Diderot and Reputation

Group 6 — Rameau’s Nephew

“It’s about getting some sort of credit – it has no intrinsic worth; its value comes instead from what people say. They say A good reputation is worth its weight in gold. And yet the person with a good reputation is never the one with the gold, and I have noticed that these days the person with the gold is never without a reputation” (Diderot 33).

This passage pits a good reputation against the attainment of wealth.  HIM argues that a person’s reputation is determined entirely by the public.  There is a good reputation in the sense that you are truly a good person, and there is a “good” reputation in the sense that society holds you in high esteem—but, this “good” reputation is two sided.  While society may respect them for what they have accomplished or done, they are, as HIM determines, “never without a reputation,” meaning, they are not necessarily society’s most honorable citizens.  This is a contention that HIM uses to his advantage:  “And that’s my aim when I boost my credit by resorting to what you call devious tricks and nasty little ruses. I give my lesson, and I give it well – that’s the general rule. I make it look as if I’ve got more lessons to give than there are hours in the day, and that’s the peculiarity” (Diderot 33).  Reputation can be seen as a cause and wealth an effect, because if you have a “good” reputation then more people will want to hire you, thus increasing your wealth.

Rameau’s argument is culminated in HIM’s assertion that, “Rameau has to be who he is: a happy thief in the company of wealthy thieves, and not someone who trumpets his virtue or who is actually virtuous, chewing his crust of bread on his own or with other beggars” (Diderot 40).  HIM doesn’t want to adopt admirable characteristics because he sees it to be too much pointless effort, and is therefore willing to forego a good (character) reputation for a good (successful) reputation.

Because Rameau’s Nephew is essentially just a collection of challenging opinions, this morally challenging stance on reputation befits it perfectly as it supports the abandonment of integrity for money, and what kind of world would that foster?

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