How credible is Rousseau's argument linking science and art to the decline in moral and civic virtue? According to Rousseau, do we become more slavish as the luxuries in our lives increase?

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Rousseau is a famous Swiss philosopher who lived from 1712 to 1778. One of the key components of his philosophy is that humans are inherently good by nature but are corrupted by society. He claimed that he came up with this idea after spotting an ad in a newspaper for an essay competition focusing on the topic of whether the development of the arts and sciences had improved or corrupted public morals. It's here, in what's now known as his First Discourse, that he first argued that the arts and sciences are corrosive of civic virtue and individual moral character.

Central to Rousseau's arguments is his idea of Amour de soi (self-love). He says that all humans have this instinctual drive towards self-preservation, which directs us to attend to basic biological needs, such as those for food, shelter, and warmth. However, he says that as society progressed, this same drive caused many of us to consider our attractiveness to others and our need to be valued in society. His argument is that we take unnatural actions to fulfill this need, which makes us less happy. As the luxuries in our lives increase, we want more and more. We're driven away from our natural state of happiness by things like science and art.

The question that you're asking requires personal reflection. Do you believe that Rousseau's central thesis is true? Are pursuits in art and science reflective of our desire for status and admiration in society? Do they really make us happier? There isn't necessarily a right or wrong answer here. Just consider Rousseau's arguments and say for yourself whether you believe them to be correct.

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