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On the Happiness of the Philosophic Life

Reflections on Rousseau’s Rêveries in Two Books

On the Happiness of the Philosophic Life presents Heinrich Meier’s confrontation with Rousseau’s Rêveries, the philosopher’s most beautiful and daring work, as well as his last and least understood. Bringing to bear more than thirty years of study of Rousseau, Meier unfolds his stunningly original interpretation in two parts. 
The first part of On the Happiness of the Philosophic Life approaches the Rêveries not as another autobiographical text in the tradition of the Confessions and the Dialogues, but as a reflection on the philosophic life and the distinctive happiness it provides. The second turns to a detailed analysis of a work referred to in the Rêveries, the “Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar,” which triggered Rousseau’s political persecution when it was originally published as part of Émile.  In his examination of this most controversial of Rousseau’s writings, which aims to lay the foundations for a successful nonphilosophic life, Meier brings to light the differences between natural religion as expressed by the Vicar and Rousseau’s natural theology. Together, the two reciprocally illuminating parts of this study provide an indispensable guide to Rousseau and to the understanding of the nature of the philosophic life.

“[A] dense but precise and enthralling analysis.”—New Yorker

400 pages | 2 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Philosophy: History and Classic Works, Political Philosophy

Political Science: Classic Political Thought


“[A] dense but precise and enthralling analysis.”.

New Yorker

“Meier is deeply impressive in his mastery of Rousseau’s oeuvre. With On the Happiness of the Philosophic Life, he presents a startlingly original interpretation of one of Rousseau’s most beautiful and elusive works—the Reveries. His interpretation is sure to be controversial, but it is presented with an elegance, intensity, and thoroughness that will command the attention of all serious Rousseau scholars and those broadly interested in the history of political philosophy.”

Susan Meld Shell, Boston College

“No one before Meier has described Rousseau’s philosophic ‘revolution’ with more plausibility and subtlety; his book sets a standard hardly surpassable over the long-term.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, praise for the German edition

“The most ambitious and searching study of Rousseau’s thought."

Victor Gourevitch

“Meier has written a remarkable work that, I believe, will stand the test of time, not only for its careful study of the Reveries and the Profession, but also as a work that deserves careful study itself.”

Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy

“Readers of Rousseau and students of philosophy and of the philosophic life more generally owe Meier a considerable debt of gratitude for his deeply probing and illuminating work. . . . Meier, a reader with an eye to the exquisite and playful and even numerical artistry of philosophers, also practices a bit of such artistry himself. How much is ‘a bit?' Let the question serve as an inducement for the reader to take up this superb book in the same admirable spirit in which it is written.”

History of Political Thought

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