Rousseau's Politic Argument in the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts


  • We thank Jeremiah Alberg, Bruno Bernardi, John Cusack, Christopher Kelly, Roger D. Masters, Philip Michelbach, Larry Peterman, Adrienne Scott, and Scott R. Koon for their comments and suggestions.

Sally Howard Campbell is assistant professor of political science, Concord University, Athens, WV 24712 ( John T. Scott is professor of political science, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95616 (


Rousseau's arguments often turn on a correct understanding of the relationship between cause and effect. We argue that the principal cause-effect argument of the Discourse is actually the opposite of the one Rousseau appears to posit in his work. Whereas he initially seems to argue that the sciences and arts corrupt morals, his ultimate argument is that the corruption of morals is the cause of the advancement of the sciences and arts and of their corrupting effects. Behind both moral corruption and the advancement of the sciences and arts lies a more remote cause: human pride and the unequal social and political conditions that result from pride and then foster it. Rousseau takes advantage of this complex causal relationship by simultaneously presenting an initial causal argument that gives his essay its paradoxical character and obscuring the ultimate causal argument of the work because of its implications as a critique of political authority and inequality.