It was perhaps fitting that the final gathering of our Simon Critchley book meeting took place yesterday. June 28th, was the tricentenary of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the influential philosopher. As Terry Eagleton wrote in a piece in The Guardian,
"Much of what one might call the modern sensibility was this thinker's creation. It is in Rousseau's writing above all that history begins to turn from upper-class honour to middle-class humanitarianism. Pity, sympathy and compassion lie at the centre of his moral vision. Values associated with the feminine begin to infiltrate social existence as a whole, rather than being confined to the domestic sphere. Gentlemen begin to weep in public, while children are viewed as human beings in their own right rather than defective adults."
Rousseau figures heavily in the beginnings of Critchley's book, Faith of the Faithless. In fact, our initial discussion was around our distinct lack of knowledge of Rousseau beyond bullet point ideas about his works. But upon reflection it seems that this 'maverick intellectual' as Eagleton called him, was the perfect foil for Critchlety's maverick work about the role of faith amongst those who hold no belief in religion or metaphysical gods. I liked Critchley's book on many levels. I was particularly struck by his take on St. Paul--a man whose thinking many continental philosophers seem to be exploring these days. I really liked his view on Paul and mysticism-that he essentially thought there was something more--of course, I would like this given my own post-metaphysical and post-mystical theological meanderings. Anyway, hats off to Rousseau, hats off to Eagleton's lovely little commentary on him, and hats off to Simon Critchley, who once again demonstrated that sometimes the best theology happens in places where you'd least expect it.