Following Lilla’s extensive discussion of the effect that Hobbes’s Leviathan had upon the West in his chapter entitled “The Great Separation,” he moves to the next episode in the development of political philosophy and theology – a chapter that he appropriately entitles “The Ethical God.”
Lilla’s main focus in this second episode is the thought of two figures – Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Both are important as they bridged the rift between theology and political philosophy that was struck by Hobbes. However, they each made unique contributions to this new path.
Rousseau’s contribution springs primarily from his educational treatise, Emile (1762). The book is presented as the story of the education of a young man, Emile. In it can be found his philosophical anthropology: natural man is both good and not religious. However, once introduced into society, man witnesses an amour propre (unhealthy pride) that arises from a weakness – the need to be well regarded by others. Rousseau saw this amour propre as the source of all of society’s corruptions, “the psychological force that breeds unnatural needs and desires, and then the destructive economic, political, and educational means to satisfy them.” Although humans do not need God when they are alone, once they are introduced to a society, they have a great need for God because their weakness is exposed and they experience a lack of morality that they would not know if they had remained by themselves. Continue reading »