Diderot Finale

Him…..Adieu, Mister Philosopher, is it not true that I’m still the same as I was before?

ME – Alas! Yes it is, unfortunately.

HIM – Let’s hope I only have that misfortune for another forty years or so. He who laughs last laughs longest.


This is one of the few places in the book where the two actually come to agreement. Through much of the work, it was hard to tell what Diderot’s position was because whenever one character made a point that called an aspect of our lives into question, the other character would refute it. This passage, however, has finality.

This passage brings into question what good (if any) arguing these points actually does in the long run. One cannot change others to make them believe anything besides what they already believe.

Diderot and Intrinsic Value

group 4

In Rameau’s Nephew Diderot holds a conversation with a rather sordid character. During their conversations Rameau seems to have a very negative view of society. He points out that reputation and credit only have no intrinsic value, only the value that we place on them. This can apply to a lot of things in todays society as well. A good example of this is beauty standards, something that changes drastically throughout the ages and places value on certain looks that have no value on their own.

Rameau seems to contradict himself a lot in this passage. Throughout Diderot’s work he explains how he is jealous of the wealthy and the geniuses, while simultaneously saying that they are bad characters. However he later states that he is a genius and that he deserves to be rich, and so on. He clearly places a higher value on himself than those around him, and it appears to frustrate him to no end. Since no one else sees his value, he does not possess it.

This explains why he lies and cheats in order to survive, all that matters to him is the appearance of looking good. All he truly wants is credit, reputation seems to matter little to him, since most people with a good reputation have little to show for it.

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?

Rameau’s Infamous Uncle

Group 6 Background info on Rameau’s Nephew

In Rameau’s Nephew, Rameau expresses a lot of hate toward his uncle, which had us wondering–how did the rest of the world feel about Rameau’s uncle?  Was this feeling of hatred a shared one?

It turns out that the world saw Jean-Philippe Rameau first and foremost as a composer and an opera writer, and a great one at that.  Not too much was written about what he was like as a person, however.  We did find that he was withdrawn and a bit of an introvert, which some believed stemmed from a hard work ethic.  In addition to that, we also learned that Rameau was very careful with money; upon his death his possessions consisted of a few pairs of clothes, a pair of shoes, and an old harpsichord in need of repair, despite the fact that he had amassed a small fortune.  Though he apparently didn’t find the need to spend his money on himself, he was known to often lend money to others.  For instance, he took good care of his daughter as well as his sick sister; he even was said to have helped out other musicians from time to time.  This suggests that he was a very generous person–not at all one to be hated.  And, if that doesn’t say enough about his character, over 1,500 people were said to have attended his funeral, which suggests that he wasn’t only highly respected as a musician but that he was also well-liked.




Diderot Doesn’t Tell Us Who Is Right

Because maybe both parties are correct (according to what society rewards).

In Denis Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew, we are introduced and forced to think about two opposing views on lifestyles. The combatants, ME and HIM, argue morality vs. social parasitism. Our group (2) discussed how most of us would side with ME because of an obscure, not entirely universal biopsychosocial pressure to act morally. Perhaps, it’s a pressure we adapted to function better as a society. However, this led to a conversation about social parasitism. We unanimously agreed that the moral route was the preferred lifestyle, but also questioned why we felt we couldn’t side with HIM. Realistically, following HIM would be personally advantageous, and he is not the the only person to act in this manner. We discussed the self-centeredness of human nature and whether everyone, if possessing HIM’s intellect and manipulative abilities, would act in the same fashion; to work less and live parasitically.

Doesn’t everyone just want what they want, when they want it, without having to work for it? This is what makes the debate so troublesome. Understanding what HIM is doing, why am I not doing the same? His methods make perfect sense for self-advancement, yet we have this pressure to live morally.

Thinking about it, it might seem as though the social evolutionary advancement to keep societies together has been one-upped by another evolutionary advancement: ignoring moral pressures.
Therefore, why don’t we all ignore our pressures and live off the rest?

Large businesses regularly express this type of moral disregard. Though not to the same extreme, businesses camouflage their parasitic-like approach to increasing profits behind successful marketing. You need their product, so they’ll simply look for the cheapest mode of production, entirely at your expense. For example, chemical manufacturers’ lack a legal requirement to reveal their product’s chemical composition to the public. This proves to be increasingly problematic when dealing with pesticide and flame retardant manufacturers, constantly battling to increase profits while maintaining effectiveness. Pertaining to flame retardant manufacturers, previously phased-out harmful flame retardant chemicals (e.g., organophosphate compounds) are currently being reintroduced to home and industrial settings. This is an issue because it is absolutely imperative that we treat our homes with these chemicals for fire-safety, regularly exposing ourselves and our children on a day to day basis. Instead of investigating safe alternatives to teratogenic compounds, manufacturers parasitically profit off our necessity, keeping their chemical compositions a secret to prevent being forced to spend more on research and development of new, safe compounds.

Whether you side with moral ideals or parasitic advancement, is either party inherently correct? Morality is thought to be correct because society rewards our moral behavior with sustained unity. Can we also say social parasitism is correct because society rewards parasitism with personal advancement? If what is inherently correct is what society rewards, who won the argument in Rameau’s Nephew? If society does not exclusively reward what is inherently correct, what is correct?



Diderot’s Background for “Rameau’s Nephew” – group 5

Our group thought that it may be useful to understand Diderot as an author to get a better idea of his perspective on certain topics. After reading a quick biography we found Diderot was considered a brilliant student and was pushed to fulfill a career working for the church. Diderot abandoned this and focused on studying law and philosophy. His family strongly disagreed with his decision, and were  disappointed with him. This could be portrayed in some of his works showing the importance of individual choice and pride in one’s decisions. 

Diderot was a French philosopher and compiled information with a goal to further knowledge for all. He focused much of his time translating works, tutoring, and reading to expand his knowledge. He had this idea that he needed to give the world a general idea of everything. He created an encyclopedia so people knew a general idea of the capabilities we have as people and what we know. Diderot was known for his comedic writings and sarcastic tales. His sarcasm comes into “Romeau’s Nephew” and even though has a sarcastic tone, it still underlines some important lesson. Based on this reading he differs from other philosophers who write much more serious and focused on establishing laws rather than using a story or dialogue to convey something.

Overall we think the importance is that Diderot had an interesting life where he was able to learn and explore things on his own. His works are trying take some aspects of unique stories to describe new ways of thinking.

East to Enlightenment

In HUMN 221-09 this week, we’re turning to Rameau’s Nephew, a philosophical dialogue written by a major Enlightenment figure, Denis Diderot.

Just in time for our discussion comes a riveting combination of historical research, philosophy, and personal confession that simultaneously provides some useful background on the Enlightenment, exemplifies a style of writing that the Enlightenment helped create, and asks us to consider what this pivotal Western intellectual movement may have owed to non-Western influences.

Alison Gopnick’s “How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis: David Hume, the Buddha, and a search for the Eastern roots of the Western Enlightenment” appears in the October issue of The Atlantic.

John Locke ….Revolution or Remodeling


Kimberly Leffler

Group 3

At first, one may be confused to read Section 159 of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government because it is somewhat contradictory to the rest of the paper. The purpose of the paper as a whole was to criticize monarchial government and suggest a completely new form of government to take its place. In section 159 John Locke suggests a “moderated monarchy.” The monarchy would be limited in terms of political power though, which actually is a reasonable spring board to start from when considering the time period.

Locke recognizes that the government requires limitations. The Prerogative is the name of the chapter containing this section and it perfectly encompasses this idea. The monarch would obviously have the executive power and ability to change laws with the changing society. This fits in with the prerogative because though the monarch would have executive power, the government would also maintain checks and balances to check this power. A system of checks and balances maintains the government concern for the common welfare of all citizens. Though the executive branch would have a great deal of power, it is checked by another branch of government according to Locke, the legislative branch of government.

Although Locke claims to be very anti monarch, he is not. He is simply anti the current form of monarchy at that time. Locke’s ideas were truly visionary considering nothing had been in place under these terms before. Locke pioneered the pathway, which led to the US government as it stands today. Some of the core ideas Locke presented remain core ideas in the United States government. Although Locke’s ideas were innovative, they were nothing shy of a moderated monarchy. Locke’s idea of government was not actually a new form of government, simply a moderated one, proved in his section 159.