Primal Philosophy: Rousseau with Laplanche presents the first comprehensive study of Rousseau’s thought on the possibility of philosophy and the responsibility of the philosopher. Through a close reading of texts from throughout Rousseau’s entire corpus, together with inspiration from Jean Laplanche’s seminal work on the Freudian theory of seduction, this book positions Rousseau within a contemporary debate involving Theodor Adorno and Alain Badiou on the fate of philosophy after Heidegger. In confrontation with the radical subordination of ethics to ontology, which is characteristic of Cartesian thought and its culmination in Heidegger’s philosophical legacy, the reading of Rousseau with Laplanche elaborates the rootedness of philosophy in a process of primal seduction, which opens a way to rethink the meaning of a genuine first philosophy, not as the study of being qua being in the tradition initiated by Aristotle, but as primal philosophy, the study of the genesis of philosophy itself. The rootedness of philosophy in a process of primal seduction then reveals the primal responsibility of the philosopher—a responsibility for human happiness found in the possibility of philosophy itself.
Lucas Fain is visiting scholar at the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies at Boston University
Fain gives his book a curious subtitle: Rousseau with Laplanche. Fain indicates by this that he will use Jean Laplanche’s theory of seduction to elucidate the occurrence of philosophy in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s work. Fain is erudite and persuasive in arguing that this is a core issue in Rousseau’s work, as Rousseau tries to overcome the destructive effects of Descartes’s theory, which eventually leads to the destruction of philosophy by Wittgenstein and Heidegger. But Rousseau did not spell out the process by which a philosopher becomes a philosopher, and it is here that Fain observes some interesting parallels in the work of Rousseau and Laplanche, parallels that suggest this approach might be a viable path to ensure the continued possibility of philosophy, understood in the Platonic manner. Especially recommended is chapter 4, which gives the clearest account of Fain’s understanding of philosophy and how an education for philosophy should proceed. Highly recommended.
The French psychoanalyst Jean Laplanche, in retrospect, has emerged as one of the grand masters of the art of reading in the twentieth century, and Lucas Fain, in this gripping work on Rousseau and the “seduction of happiness," has shown himself to be one of those who have taken the genius of Laplanche most seriously. One can only imagine the riches to be gleaned from a comparative study of Fain on Rousseau and Derrida’s practice of “grammatology,” a philosophical (or post-philosophical) stance developed in a book principally about Rousseau. Primal Philosophy is an important work and I recommend it to all who have an interest in the future of intellectual history.