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The General Will

The general will is the key to Rousseau's social contract theory. He stated that any legitimate state must be based on the general will. All laws and actions the state undertakes must be in accordance with it.

The general will is the will of the sum of individual wills. In principle, a person can follow it and still follow their will, since they helped to form it. Individually, a person understands that the greater good is also in their interest, resulting in no friction between their interests and the society's interests.


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Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss Enlightenment philosopher who argued passionately for democracy, equality, liberty and supporting the common good.

Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712. He wrote several major works on politics, education, music and botany. But his controve...


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Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Ideas Can Broaden Our Thinking

As with most political philosophy, the real concern is how his big ideas are considered in our society.

Whenever we discuss topics like what it takes for a government to be legitimate, if modern society is good for us, or what we think should be subject to a vote, we draw ...


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The Social Contract Theory

If the state of nature is so pleasant and people in it so moral, why would anybody create a society or join up with one?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau suggested this natural evolution is the result of the need for individuals to cooperate. However, forming societies takes...


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The Individual Will And The General Will

The shift between being able to follow the individual will and the general will is not so easy to establish.

Finding the general will is based on three approaches.

  • A highly democratic model is where citizenry discusses legislation at town hall meetings. Magistrate...


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Questioning If Society Provides Anything Beneficial

Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that human nature only becomes corrupted after we move into society.

  • He thought problems like theft could only be problems after society formed.
  • He argues that art and science haven't improved most people's moral fibre.
  • ...


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Living In A Rousseauan Society

The positive:

  • The general will could ensure an equal society.
  • Major inequalities would be absent.
  • It would be a small society, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau feared a large country would not find the common cause.
  • People would be able to act free...


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Examples Of A Near Rousseauan Society

  • In practice, the Quakers got the closest to a Jean-Jacques Rousseauan society even though it is a religious notion unrelated to Rousseau's philosophy. The Quakers seek God's will through discussion and end up in agreement on what it is.
  • The French Revolution can be viewed as an att...


38 reads

The State of Nature

Jean-Jacques Rousseau speculated about what the world was like before societies were created. It was important for political philosophers as it could be used to explain the motivation for creating and supporting a state.

Rousseau suggested that the state of nature was a morally neu...


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The Individual Will And The General Will

The shift between being able to follow the individual will and the general will is not so easy to establish.

Finding the general will is based on three approaches.

  • A highly democratic model is where citizenry discusses legislation at town hall meetings. Magistrate...

Paris: the centre of new ideas

Paris: the centre of new ideas

Funding and feedback by salon patrons encouraged philosophers to put their ideas on paper.

  • In 1748, Montesquieu published Spirit of the Laws, which advocated a separation of governmental powers.
  • In 1751, Diderot helped create the Encyclopédie, among the fir...

Winning the general election

  • The sheer number of votes received by each candidate will not determine the winning of the 3 November general election.
  • It goes down to the Electoral College - officials or "electors" who vote on behalf of the states for president. Each state is worth several electors proportionate t...

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