Rameau’s Nephew. Dialogue as Gesamtkunstwerk for Enlightenment

(with constant reference to Plato)
  • Allan Janik
Part of the Artificial Intelligence and Society book series (HCS)


The idea that Enlightenment could have anything whatsoever to do with art, not to mention humor, strikes us today, at the end of the twentieth century, as wholly implausible. What could Woody Allen have to do with emancipation? we ask. Thus Diderot’s “dialogue of language and gesture” seems at first glance to have precious little to do with Enlightenment. This fictional account of an imaginary encounter between a philosophe and a parasite, who calls all that is nearest and dearest to the heart of the conventionally ‘enlightened’ idealist into question, therefore strikes us today as a scurrilously delightful, debunking dramatization of how boringly pompous morality usually is and how much more exciting it is to be naughty than to ‘behave ourselves’: “imagine a world wise and philosophical, admit that it would be devilishly sad. Behave, long live philosophy, long live the wisdom of Solomon: drink some good wine, gorge yourself with delicious morsels, roll on pretty women, lay down on soft beds. That apart the rest is only vanity” (456–457).1 Yet, Rameau’s Nephew hardly impresses us at first glance as an important philosophical statement about the complexities of Enlightenment. Nevertheless, the reasons why we tend to miss the point have more to do with our typically one-sided understanding, not only of Enlightenment, but of the relationship between art and philosophy at the end of the twentieth century, i.e., in a period that must rediscover what was once called practical philosophy, than they do with Rameau’s Nephew itself.


Filial Piety Vienna Circle Practical Philosophy Spiritual Exercise Fictional Account 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Denis Diderot, he Neveu de Rameau, Oeuvres romanesques, ed. Lucette Perol (Paris: Gamier, 1981), 423–520, hereafter referred to parenthetically in the text. The translation is my own.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    David Hume, A Treatise on Human Understanding, ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1888), 2,3, 3, 415.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    See Brian Mcguinness, “Freud And Wittgenstein,” Wittgenstein And His Times, Ed. B.F. Mcguinness (Chicago, University Of Chicago Press, 1982), 27–43.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    See Allan Janik, “Psychoanalysis: Science Literature or Art?”, Style, Politics and the Future of Philosophy (Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 114; Dordrecht aanndd Boston, London: Kluwer, 1989), 190–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 24.
    Jean Starobiriski, “Sur l’emploi du chiasme dans Le Neveu de Rameau,” Revue de Métaphysique et de Moral, 1984, 182–196.Google Scholar
  6. 33.
    Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, ed. G.E.M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell’s, 1953, 1, 7.Google Scholar
  7. 34.
    Herbert Josephs, Le Neveu de Rameau: Diderot’s Dialogue of Language and Gesture (n.p.: Ohio University Press, 1969), 23–38; 43–62.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Allan Janik

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations