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Legislators as musicians. Rousseau’s melodious foundation of democratic republicanism and his Essai sur l’origine des langues.

Alessandro Arienzo

[this paper is an early draft; not to be quoted without the permission of the author]

Introduction Being persuaded of the difficulties of establishing the ways in which languages originated out of men’s natural faculties, Jean Jacques Rousseau wondered whether: “a été le plus nécessaire, de la Société déjà liée, a l’institution des Langues déjà inventées, a l’etablissement de la Société ” (DI:151). This was not a chicken-egg game for bored aristocrats or would-be philosophers. During the Eighteenth century philosophical debate the themes of the origin of civility and language were, in fact, key issues for all those who aimed at separating the spheres of natural sciences and humanist culture, as: “l’arbitraire du langage joue le rôle de principe de démarcation” (Auroux, 2007:33). In his Discourse on Inequality Rousseau’s approach to the theme of the origin of language was hypothetical and conjectural. Language is described as the product of perfectibility and pity, and its first beginnings are placed in the mutual relation between the child and his mother. Later, in the Essay on the origin of languages Rousseau offered a closer analysis of the historical process by which languages – rather than language – were instituted, and he described gestures and in-articulated sounds as the first forms of communication. To communication by gestures and sounds followed the uses of intonations and melodies that enriched the primitive forms of spoken communication. It will be only very late that mankind come to be able to give conventional expressions to ideas and feelings using words and sentences. These passages from early forms of communication to conventional spoken 1

language are deemed by Rousseau to be the outcomes of moral passions and perfectibility. In this sense, Rousseau is convinced that language can only be born out of human cooperation and through men detachment from their original condition of selfishness. Language and society are, therefore, the products of a moral spin that lead individuals toward the fulfilment of their capacities. But once activated, this process of self-development bears with it the progressive corruption of men natural condition of autonomy. On the one side, perfectibility drives men to escape the uncertain condition of isolation that characterize their “pur état de Nature” (DI:147) by pushing them toward the plain development of their natural capacities. On the other side, sociability produces divisions, corruption and degradation. Thus, when seen by this angle, contemporary societies do not represent a stage of civility and politeness, but an age of tyranny, hypocrisy and separations: - in language, where conventional forms of communication express the progressive detachment from primitive sensations through a process of linguistic rationalization that separates different languages, different cultures; - in music, where the supremacy of harmony over melody and tuning implies the loss of an original melodic unity between sounds and words that Rousseau describes as unity of melody; - in politics, where political representation appears as a device for separating men from others, and of every man from the community; Underlying all these, there is a fundamental separation that any man prove with himself, being an effect of social affectation, traditional education and promoted by the complex dynamics of recognition/ambition. The paths of sociality, the necessities to “appear” to others rather being with the others, the need to be recognized as having a place in a social rank, separate men from their immediacy. 2

Rousseau himself, during all his life, struggled to recover this transparency to himself and an immediacy that is a requisite for that rich singularity upon which is only possible to establish a melodious and harmonic order. This struggle will not end but in his death, and is significant that Rousseau will recur to the tools of biography and confession in his search for self-recognition and fulfilment. Because of his aversion of representation, it is through narration that Rousseau searched to recover his singularity and his true nature. We will not shed further light on these aspects of Rousseau’s intellectual and human search, but his struggle for self-recognition has a political significance for he is convinced that at the core of all political and social divisions there is “representation”. By following Starobinki magisterial lecture (Starobinski, 1971), we are convinced that Rousseau attempt to recover immediacy and transparency in a search of his singularity is the linking thread of his life, art and politics. When placed in the narrower frame of a critique of theories of representation, Rousseau’s philosophy stands within a neo-classical approach to language and music that, during the Eighteenth century, uttered a strong critique of representation in the fields of knowledge, arts and politics (Dugan and Strong, 2001; Hudson, 2005; Starobinsky, 1971). By focusing on the Essay on the origin of languages, I will discuss Rousseau’s belief that music, education and politics, can enhance man’s moral freedom through the establishment of a “melodic” language of wisdom, capable of healing the wounds of moral corruption and social divisions. Language is conventional and its conventionality is the result of a development in communication that was driven by human search for perfectibility and pity; both these imply mutual recognition and cooperation as well as conflicts and divisions. In this sense, Rousseau’s theory on language and music is a reflection on the “moral effects” of melody which has relevant implication for his politics (Dobels, 1986). In fact, the analysis of the origin of languages reveals the principles upon which political societies are instituted and 3

to make of a disperse multitude of men a “People”. And this requires that individuals recognise themselves as moral agents. through persuasion and “sound” discourses. but in the melody belonging to a wise discourse. Certainly. but it is only by the art of few wise people that the promises of freedom and justice implied in the social contract can be realized. an almost impossible task. and those ancient laws had the expressive force of poetry and melodies. it is the purpose of wisdom. it is only from those individuals that a just and legitimate state can be established through a moral pact. in the Emilio and in the Confessions there are indications for a process of moral and psychological growth based on education and on a effort of self-discovery that appear to be the strongest foundations for an ordered society. it is possible to hear resonating the early strength of ancient and less corrupted communities. This seems to lead to an apparent paradox in Rousseau’s theory: on the one side. on the other side. As we noted above. not only proposes laws. Rousseau has to balance self-education and state government in 4 . and the true aim of politics. and a community of citizens. it is the purpose of a legislator. On the converse. The decisive role of persuasion explains why legislators should above all preserve the musical force belonging to a wise political discourse. a just and legitimate political community can only be established by individuals. In this sense.develop their identities. To clarify this point. or in very special moments like in the dance in Saint-Gervaise. Languages were then made of songs and tunes. But this growth implies the changing of men inner nature. but establishes moeurs and shared social meanings in the very fist moment of the joining together of men in a political community. acting and choosing in accordance with the common interest. and of the State. Man is today corrupted. I will focus on the legislator as that figure that. to promote the moral transformation of individuals through law. that requires time and is dependent upon the autonomous paths of perfectibility. civism and education.

and his proposal for a democratic political order. convincing them to join the political society. The essay collects an unpublished fragment of his Discours sur 5 . Legislators and wise politicians. 1967.order to draw the lines for making individuals a people upon which to establish a legitimate sovereign political order. in fact. Within the limits of this short contribution. But legislators and politicians should also yield on “reason of state”. economy. And on that relies Rousseau’s republicanism. 1995). The Essai Sur l’origine des langues and the debate on melody Rousseau’s Essay on the origin of languages was probably written between 1758 and 1761 and published posthumous in 1781 (M. as a complex science of politics. Duchet and M. Indeed. If this holds true. By joining virtue with reason of state. 1984. should rely on their capacity to provide people with good laws and customs. with a governance that strengthen the capacities for the self-government of people and individuals. Starobinsky. while education and selfrecognizance through narration are the two pillars for a rediscovery of human singularity bridging the gap between individuality and sociality. in Rousseau’s political philosophy it is reason of state that closes the circle between politics and morality. Gentile. in order to set up the condition by which a political community can promote political equality and good government. but as the knowledge of all the rules concerned with the government of a population through policy. Launay. Rousseau reveals the necessity to sustain his republicanism. between the melodious language of the legislator and the harmony implied in a well ordered society. 1989. Bora. I will discuss the above mentioned paradox by focusing on a different line of reasoning in Rousseau’s thought. administration. Rousseau does not intend raison d’état as a derogatory or cunning politics.

On the one side. on the other side. and the relative and derivative character of everything that originated out of its usage. and well before writing his two discourses he held a significant place in French and European debate on musical theory. 1967. later published with the title L’Origine de la mélodie ou réponse aux erreurs sur la Musique. appeared in 1753 6 . 1967. 1961 and 1995) questioning the coherence of his historical picture of mankind evolution. Rousseau himself was. in fact.l’inégalité – a fragment that for its length and topic Rousseau depicted as “trop long et hors de place” (PP: 373) – and the original draft of a response to the musician Jean Philippe Rameau dated 1755. Grange. 1964). In hi earlier Discourse Rousseau posed the problem of the “origins of language”. this is justified by the place of this text in his critical discussion of Jean Philippe Rameau’s musical theory. Jean Starobinski noted that Rousseau in his Discourse aimed at showing the contingency of language. a musician. The relevant differences between the two texts on men’s state of nature and on “pity” have led to a long debate (Derrida. rather than formulate a coherent theory concerning the origins of languages (DI. In the Essay Rousseau explores the phases of development of mankind from its early stages to his age: a state of civility in which different political societies are divided by languages and cultures and marked by tyranny and corruption. In this work a central place is given to music and musical imitation. in the following Essay he discusses at greater length the theme of the “origin of languages” and the role played in communication by melody and imitation. Starobinski. it proves how his theory of music was not separated from his philosophical and political theory. In 1748 he was asked by Diderot to write several articles on music for the Encyclopedia and a great resonance had his Lettre sur la musique francoise. in fact the complete title is Essai sur l’Origine des Langues où il est parlé de la mélodie et de l’imitation musicale.

Despite the fact that both music and paintings implied the harmonious composition of parts. and was also persuaded that while the capacity to communicate was rooted in human nature. It was rather imitation that made of paintings and music true arts as “Or qu’est-ce qui fait de la peinture un art d’imitation? C’est le dessein. In this sense. colours and sounds. the physicality of corps sonore – the physical nature of sound pointed out by Rameau – could not account for the complexity of the process of signification implied in music. Rousseau. Thomas:1995. i. On the contrary. Rousseau opposed to Rameau and his upholding the learned and polite French style. Wokler: 1987). as it perfectly joined words and music realizing the principle of the “unity of melody” (LF: 289). so music was not simply the expression of an harmonious choice of notes. Rousseau believed that as painting was not merely the art of combining colours. 1998. Qu’est-ce qui de la musique en fait un autre? C’est la mélodie” (EOL: 414). Rameau believed that pleasure and balance in music were the result of harmonic overtones and vibrations and of their continuous resonance on what he called corps sonore. The art of a musical composer was the knowledge and the ability to mould tunes and melodies by equilibrating harmonies. Harmony was the expression of a geometry of sensations and vibrations that he based on a sensist anthropology. the so-called “Italian form”: a style of composition that he thought to be more popular and almost “universal”. the forms and the means of communicating were historical and conventional. nor for the birth of different languages and cultures: “Les sons dans la mélodie n’agissent pas seulement sur nous comme 7 . He thought that men started to communicate to each other through gesture and vocalizations. in fact.as a contribution to the so called “Quarrell of the Bouffons” (Scott. tones and accents through a rational evaluation of the effects of sounds on bodies. conceived music as an evocative practice of rediscovery and actualization of melodies and tunes echoing from the beginning of mankind.e.

alienated sounds from feelings. being the natural expression of the passions. ideas Despite the devastating effects of rationalization. the development of languages through reason and philosophy lead to weaken the passions upon which original vocal sounds were based.sons. It is thus because of this connection to passions that it is music to enrich oratorical. The physical side of music accounts therefore to very little. it is by passions and musicality that language may depict objects to the imagination. sense of passionate communication is still present in imitative music. In this sense. and convey feelings to the heart. c’est ainsi qu’ils excitent en nous les mouvemens qu’ils expriment et dont nous y reconnoissons l’image” (EOL: 417). On the contrary. a trace of the original. Sounds. “Les plus beaux accords ainsi que les plus belles couleurs peuvent porter au sens une impression agréable et rien de plus”. Therefore. “natural”. Rousseau intended music as “a semantic system. the accents of the voice are such to “passent jusqu’à l’ame” (Ex: 358). 1998:293). mais comme signes de nos affections. its calculations and geometry. a language of the passions communicated through the inflections of melody” (Scott. And it is through melody that these original tracts can be recovered to languages and politics. According to John Scott. And this happened in the very same way in which harmony. and it is on this moral and melodic quality that politics can subsist. eloquent and imitative. de nos sentimens. keeping thus alive the original tenderness and immediacy of mankind. (Ex: 358). gestures. For the very same reason. a theory of the “moral effects” of melody. Rousseau’s theory is. In the 8 . and harmony “ne passe pas au delà” (Ex: 358) as no physical phenomena can justify the psychological and moral effect of sounds which are the product of men’s cultural dimension shaped by moral passions and perfectibility. in fact.

Essay Rousseau referred to contemporary studies in philosophy. m’en ont donné la prémiére idée” despite the fact that “qu’il a supposé ce que je mets en question. Once established earlier forms of communication. be traced before the beginning of conventional communication and no language could develop before the emergence of some sort of sociability. natural sciences and archaeology in order to draw a convincing picture of the way in which languages were born out of sounds and gestures. for they were able to speak in vocal and melodic languages. Rousseau followed the abbé ‘s Essai sur l’origine des connoissances (1746) assuming that spoken language must have arisen out of a more primitive language of gesture. savoir une sorte de société déjà établie entre les inventeurs du langage ” (DI: 146). and was far more uncertain. and should be intended as expressing a progressive evolution from poetry to science. in fact. then from ealy melodic tongues to dispassionate and rational languages. et qui. Rousseau described the subsequent passages from sounds and gestures to speech and writing. that trully touched the heart and the soul of the listeners. During these processes languages lost their original force despite their gaining clarity and accuracy. he wrote. As he clarified. they sung more than merely use articulated words. In this sense. No society could. peut-être. and “que plus on s’attache à perfectionner la grammaire et la logique plus on accélére ce progrès” (EOL: 392). whose researches. Rousseau thought that that the process by which men instituted conventional signs was not a linear one. A relevant influence was that of Condillac. But while Condillac believed that established signs were rooted on human need. “toutes confirment pleinement mon sentiment. 9 . Rousseau took a side in contemporary debate on the ancients opposed to the moderns by affirming the superiority of the ancients. modulated by passionate tones. and “les prémiéres langues furent chantantes et passionnés avant d’être simples et méthodiques” (EOL: 381).

then ancient laws were poetry and songs. Thus. but from moral passions: “L’effet naturel des prémiers besoins fut d’écarter les hommes et non de les rapprocher. on families and early societies. and a more detailed discussion of his theory is in the Essay. being conventional and constantly disruptive. In the Essay he offered a more accurate account of early stages of mankind. Rousseau opposed the idea that we should trace culture and knowledge back in senses and sensations. In the Discourse Rousseau focused on the “mute” man in the state of nature. a form that moves the passions and chiefly among them pity. but: “nous donnons trop et trop peu d’empire aux sensations.If early discourses were songs and tunes. he was persuaded that physical sensations could not determine any difference between cultures and languages. In the Discourse Condillac is only mentioned. nous ne voyons pas comme sensations mais comme signes ou images. but all the process of signification is characterized by indeterminacy and accidentality. in order to describe the genesis of established signs and to outline the different phases of their development from their first institutions. In the Discourse the cry of the children is deemed to be the first form of human communication. up to contemporary corrupted societies. et que leurs effets moraux ont aussi des causes morales” (EOL: 412). In this work Rousseau argued that language did not spring out of individual needs. rather. pointing out all the historical and theoretical difficulties concerned with the study of the birth of languages. as passions “spoke” before reason did. Poetry was invented before prose. While pursuing a naturalistic approach to the study knowledge and anthropology. The very origin of communication and language in 10 . des passions” (EOL: 380). Knowledge starts with senses. […] l’origine des langues n’est point düe aux prémiers besoins des hommes […]. through the golden (classic) age. Rousseau rejected any form of sensist or mechanicist reductionism: that man is modified by senses cannot be questioned. D’où peut donc venir cette origine? Des besoins moraux.

c’est toute autre 11 . any system of words and sentences. despite its being based on rationality and convention.the Essay is instead placed in gesture and unarticulated sounds. and is joined to a process of mutual recognition of men as sentient beings and similar. The efficacy of gesture is thus given by its immediate relation to the object as “l’objet offert avant de parler ébranle l’imagination. nous aurions fort bien pû ne parler jamais. In this sense. tient l’esprit en suspens et dans l’attente de ce qu’on va dire” (EOL: 376). is not primarily based on needs. any discourse. but it rests on a necessity to express moral passions in which Rousseau also place the superiority of this form of communication on gesture. That is why a discourse can raise men’s passions and express feelings better than any other means: “Mais lorsqu’il est question d’émouvoir le coeur et d’enflammer les passions. The capacity of speech to keep men united through persuasion is based on the ability to raise and move passions by intertwining words and images. Movements and gesture have a stronger capacity to develop direct and non verbal forms of communicating men’s inner motions. Rousseau was persuaded that gesture is such a very complex form of communication that: “Nous aurions pû établir des sociétés peu différentes de ce qu’elles sont aujourdui. excite la curiosité. He was therefore convinced that gesture is a more direct form of communication than sounds or speech. The first invention of speech was therefore due to passions. gesture easily expresses the “inquetude naturelle” (EOL: 376) of men. The birth of vocal language. as it has a direct relation to men’s need: “si nous n’avions jamais eu que des besoins physiques. sounds and tunes. ou qui même auroient marché mieux à leur but” (EOL: 380). et nous entendre parfaitement par la seule langue du geste” (EOL: 378). therefore. In this sense. can retain some sort of “musicality” by accents and intonations. In their origins men used movements and the sound of their voice to communicate: thus gestures and shouts were the primitive forms of this communication. their dispositions.

and helps us understanding the extent to which pity grounds recognition. General and more complex ideas only derive from a subsequent evolution of the intellect that is promoted by the use of early forms of language and communication: 12 . it is from very simple ideas – generated by a primitive process of self-recognizance – that men develop their first words through a process of denomination. Rousseau was also persuaded that the conventional nature of language is not only related to the forms. et ces accens qui nous font tressaillir. y portent malgré nous les mouvemens qui les arrachent. but is connected to signification itself. we can feel close but we will never feel touched unless he starts telling us about his feelings and pains. Indeed. L’impression successive du discours.chose. As long as we merely see him suffering. ces accens auxquels on ne peut dérober son organe. Rousseau explained the importance of spoken language with the example of the sensations raised by a suffering man. “mais elles ont aussi leurs accens. et nous font sentir ce que nous entendons” (EOL: 378). ils ont eu bien plus besoin encore de savoir penser pour trouver l’art de la parole” (DI. qui frappe à coups redoublés. passions have their own gestures. and recognition stays as a prerequisite for any form of communication. penétrent par lui jusqu’au fond du coeur. but it is from thinking that men produce their languages: “car si les Hommes ont eu besoin de la parole pur apprendre à penser.147). This example helps us to clarify how the communicative form of the discourse is the most capable to express pity. Thus. vous donne bien une autre émotion que la présence de l’objet même. instruments and modalities of communicating. In the Discourse he clarified how it was not from language that emerged the faculty of thinking. où d’un coup d’oeil vous avez tout vëû” (EOL: 377). p.

qui lui fait employer ses organes à cet usage. a faculty that is proper of men. l’esprit ne marche plus qu’à l’aide des discours. the Essay on Human Understanding was a fundamental work for theorist of language and literature of the following century. car sitôt que l’immagination s’arrête.150). Rousseau too believed that the 13 . Rousseau is also influences by William Warburton who. studied the figurative origin and evolution of hieroglyphics. at least for Rousseau. in the centuries to follow. in his Essai sur les hiéroglyphs des Égiptiens (1744). and that by a perfectly arbitrary Imposition” (1690. is certainly not the mere result of any feature of our physical nature as “l’invention de l’art de communiquer nos idées dépend moins des organes qui nous servent à cette communication que d’une faculté propre à l’homme.” (EOL: 379). He held the thesis that the first writings were simple pictures used.“Il faut donc énoncer des propositions. In describing the establishing of conventional signs. in France as in the whole of Europe. p. II:73) and authors such as Vico. il faut donc paler pour avoir des idée générales. In his Essay ‘Of Words’ in Book 3 the English philosopher affirmed that words were merely arbitrary signs of ideas: “[words] signify only Men’s peculiar Ideas. This is very much what was already expressed by Condillac. In fact. as tropes in order to represent abstract and conceptual figures and ideas. il s’ensuit que les premiers substantifs n’ont pu jamais être que noms propres” (DI. and is the also the result of Locke’s influence on French and European philosophical debate. 2005: 335). Condillac and Rousseau himself interpreted this passage as signifying that words were much more than outward signs: words could shape ideas as they give an organized form to thoughts (Hudson. Si donc les premiere Inventeurs n’ont pu donner des noms qu’aux idées qu’ils avoient déjà. This processes.

Scholars have often focused on the relevance of the dynamics of recognition in the Discourse on inequality and in the Essay (Honneth.first expressions used by human beings were “tropes”. Figurative language was therefore the first form of language established by man in society. le désir ou le besoin de lui communiquer ses sentimens et ses pensées lui en fit chercher les moyens” (EOL: 375). On the establishing of societies and languages “Sitot qu’un homme fut reconnu par un autre pour un Etre sentant. further developes and widened according to the mutations of events. 1996. If we regard the mute man of the Discourse as an hypothetical grade zero of mankind. then complex societies. then images were substituted by metaphors. Language was therefore figurative before it was literal: “On nous fait du language des prémiers hommes des langues de Geométres. Words are arbitrary sign. The latter takes as given what was already discussed in the former: namely pity and perfectibility. In order to express how come the homme natural developed in a 14 . pensant et semblable à lui. et nous voyons que ce furent des langues de Poëtes” (EOL: 380). and those signs form a language through which our early and very limited ideas are enriched. Language is the product of passions expressing a “moral” tension of men toward the others. and early speech had the form of poetry because passion suggested images and illusions. the mutual recognition among men must necessarily be the first step of sociality. Carnevali. and it represents a sort of matrix in which the results of complex intellectual operations that are guided by our search for perfectibility come to be framed. and finally reason “n’en employa les expressions que dans les mêmes passions qui l’avoient produite” (EOL: 382). the two factors that moves men to exit the “pure state of nature” to establish families. 2004).

social being. et réside parmi nour tant dans l’espéce que dans l’individu” (DI:142). Indeed. et nuisible au proprés de nos plus excellents facultés. This way. unable to communicate to each other and to fulfil their capabilities. Without that faculty. Perfectibility is therefore a strenuous and natural search for a full development of human capacities that leads us to civility while produces divisions and conflicts. 1998:301). 15 . critics are now largely convinced there is no essential contradiction between the two works. fut-elle même démeurée jointe à l’antique innocence. toward amour -de-soi as well as of amour-propre. auroit en toujours un vice essentielle. Rousseau had to establish the principle that “the consciousness of fellow humanity requires a sympathetic recognition of shared passions-compassions” (Scott. à l’aide des circonstances. ou le désir de se conserver avant la naissance de cet amour […] vertue d’autant plus universelle et d’autant plus utile à l’homme. While perfectibility is a faculty that make men “in movement”. to face their needs and passions and to transform themselves in a tension toward selfperfection as well as egoism. the earth would be inhabited by solitary men. qu’elle précede en lui l’usage de toute réflexion” (DI:154). Although Rousseau’s argument in the Essay may seem to differ with the Discourse. savoir le défaut de cette liaison des parties qui constitue le tout” (MG. It is a “faculté qui. In fact: “cette parfait indépendence et cette liberté sans régle. both individually and collectively. It drives men. man loses his primitive condition of peace and innocence. 283). en certaines circonstances. The detachment from an original condition of pure naturality is a paradoxical result of a search for perfectibility that move men toward the development of natural capacities that would otherwise have remained silent and inactive. pity is a virtue “qui. as only historical and anthropological reasons led mankind to leave that condition of individual independence and selfishness. la férocité de son ampur propre. ayant été donné à l’homme pour adoucir. développe successivement toutes les autres. no teleological process pre-determine this transformation.

as we already mentioned. are not merely concerned with communicating needs as their true aims are to share passions and feelings. as they are expressed by Rousseau. and. in fact. 1986:645). Languages. which is the faculty that makes us able to identify with another person. parts of a continuous and natural effort toward mutual recognition. it is also true that this capacity only develops “historically”. It is now possible to index few significant characteristics of languages. early spoken languages were passionate and metaphoric and it will be only through a long lasting process of socialization that languages will develop stable inter-subjective meanings. This principle does not presupposes natural sociability. The first of them is that while speech is specifically human. through a reflexive movement of thinking. the conventional nature on languages rest.Rousseau’s argument. on the necessity to “persuade individuals in cooperative endeavours” (Dobels. In fact. in a certain sense. in fact. provided that any man imagines himself as “other” to the other. by accident. 16 . which is the faculty that makes possibile to live other’s sufferings and pains (Derathé. Languages are moreover “catastrophic”. pity would remain eternally inactive without the role of imagination. but rather that it operate as a “principle” of natural right. among them. is not that pity is immediately active in the pure state of nature. but the activities of men’s natural faculties and. 1950). as their birth is made possible by natural catastrophes or dramatic accidents that obliged men to live together in a search for mutual help. Spoken languages are. establishing mutual relations and move men toward a common society. although natural. The movement of recognition of the other is always possible. above all. This process is not obvious or definitively acquired and the imitative capacity of languages play a decisive role. the most relevant is that of imagination. Lastly. Moreover.

In this sense. passed the golden age of classical antiquity. nonetheless a substantial condition of freedom kept characterizing that stage of mankind. In a sense. 17 . the theme of the origin of languages cannot be severed from those of sociability and recognition. les signes des mots et des propositions aux peuples barbares. Later come the development of written forms of communication that added a different line of transformation of mankind. that spoken languages could arose. societal division is neither natural nor original. and the only need he has of another human being is for sexual reproduction.Thus. To him does not belong language. this condition of a relative balance among men was definitively broken and. and in a way unavoidable. giving birth to early forms societies. mankind degraded toward affectation. result of sociality and perfectibility. He draws an hypothetical history of mankind in which the point zero of humanity is what he called the homme naturelle. It is only when perfectibility and pity brought men to join together. a man who is substantially independent from nature and from others. et l’alphabet aux peuples policés” (EOL: 385). But when the stronger and the richer – because of the institution of property and of the division of labours – firmly established their rule. falsity and domination. In this sense. languages follow the same path of transformation and degradation that Rousseau attributed in the Discourse to mankind. but was the paradoxical. In early primitive societies the single was no longer fully independent and inequality started to grow. This man has no necessity to develop arts or crafts in order to survive. as different stages of society developed and expressed in this development different form of writing: “La peinture des objects convenient aux peuples sauvages. this man is not properly free as his condition is not much the product of his will but the result of an immediacy of relations with the things and beings surrounding him. despite the fact that he has the faculty to communicate by inarticulate sounds and confused gestures.

Music. equality and self-government. there is always a representative process involved in signification. 18 . 1995:10). We have already noticed the extent to which music was connected by Rousseau to language and discourse. Thus. et l’analyse de la parole par l’écriture. one-to-one correspondence between sign and meaning” (Thomas. as well as politics. expression of ideas connected to outward objects. it is only possible to put an end with the establishment of a common power that guarantees freedom. it is up to politics to realize a sort of “political unity of melody” tu(r)ned as customs. nature and culture. et l’écriture représente de même la parole. music was “the triggering mechanism of representation itself – the origin of the origin of culture. 1995:7). Within that movement. and democratic self-government on the other. is based on signs. history. music and language: “L’analyse de la pensée de fait par la parole. la parole represente la pensée par des signes conventionnels. On representation and democratic self-government Rousseau philosophical theory was a part of a wider movement in early Eighteenth century in which the theme of musical language stood as a crucial element of neo-classical theories of representation (Thomas. institutions and laws. the supporting of melody against harmony had a clear political relevance. perfectibility move mankind toward new acquisitions and gains at the prices of a progressive loss of autonomy and of growth of conflicts. To contemporary condition of violence and subordination of the many to the few.In all the phases of human history. as it paralleled the opposition between political representation on the one side. As we are now going to discuss. often conventional. and how in his view a sound discourse could play a decisive role in persuading and moving passions. as it were” implying “forms of representation which shatter the classical notion of a direct. Being any sign the arbitrary.

The critique of representation in knowledge and learning also clarifies Rousseau’s critical assessment of theatrical imitation and stage performances. Car le signe absorbe l’attention de l’enfant. where he observed how theater could move the emotions through a process of representation in which. and the degradation of one implies the degradation of the other. Rousseau wonder “Qu’est que le talent du comedien? L’art de se contrefaire. de paroitre différent de ce que qu’on est. de revertir un autre caractére que le sien.B. au moins quant aux langues vocales. In these notes Rousseau focused on the themes of imitation and the perils of imitative representation already discussed in his the Letter to D’Alambert. The essence of language is thus representation: in spoken language there is a first representative process that involves ideas and words. moral passions only have a weak resonance in the soul of people. les seules qui soient usage parmi nous” (FP:1249). and Strong T. the most relevant writing is probably the short essay De l’imitation théatrale.. then a second one that concerns the process by which we represents the spoken words with written signs. representation is conventional and expresses a slow degradation of the immediate evidence of things through rationalization and substitution. This explains why in the Emilio Rousseau alerts us to never substitute: “le signe à la chose que quand il vous est impossibile de la montree. a collection of notes on the books III and X of Plato’s Republic and of passages taken from Gorgias and the Laws (Dugan T. When connected to public performances.ainsi l’art d’écrire n’est que une réprésentation mediate de la pensée. imitation gets people used to passivity and surrogates of reality. In both cases. On this theme. due to the separation between the stage and the spectators. et lui fait oublier la chose réprésentée (Em:434). these faculties are strongly intertwined. as far as words are not ideas and sentences are not merely chains of ideas. 2001). In a often quoted passage of the Letter. while communicating and thinking are two different faculties. Indeed. de se passionner de sang19 .

imitative music gives the possibility to recover a much more direct and immediate form of communication and recognition. culture and customs separate men from each other. where relations among men are characterized by artificiality. et d’oublier enfin sa proper place à force de prendre celle d’autrui” (LD:72-73). and must be read along Rousseau’s critique of affectation and the false passions of contemporary societies. whereas moeurs regulate attitudes and dispositions and laws individual and collective conducts (Gourevitch. While contemporary politics. Rousseau opposes political representation to the musicality expressed by the wise discourses of ancient legislators. This passage is exemplary. His reflections on music. must be considered relevant aspects of this effort. the Social Contract. and his writings on Corsica and Poland do represent a throughout effort of reforming politics and political institutions by questioning their very fundamental principles. Indeed. the two discourses. Licurgus. Moses were key figures in seventeenth and eighteen century republicanism and much of contemporary scholarship focuses on Rousseau’s political theory by stressing its distinctive and peculiar mixture of republicanism. Along this line of thought. Numa. subordination and separation. and separate men with themselves.froid. 1975:504). when focusing on politics. as well as the “hypothetical history of mankind” underlying almost all his works. de dire autre chose que ce qu’on pense aussi naturellement que si l’on le pensoit réellement. 20 . the Emilio. Theatrical imitation being representational. Victor Gourevitch clearly stressed how the central themes in Rousseau’s republicanism were customs and laws. his major project was the composition of an ample work on politics that he would have titled Political Institutions that was never accomplished. is mere fiction. This complexity is the reason that moved John Pocock to describe Rousseau as the “Machiavelli of the Eighteenth century” (Pocock. In this sense. natural right theory and sovereignty. Nonetheless. while musical imitation is the expression of unity and of melody.

accurate government and a throughout governance of groups and individuals. it could be enough for the purposes of this contribution to focus on the chapters on the legislator and on sovereignty as they appear in the Social Contract and in his works on Poland and Corsica. offer us the traces of a political investigation that supports sovereignty and social contract but focuses on administration. The political relevance of Rousseau on music. through rhetoric and persuasion. As we will soon discuss. The chapter on the legislator in the in certainly among the most puzzling and fascinating of the Social Contract. nonetheless. and those on Poland and Corsica the writings where the governmental side of his democratic republicanism can be better traced. Numa. The transformation of this multitude in “the People” is a hard and exceptional matter. popular and legislative sovereignty is a fundamental aspect in Rousseau’s political theory. And is through the melodious language of political wisdom. Being the Social Contract the work in which Rousseau theoretical approach and his republicanism are better expressed. regulating moeurs is what a legislator must do. Moses are all figures that give an answer 21 . that requires political wisdom. rather than with the imperious command of a ruler. economy and the governance of population. Licurgus. Nonetheless. but legislative sovereignty rests on the early establishment of a political community that necessitate of a wise beginning. This is the job of legislators who have to shape and mould a multiplicity of individuals in a people. Indeed. among all his political works. that a political community can be created and preserved. language and harmony can easily be traced in a number of points of his works. in a political comm/Unity. Rousseau’s writings on Poland and Corsica.1997). a multitude of individuals and a plurality of groups that join together in a society but do not represent in their immediacy a political unity. behind the people there always is a population.

as well as public opinion. once it has assumed a determined character. if it ever existed. Rousseau significantly changed this republican maxim by proposing the new idea of public opinion: “par l’opinion publique” he answered (LD:61). a figure that understands and speaks the same language of the people he wants to shape and gives form. enforce and promote behaviours and 22 . can be educated but cannot be imposed. It has often been noted that Rousseau assumes the republican principle that best way to ensure obedience to law is to dispose citizens to praise and honour them. But in his Letter to d’Alambert. stable and virtuous principles. Public opinion must be cherished. it can establish. c’est seulement par son institution primitive” (DL:68). Thus. In this sense. People. And to do so. having posed the question “Par où le gouvernement peut il donc avoir prise sur les moeur? ”. a man completely devoted to the happiness and well-being of the people. rather than relying on force and coercion. As far as law has an immediate sanctioning power and an authority that can last for a long time. it is almost impossible to have it radically transformed. must have surely been a “superior intellect”. Education. In the very beginning of this chapter Rousseau warns the reader that the legislator. but they must also be political educators. has a conservative nature in a sense that it resists changing and innovations. Thus: “Si le gouvernement peut beaucoup sue les moeurs. Moreover. is a complex moral economy based on the rediscovery of the immediacy of the human nature and of individuality. a superior moral being. understanding their passions without being affected by any. whose image – which is clearly drafted on a stoic theme – is that of a semi-gods. wise founders of republics and lawgivers must give orders and institutions. This changing has a massive politically relevance for public opinion is not subject to the imposing powers of kings and magistrates.to necessity that a republic in its beginning should be established on wise. it is necessary to persuade rather than convince of the necessity and righteousness of laws and customs. as a political tool. such to understand men as they really are.

images and the redounding of passions. the knowledge of their force and measure is “the véritable science du Legislateur” (DL:60). and might overcame right. But for people to pass a law. CS:383).customs. those who set up laws have no legislative power. And persuasion is about melody. He has to use melodious tunes. which is the object of the common will. describing them as two different faces of the same coin. Indeed. In this sense. Coercion substituted persuasion. In the Social Contract Rousseau warns us that fully rational and dispassionate discussion and deliberation on what must be the common interest. This is why “le Législateur ne pouvant employer ni la force no le raisonnement. musical images. is the reason why ancient legislators had to make recourse to religion. he is quoting Machiavelli and his description in the Discourses on Livy of Numa. as this must reside in the people. they must be persuaded of it necessity. qui puisse entraîner sans violence et persuader sans convaincre” (MG: 317. does not belong to the people. Here. Rousseau takes his distance from William Warburton. and he focused on the role of religion in supporting 23 . The necessity to persuade and to establish institutions. but above all customs (mores). On the contrary. the one may an instrument for the other. Rousseau believes that religion and politics are two separated spheres. he had to recourse to the fiction of gods ordering them through him. who in his Divine Legation of Moses (1737-1741) had joined religion and politics at the origins of mankind. passionate speeches in order to persuade his people and move them toward a virtues life. In order to persuade Romans “who were fierce and rude people” to accept Numa’s laws. À quoi serviroit-elle aujourdui que la force publique supplée à la persuasion?” (EOL: 428). By following Machiavelli. The legislator is therefore like a musician. One of the reasons for contemporary corruption is in the declining force of persuasion overcome by might and domination: “Dans les anciens tems où la persuasion tenoit lieu de force publique l’éloquence étoit nécessaire. c’est une nécessité qu’il recoure à une autorté d’un autre ordre.

The process of approving a law. religion in Rousseau’s political theory is above all a civic religion. it concerns the establishing of a political community as a unity. but they only exercise the sovereign power of approbation and ratification of what is being proposed by magistrates. prudent and competent individuals. In fact. is not a “deliberative” process. and is about sharing and communicating. the people do not exist before the extraordinary act of a legislator establishing the first principles upon which to give an order to 24 . The role of the legislator in this framework also proves how untrustworthy the “people” is. In this sense. as well as on contemporary Geneva’s Calvinist republic. CS:383). In this sense. which belongs only to the sovereign body. Deliberation is about reason and interests. To the public space of participation belongs the melody of a fluent discourse rather than the appropriateness of deliberation. In this sense. Participation is the prerequisite of sovereignty. People assembled do not participate in a deliberative process. both deliberation and participation can only follow the first establishing and constituting of a community. particularly in the executive or deliberative moments.politics in the establishment of civil institutions and shared customes “pouvoir donner ou lien morale une force intérieure” (MG:318): “Voila ce qui força de tous tems les Péres des Nations de recourrir à l’interevention celeste et d’honores les Dieux de leur proper sagesse” (MG:317. and the function of evaluation and proposal only pertains to the government and its offices (Urbinati: 2006). drafted on the classic examples of Athens and Rome. and it is proper of deliberation the rational and exact debating among wise. while deliberation is rather a function delegated by the sovereign to the wisest part among the people through the institutional devise of mandat imperatif. Rousseau is not arguing for a direct participation of every single citizen in any single passage of political life. Participation rather involves the expression of passions and feelings.

In fact: “Ce fut souvent l’erreur des sages de parler au vulgaire leur langage ou lieu du sien. The people as a political unity is not the pre-requisite for a ordered community. despite its relevance to understand the extent to which the establishment of People as the holder of a sovereign power can subsist only in accordance to the governance of population. et chaque Individu ne voyant. Early languages. CS:383). when confronting with the generality. And this is a matter for politicians who. but is the result of a process of composition that a well ordered community makes possible. the language of wise politicians and legislators must express clarity. and it must be the effort of a politician and of a legislator to recover the might and immediacy of early languages. in fact. That is why. Les vües trop générale set les objets trop éloignes sont également hors de sa portée. The starting point is the sad and “realistic” observation that government is not a matter for the people. et que les hommes fussent avant les loix ce qu’ils doivent devenir par elles” (MG:317.a community out of a dispersed state of nature. This is a point not often raised by Rousseau’s scholarship. are acquainted with the inner laws of functioning of a state and of a political community: in other words to those politicians experts in the rules of reason of state. Rousseau describe reason of state as a sort of political science rather than mere prudence or Machiavellianism. que l’esprit social qui doit être l’ouvrage de l’institution présidêt à l’institution même. d’autre plan de gouvernment que son bonheur particulier. Il est mille sortes d’idée qui n’ont qu’une langue et qu’il est impossibile de traduire au Peuple. as for them to understand the maxims of justice or of the rule of raison d’Etat “il faudroit que l’effet put devenir la cause. Reason of state requires wisdom rather than prudence. And this bring us back to music and to the theme of the origin of languages. Certainly. were less exact but were stronger. and a political intellect rather than a cunning mind. par example. apperçoit difficilement les 25 . aussi n’en fuerent-ils jamais entedus. immediacy to be understood. transparency. their musicality. having a deep knowledge of men.

Because of that. legislative. in a way acting as an hypothetical legislator.avantages qu’il doit retired des privations continuelles qu’imposent les bonnes loix” (MG:317. In the last paragraphs of the Essay Rousseau affirmed that any language which appears incomprehensible to the people. Being involved in the project of constitutions for Corsica he firstly remarked that the process of corruption of mankind is so advanced that only in the rare case a new political community. The right division of a territory. power and a wise and competent government. in order to find the best means to form a “people”. whose people are relatively untouched by the vices of civility and modern politics. is a “servile language” (EOL. he deemed necessary to recur to persuasion and civic virtues well as to a series of principles and policies for a wise governance of the “population”. strength. Moreover. There are languages that are conducive to freedom. that expressed by a system of checks and balances necessary to divide and control 26 . Rousseau has to recur to a peculiar institutional harmony. is indicative of a state of freedom. together with a light administration and an efficient agriculture are the prerequisite of any wise governance and to the establishment and growth of a political community. 428). to prevent the corruption of political system. CS 383). Rousseau tried to prove its ability to express a political science and a constituent capacity by offering wise advices to the people of Corsica and Poland. the number. its resources. those are sonorous. can realize a stable democratic republic. the exact balancing of resources are the element upon which it will be possible to ordinate the sovereign. convince them in order to let them approve what proposed according to the general interest. In fact. harmonic and prosodic languages resounding is public places and not in the private chambers or secret councils of kings. virtue of individuals living in a territory. This ability of making people understand.

If the latter aims to shape the People from “the inside”. the former had to deal with those external factors that allow the ordering of all the economical and productive characteristics of a territory and of the population living on it. In a long passage of the project for Corsica dedicated to agriculture and goods exchange. rotation of offices. institutions and mores. Rousseau clarify how a careful management of markets is the first and most important policy of a government. strengthen it. and exactly in such a way that with the aid of the government can raise commerce and exchanges to a point that the role of government itself can become superfluous (PCC:141). its exercise must be divided in a complex system of checks and balances – as they are for example discussed in the Constitutional Project for Poland. the managing of the population is as much necessary to the well being of a State as the creation of a nation by the establishment of shared meanings and customs. is probably the fundamental maxims of reason of state necessary to establish a nation. and offering the right rules.the exercise of government as well as a system of “graduated promotions” in offices and public charges in order to value virtue and civicness. frequent meetings of the Diet and frequent elections of deputies: are all necessary tools for exercising a stable rule by keeping political liberty. despite the unity of sovereignty. In this sense. legislative appointment of elected magistrates. to shape beliefs and behaviours through customs. laws and a shared language. Senatorial oversight. A wise politician must understand the nature of his people if he wants to cherish it. This is the reason why a politician has to follow the rules of reason of state which impose the knowledge and management of population. the governance of abundance and scarcity is the governmental side of sovereignty and republicans. 27 . this strength must be converted in political power and. the observation that “qu’il y a dans tout corps politique un maximum de forces qu’il ne sauroit passer” (MG:320. In this sense. CS:386). Indeed. In this sense.

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