Rousseau’s Ecology

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was one of the major philosophes of the French Enlightenment along with Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Diderot. He was also one of the great Romantic writers like Wordsworth and Coleridge in England and Lamartine and Hugo in France.

In the last year of his life he wrote a masterpiece, The Reveries of a Solitary Walker. In it he sketches a proto-theory of ecology, which we think is an exclusively modern idea. Not so. Rousseau articulates our current dilemma caught as we are between the dangers of hostile technologies and a spiritual drive to live in harmony with nature.

Peter Conroy is Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois-Chicago where he taught French language and literature for 34 years and served two terms as department chairman. He has written four books of literary criticism, translated another about French history, published over forty articles in professional journals, and presented many papers at scholarly conferences in the US and Europe.

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