Rousseauian constructivism

Journal of the History of Philosophy 35 (4):545-562 (1997)
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Rousseauian Constructivism JON MANDLE ROUSSEAU'S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY focusses on the idea of the general will. Unfortunately, it often seems as though this central idea raises more questions than it answers. This paper will develop an interpretation of Rousseau's politi- cal philosophy that starts from an understanding of the general will. I do not claim that this reading solves all of the paradoxical and difficult aspects of Rousseau's moral and political thought. For example, I do not discuss his ac- count of freedom or his theory of moral education. However, I believe that it is necessary to understand Rousseau's notion of the general will properly before addressing these other topics. As Judith Shklar writes: "The general will is Rousseau's most successful metaphor. It conveys everything he most wanted to say."' Patrick Riley has demonstrated that the notion of a general will has its origins in theological disputes. But, as Riley also notes, there are a number of possible approaches to Rousseau, "each one laden with real fruit. One can approach Rousseau as the high point of the social contract tradition. ''~ In this paper, I present an account of the general will which at- tempts to identify more clearly Rousseau's position in this social contract tradi- tion, especially through a contrast with Hobbes. As I demonstrate in the con- cluding section, a proper understanding of the general will reveals important connections to..



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Jon Mandle
State University of New York, Albany

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