Rousseau's Soteriology: Deliverance at the Crossroads

Religious Studies 32 (1):79 - 91 (1996)
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Abstract

Rousseau, I argue, held both the belief that humans are not naturally corrupt and the belief that humans do inevitably corrupt themselves. I explore these two outlooks by locating Rousseau at the crossroads of Enlightenment optimism and Augustinian pessimism -- a juncture from which Rousseau could remind us of our responsibility for ourselves and our powerlessness to transform ourselves radically. In opposition to the standard interpretations of Rousseau, I show that Rousseau held that human wickedness springs not solely from social structures but from the human breast. Lodged within the human heart is a natural, fallen condition that makes our failures empirically inevitable, yet not ontologically necessary.

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