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POLS 2900 Feb. 12- Rousseau's social contract.doc

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York University
Political Science
POLS 2900
Stephen Newman

1 POLS 2900 Tuesday, February 12, 2013 ROUSSEAU: THE SOCIAL CONTRACT • There is the rich and the poor, and the poor becomes dependent on the rich, and the rich compete against one another • Political states are formed commonwealths Government • Incipient government – where rules that need to be obeyed. That was the first government. Degrees of Inequality • First, the establishment of law and property- inequality between rich and poor. This occurs before government. • Then, the government and the creation of majesty- creating offices, rulers and rule. • Then, the transformation of power- creating masters and slaves. • Finally, despotism • In the beginning, everyone was equal. In the end, all private persons become equal again. They are all equally subject to the powers of the despot. • The end is a mirror image of the original, where the end is corrupt and the original is pure. Rousseau’s Arguments • “People who know how to live only in the opinion of others”- people who lived in the middle period did not have to worry about others’ opinions. But people today only love themselves if only others love them. Reflecting what others think. • The savage, original human being has a healthy regard for its own preservation. A civilized human being is consumed by egocentrism (humans’ sickness). It has become part of us. It is us. If it cannot be exorcized, then perhaps it can be controlled. But Rousseau does not tell us how. • Rousseau says we started off very pure and good, but now we are corrupt and perfectly miserable. Rousseau’s Social Contract • This is an attempt to demonstrate how we might create a government or an organized society to generate laws. One that is legitimate and effective. o Make justice compatible with utility • Rousseau faces the same problems as Hobbes and Locke- the problem: modern human beings are self-interested. In fact, Rousseau thinks we are more egocentric than Hobbes and Locke. And the primacy of self-interest means that there are situations where the right thing conflicts with what is best for me. • The Social Contract is split into 4 sections. The first book begins with: “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”. He is not speaking about people who are literally slaves. 2 • Rousseau is saying that civilization is bondage. Because of civilization, the people we have become are doubly ensnared. Social practices create master and slave. Human nature makes us
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