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POLI 365 - Lecture: Rousseau 1 (Feb. 11)

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McGill University
Political Science
POLI 365
Jason Scott Ferrell

Rousseau – The Social Contract − emphasis on community rather than individuals − controversial − alternative to liberalism? − provides a defence of democracy that has inspired dramatically different political ideologies − why? Bio 1712-1778 − lived/worked during Enlightenment − born into Geneva − begins producing significant work in thirties − provoked provocative responses from scholars of his day − accepted many assumptions of Enlightenment; however, he derives different conclusions − he challenges his peers by taking their starting assumptions and deriving the opposite conclusion as them − ex. common assumption of Enlightenment concerns idea of progress − humanity has capability to better ourselves, and we are actually doing so − if we can only figure out what our needs and interests are, we can better arrange society − Rousseau's response: humanity's advances is followed by moral degradation − Discourses on Arts and Science (First Discourse): cultivation of arts and sciences made humanity worse-off morally; they have fuelled a self-centredness which cuts at man's sense of community − people seek affirmation not in themselves, but in the opinion of others − Discourses on the Origins of Inequality (Second Discourse): analyzing industrial revolution; sees it as rupturing human society − he sees disparity of wealth as leading to distinctions that entail vanity, self-obsession − rather than cultivating character, wealth in the arts and sciences end up debasing character − life is rendered atomistic and asocial − Ferrell: Rousseau is not hostile to liberalism, so much as certain assumptions of liberalism (Newtonian worldview, mechanism, etc.) The Social Contract − to try to determine the legitimate basis of community − source of controversy: believes the political societies that were present at the time basically illegitimate − the way those societies were set up creates intolerable circumstances − three basic themes: 1) Critique of other contract theorists − Grotius Critique of 'Might Makes Right' − illegitimate, because force does not logically lead to moral authority − force is an act of necessity, not an act of will − seems to indicate that being moral involves choice (autonomy) − moral acts involve an element of intentionality − to remove intentionality from the act, to make it necessary or unavoidable, is to remove its moral character − to obey out of force, you do not do so out of duty − it is tantamount to removing all morality from his actions − furthermore, might makes right encourages immoral actions − we are incentivized to accumulate as much power as possible, until we have enough 'might' to overthrow our ruler − this is an arbitrary and silly justification for rule − thus, might cannot provide a moral justification for ruling, nor can it provide a moral obligation to obey − one implication of this critique: legitimate authority must be based on consent − thus, convention remains the only basis for legitimate authority among men Is this right? What about paternalism? Usually, we think it is okay for parents to exercise 'might makes right' authority. Critique of 'Alienating Self-Freedom” − a community cannot voluntarily renounce its own freedom to an individual − see discussion of slavery (Ch. IV?) − such 'contracts' are wrong because it lacks reciprocity − this
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