la solitude. he does not intend to shut Sophie away within the confines of four walls: "Je n'ai pas dessein de vous relkguer dans un cloitre et d'imposer 'i une femme du monde une vie d'anachorete" (4:1113). For the Lettresmorales. 37. qui ne sentirait rien. both as a progressive consideration of self and as a dipouillementachieved through exercise or drill.37 This retreat forms part of a larger mood of askesis. In towns. For this reason. the human presence striking the imagination all the more for its absence." 4:799. The voice of conscience will not speak unless freed from the disruptions concomitant with a social environment hostile to the inner life. The dispositions of the Rousseauian will originate in and exist through an accustomed sensibility that provides incentives for the will: "La sensibilite est le principe de toute action. meanwhile. Targeting sensibility through a discrimination of sensations represents the start of a progressive divestment undertaken in order to incline the will to turn inward.Rousseau writes: "La conscience est timide et craintive. les prejuges dont on la dit &tre l'ouvrage sont ses plus cruels ennemis. however. one experiences solitude as an oppressive isolation. . does little to contain the imagination and eradicate a symbolic presence that generates the very social pressures that render withdrawal from the crowd difficult.36 Withdrawing to one's room. n'agirait point: car oui serait pour lui le motif d'agir?" (Rousseaujuge dejeanJacques[1776. le monde et le bruit l'pouvantent. either directly as perceptions or indirectly as memory and imagination. this retreat brings expansive impressions of freedom. rests with the immediate sensations present to consciousness. and a continual renewal of sensory stimuli 36. leur voix bruyante etouffe la sienne et l'emp&che de se faire entendre" (4:1112). in a state such as one might obtain by shutting one's eyes and ears-as well as one's door-to society.MarcoDi Palma o TheEthicsof theLettres morales 249 to understand this is to grasp how one might change one's motivations through instrumental reason. The tenor of sensibility. it does recall the anakhoresisof Stoicism. Foucault. Sophie's spiritual recollection begins by reining in the senses: "Le recueillement de votre coeur doit commencer par celui de vos sens" (4:1113). the spiritualized principle of retreat that consists in the general attitude and regular practice for remembering rules of action and behavior. While Sophie's retirement may not be that of the anchorite.

the discomfort deriving from dispositions that do not welcome unaccustomed practices with which we attempt to oppose them. . If the first office of askesisconsists in modifying the direction of the will's gaze.Conscience impels us outwardly to embrace I'artd tre heureux (4:1115). the second demands that we train this gaze and accustom it in its new direction. The sixth letter culminates with considerations tied to the habits at the fore of Sophie's spiritual progress. The Morale sensitive underlines that the mind's perceptual intake and the fortunes of l'Vconomie animale. Merely willing that this be otherwise is of no use.. no virtue without happiness. The scope of such habits extends beyond simply contracting a disposition for retreating into the self to an initiation that opens the way for what the eighteenth century calls bienfaisance. often hinder but may and ought to assist the "moral order" (1:409). and disordered organic habits at odds with the simple life lived according to nature that Sophie ought to adopt in their stead: "Couchez-vous de bonne heure.250 MODERN PHILOLOGY which dissipate residual feelings of melancholy to foster a regathering (recueillement)of the dispersed strands of the self (4:1114). Yet the will can indirectly will itself thanks to a disposition which it acquires . alienating amour-propre experience the prospect of making themselves available to others with deep-seated unease. Rousseau understands that a particular lifestyle increases the receptivity of the mind to inward values and truths. n'a point d'empire sur elle-mame" [3:315]). prenez des repas simples aux heures du peuple" (4:1117). contemplative life. This regimen or cura sui bolsters the solitary. thereby accomplishing a crucial synthesis in which there is no happiness without virtue. Rousseau further asks Sophie to overcome a sense of ennui (4:1113). point de lecture. In prescribing solitude. the panoply of organic factors that determine dispositions. Exercise (l'exercice[4:1113]) by short but frequent retreats implants in Sophie a capacity to disengage and withdraw into her self independently of the environment as a result of an immunity acquired through conditioning ("Eloignez les objets qui doivent vous distrairejusqu'a ce que leur presence ne vous distraise plus" [4:1113]). but the residual resistance exercised by rival psychological and vital habits persists. To this psychology belong the trappings of an elevated social status. levez-vous matin. The first version of Du contratsocial states that the will cannot will itself ("la volont . and therefore seeks both to modify the outward manifestations of personality and to address the material seat of dispositions associated with an inauspicious moral psychology. suivez ta peu pres la marche du soleil et de la nature. Individuals accustomed to their self-enclosed. A well-arranged environment assists this task. point de toilette. particularly the superficial acts that sustain personal and intellectual vanity.

Instruction and the creative . therefore. is not enough. et qu'on ne l'obtient pas avant de l'avoir merit6. and the downtrodden of the village. semblable au Protee de la fable elle prend d'abord mille formes effrayantes et ne se montre enfin sous la sienne qu'd ceux qui n'ont point lch6 prise" (4:111718). and merely to want to be a useful member of the community is not enough. prudish distaste of afemme de qualitias she does her rounds in unpleasant dwellings among the striking. the ethical will forges a lever for itself to produce uniform patterns of activity. the will can and must solicit the efficient and beneficial influence of habit. self-willed imperatives and the habits that flow from them do not create virtue but merely introduce it. Rien n'est plus aimable que la vertu mais elle ne se montre ainsi qu'a ceux qui la possedent. For this reason. To regularly discharge its intentions. one imagines. A love for and possession of virtue come with exercise and effort. Through rehearsed acts leading to a fully implanted disposition. therefore. Rousseau promises. But a tenacity for the good. Sophie will thus keep herself informed of the sick. although. A propitious environment alone. obliging herself to provide genuine relief and assistance ("faites-vous un devoir de porter partout avec une assistance reelle l'int&ret et les consolations qui la font valoir" [4:1118]) rather than simply reaching for her purse. a categorical. eventually yields a moral disposition: "Songez que se plaire a bien faire est le prix d'avoir bien fait. Virtue stands in a fundamental relationship to the will or sensibility as a love or an aversion. the character of the desire indicating one's merit or demerit. The ethical will can only facilitate a disposition for choice by continually lowering the threshold at which antagonistic forces militate against a reorientation of personality. self-imposed restriction proves valid until this yields a new moral spontaneity. All of this depends on overcoming the resistance of ennui and. the fastidious. the will must also have recourse to a material substrate which shares a vital interest in its enterprises. Though the will cannot will itself. Sophie's duty to herself implicates wider social duties. Rousseau encourages Sophie to suspend her normal routine for two to three days at monthly intervals during which she will decree to herself ("faites-vous une loi" [4:1114]) to live privately by herself. Equally categorical is the need to put her leisure and privileges to practical use by attenuating existing social ills ("imposez-vous cette fonction si noble de faire qu'il existe quelques maux de moins" [4:1117]). strictly speaking. the poor. At the outset. stable choices that routinely accomplish the good that the constant will recognizes and wishes to promote.MarcoDi Palma o TheEthicsof theLettres morales 251 over time. quand on la veut embrasser. uncultured people whose simplicity is devoid of etiquette and elegance. visible realities of poverty and the coarse.

The Lettresmoralesthereby revisit a theme familiar to Stoicism: do good and a good examination of conscience follows (compare Seneca. dans le contentement de soi-meme" (4:587). habit (consuetudo) also entails an appropriation and interiorization by the subject of the force acting upon it.. This double reciprocity generates a characteristic Rousseauian dialectic that can be expressed as the relay between dispositions of the first kind (one's being) and those of the second (one's actions). it is equally the construct of patient and meritorious effort attendant on.36). In other words. We can characterize this grounding with reference to two intrinsic aspects of the Rousseauian ethical self. He admits: "I1ne faut point commencer un trait&de morale par la fin ni donner pour premier pricepte la pratique de ce qu'on . presupposes a special receptivity on the part of that subject (NicomacheanEthics 1103a 19-23). the grounding for Sophie's moral progress. habitual self-reflection that reacquaints the self with its intermittent (but virtually constant) moral source in conscience. Willed efforts of perseverance would not otherwise prove efficacious. Rousseau is aware that Sophie's undertaking calls on her to possess. Aristotle tells us. to further the interests of benevolence so that one may earn what the Professiondefoi calls "la supreme jouissance . those aptitudes and inclinations which she acquires only as a result of having them. While the inner life represents a given possibility shared by all. repeated acts of virtue. more fundamental than the first. prior to moral illumination. De ira 3. A further circularity. In an important sense. the performance of good acts finds its reward in the untrammelled inward retreat that appreciates and enjoys them as private satisfactions. a spontaneous inclination for the good equally precedes and follows the categorical attempts of the ethical will to bring it into the open through repetition. also nestles in Rousseau's advice. and is created by. The first. self-knowledge. And yet. In other words. and encouraged by. a self-intensifying circulus sanus that supports Rousseau's wider ethical and social vision for human redemption. While continuity and repetition render moral activity easier and more secure. Sophie must already possess a potential or aptitude for virtue prior to its possession. A desire to increase this happiness. This. in part. in turn. One must know how to cultivate this realm of experience. and is engendered by. one cannot cultivate what one does not know. impels one. and (2) a disposition for virtuous action engenders. exhibits itself in two ways: (1) a disposition for inwardness creates. This capacity or predisposition-heralded at the start of the Lettres moraleswith the announcement of a felicitous nature (heureux naturel [4:1082]) -offers. meanwhile.252 MODERN PHILOLOGY forces of exercise are necessary but not sufficient conditions for this disposition..

Only the self-possessed and fully autonomous individual. c'est par ce sentiment cultiv6 qu'on parvient I s'aimer et a se plaire avec soi" (4:1116).. he equally invites her to add to the storehouse of deposited treasures in order to transform the practice of self-reflection into a regular disposition of the will: "Voila les moyens de travailler dans le monde a vous plaire dans la retraite en vous y menageant des souvenirs agr ables . One taps into this moral source by reawakening conscience ("reveiller . proves herself a useful member of the community. One must establish a proper relationship to oneself before one can establish ajust and ordered relationship to others.. vous vous en regarderez plus volontiers" (4:1116). more fundamental grounding for the moral life is given in the capacity for inward moral satisfactions. the only inalienable form of happiness available to unstable creatures like ourselves.MarcoDi Palma o TheEthicsof theLettres morales 253 veut enseigner" (4:1116). the Lettresmoralessuggest. Dependent on the condition of retiring into self. The attitude and practice of inwardness harmonizes two central imperatives that the crisis outlined in Emile rhetorically sets at loggerheads: personal happiness or the commitment to oneself and morality or the commitment to others. Self-communion impels us outward to the . Rousseau asks Sophie to nurture this memory and take continual stock of its contents because it encourages the reorientation that gradually accustoms her to retreating within. the mutually inclusive demands of inward contentment and the altruism arising from the duties of the social life nourish one another.. Invoking a neo-Platonic view of the soul as essentially drawn to moral beauty. One's ultimate good and happiness. The disciplined. A second. le sentiment interieur" [4:1115]) and recalling to oneself the good performed in the past. prompted by amour de soi and conscious of her genuine needs satisfied through cooperation rather than disruption. coincides with. each providing an incentive for the other. Thereafter.. The virtues emanate from the cultivation of this irreducible and spontaneous proclivity for the good. A state of inwardness and self-knowledge does not in itself go far enough. A fundamental unity binds self-concern with concern about the community. Parez-vous pour vous presenter a votre miroir. The letters involve more than the simple access to nature and conscience. Rousseau identifies in our inalterable attraction to the good and its ensuing contentement intirieur (4:1115) the distinctive human excellence and a meta-ethical fact that anchors the moral life: "Dans quelque &tatqu'une Ame puisse &treil reste un sentiment de plaisir a bien faire qui ne s'efface jamais et qui sert de premiere prise a toutes les autres vertus. Experiential yield and acts of virtue become self-intensifying. the good and happiness of others. and is advanced by. inward gaze must turn back and reenter the world.

The good life they outline rests on bringing to the fore and subsequently cultivating those irreducibly moral instincts that turn us into genuinely fulfilled and productive members of the community. existential concentration and expansion. To the spiritual dissonance provoked by modernity. the Lettresmoralesalso insist that there exists no genuine self-fulfillment or morality outside the community and its system of mutual obligation and assistance. Although Rousseau proclaims the self-sufficiency of individuals in the sense that their personal happiness derives from their own efforts rather than public opinion. the Lettres moralestake their place alongside the masterpieces of reconstruction Rousseau produced between 1759 and 1762. Nowhere does the work separate the re-education of the self from the attitude and practices that sustain its vocation for unity. nor does he simply recommend how one might become what one should be without clarifying the ends such an imperative ought to serve. The letters propose an alternative path for those who cannot count on the support of the polis or a sheltered enclave of beautiful souls.that . oscillates between self and other. masters of the oikos (La Nouvelle Hiloise) and the sage (Emile). Legitimate self-interest and virtue are not merely reconciled: the possibility of one is the condition of the other.254 MODERN PHILOLOGY benefit of the community. Rousseau neither restricts himself to advising the correct setting for this unity. IV In addressing the problems of alienation and self-division. Virtue-of being and actions-constantly rounds on itself. Much of this gets lost if we interpret the Lettresmoralesas a manual for self-realization outside the context of a social existence and the practices through which it unfolds. The ensuing representative figures resulting from these speculations-fully integrated individuals who benefit themselves and the general good-assume the form of the citizen (Du contratsocial). juge de Jean-Jacquesor the Riveries. the husband and wife. or. Rousseau offers a set of diversified solutions whose coherence and unity utterly depend on instating the sociopolitical horizons to which the varying terms and conditions of his speculations are tied. to use another metaphor. while directly answering the question of how one should and can live in society-as-it-is without the guide of natural education. solitude and participation. A concern with psychological states and intentions isolated from actions and their problematic consequences certainly captures something of Rousseau's self-representation in the late autobiographies. still less of the Lettresmorales. Yet it cannot be claimed of Rousseau.

that one cannot separate what an individual is from what he or she does. 4 above). and that Rousseau merely identifies the sources of the healthy soul but forgets to provide it with principles or rules of conduct. The student of wisdom. The Lettresmorales depict an existential rhythm between spiritual recollection and participation with others who multiply our happiness. pp. It is also true.38 Isolating the inner satisfaction that accompanies those who are morally pleased with themselves fails to capture what it means to cultivate the pleasurable feeling of doing good which. To be sure. . Underlying the reality and survival of such sources is the fact that they vitally depend on continuous deeds. Rousseau strives to implant in his aristocratic correspondent a practical ethics that combines a customary. This is formally true of the moral letter which chooses to operate at the level of exemplary ithos. highlighted early by Aristotle. in turn. 26-27. by definition. rather than affirming some Nietzschean "will-to-power morality" wholly at odds with their author's intentions. becomes a model for others. Rousseau advances a long-standing ethical truth. by the level of her self-understanding and the quality of her motives. reiterated by Aquinas and later reformulated by Hegel. too. To argue that the Lettresmorales merely indicate where to situate the self rather than prescribe how it ought to act. Herein lies the central ethical significance of the Lettresmorales.MarcoDi Palma o TheEthicsof theLettres morales 255 dispositions persist independently of action or practices. and are transformed in turn. One's being announces and is announced by the character of one's praxis. This conclusion also allows us to challenge the eudaimonic verdict that Rousseau only values virtue for its "experiential yield" and not as an end in itself. 38. Throughout his writings. requires gravitating outward toward an active. exemplary demeanor for others. A love of virtue may create a disposition for virtue. as de Man claims. So. there exists a constant relay between the rewards of personal happiness experienced psychologically and the moral ends of living well which that experience affirms and encourages. in a more substantive sense. practical relation to society. is therefore an unacceptably hollow view of his aims in these writings. Cooper (see n. The project for La Morale sensitiveis designed to demonstrate this. stable mode of being for the self with a highly visible. of the agent whose actions have the power to transform. Rather than simply transmitting a passion for rusticity. between the practice of good acts and the interior satisfactions of a good conscience that recalls and reviews them. It consequently becomes impossible to divorce what one should be from either how one should live or what one ought to do.

the contemplative and active lives. a positive dialectic between retreat and participation. In offering a vision that grounds the moral and social ethic in the fullest realization of the resources of human nature shorn of all that obstructs its original goodness. ity of being and action.39 If Rousseau concedes that the practice of virtue naturally flatters one's self-conceit (amour-propre) an idea by of superiority (4:1116). . whose better nature responds to the moral life but cannot sufficiently incline them to embrace it. Virtue and happiness do not constitute radically separate orders of human pursuit. Oscillating between such complementary poles reverses the kind of dichotomy lamented in Rousseau's Discourssur les richesses (1759. like the often alluded choice between innocent goodness and the perpetual internecine state of vertu-combat. Reciproc81). Rousseau conceives the individual's prosperity as synonymous with his or her ideal existence in society. 3 above). the capture of virtue 39. p. 244. it is hoped. such flattery-those of noble rank like Mme d'Houdetot. for instance-by meeting them on their own terms with incentives they might find psychologically acceptable. posthumously published in 1853) (5:469in which private goodness conflicts with public success. On the contrary. of practice in thought and thought in practice. De Man (see n. Bringing together his ethical and social theories. The implications of this synthesis for interpretations of Rousseau's thinking are wide-ranging. This existence also expresses the rhythm of moral progress. in advance of an entirely new and genuinely ethical condition which. will eventually replace bad faith with superior motives intrinsic to a new way of perceiving and acting. no longer meaningful. Rousseau initially turns to an unexpected motivational source to assist individuals. The sixth and final letter culminates in a synthesis of self-interest and duty in which demands for personal fulfillment become fully compatible with the demands of the community. and in need of. produces a fully enlightened self capable of beneficial relations with others and leads to the integration of the individual within himself and within society. the need to choose between one's self-interest and one's duty. Within this framework. Only the actively moral person is truly happy. The desire for happiis ness obtains its highest fulfillment precisely in the attitude and practice of morality. and not in some denatured counterwill hostile to it.256 MODERN PHILOLOGY the Lettresmoralesculminate in a rhetorical strategy characteristic of Rousseau's art of persuasion. the Lettresmoralesdeny any discontinuity between the natural and ethical selves. he does so in order to draw in readers highly sensitive to. privacy and communion.

in fact. Removing the supposed gulf between the natural and ethical self should lead us. A fuller exploration of this question would. require a more extended study. . Proviindicate that. More than this. represent the rhetorical prelude to a synthesis of the kind already sketched in the Lettres morales. to reassess the polarity between natural goodness and virtue set up in Emile. short of an impossible sionally at least. like the gift of conscience alive to remorse and the irreducible moral satisfactions even the most corrupt are capable of experiencing. a realistic and eminently practical third way exists beyond the stark alternatives set out in Emile. in turn. Sophie d'Houdetot and the future adult Emile will lead exemplary lives in the hope that others may imitate their betters.That conflict may. systematic fashion. of course. the Lettresmorales to nature or the improbable full civic life of the republican regression polity.Rousseau rehearses the dilemma anew prior to overcoming it in more ample. Neither men nor citizens. an innate inclination toward the good or a spontaneous appreciation of moral beauty. represents the natural inheritance that founds the possibility of morality.Marco Di Palma o The Ethics of the Lettres morales 257 through progressive habituation points to an important continuity.