“The Space of Love and Garbage,” is a volume of essays collected from Harvard Review of Philosophy. From love to hubris a glance at the authors and the titles of their chapters draws the reader into philosophy tackling modernity’s central questions. Among the collection’s contributors is Arthur Melzer, author of “The Natural Goodness of Man: On the System of Rousseaus’s Thought.”
In the essay selected for this collection, “Rousseau and the Modern Cult of Sincerity,” Arthur Melzer discusses how sincerity and “being oneself ” has emerged as a core virtue in a modern “culture of narcissism.” How did it come about that sincerity became the only required virtue and hypocrisy the only unforgivable sin? How did acknowledgement of vices become the new virtue? Melzer says, “What piety is for Saint Augustine, what contemplation is for Plato, sincerity is for Rouseau.” Melzer delves into the historic origins of the ideal of sincerity analyzing how sincerity became the goal of the alienated intellectuals, he argues that we are all alienated intellectuals now, and that hypocrisy, Rouseau’s “bourgeois hypocrisy,” has become the vice of modern commercial bourgeois. He analyzes the progression, “today everyone denounces conformity and longs for sincerity . . . everything that once seemed so resolutely anti-bourgeois has now come to light as only late-bourgeois.”
Melzer is also a professor of political science at Michigan State University and is currently working on Aristotle’s moral philosophy.