POLS 2900 Feb. 26- Rousseau's social contract II.doc
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Tuesday, February 26, 2013
ROUSSEAU: THE SOCIAL CONTRACT
•Forcing one to be free: by compelling someone to arrive at a decision, they can be made
free through coercion
•Rousseau did not say that the particular will is irrational or that other impulses are
irrational. The particular will, like the general will, can be rational. Rational goods and
wants for ourselves.
•The public good can be known, with certainty, because it is objective. But only known by
those who possess esoteric knowledge – knowable only to philosophers.
•Sovereignty is inalienable and indivisible- sovereigns can make laws
•It is wrong to delegate the law-making power to a smaller group. You cannot trust them
because they possess a private will. There is risk that those who use it will use it to
benefit themselves at your expense. It is only appropriate if ALL citizens participate in
•Are people ever mistaken about their interests? Can the sovereign get it wrong, even
though they wanted to do the right thing? Rousseau distinguishes this as the will of all-
the sum of private wills. We arrive at the will of all by adding what each person wants for
himself or herself together, in order to arrive at a public agenda. It is an aggregation of
private interests. The will of all may look general, but it is not general, according to
Rousseau, because the interests are private. They concern only the individuals who
identify with them. The will of all turns the public agenda into a wish list. And every
member of the community gets to place their private interests on the list. The general will
is general because it concerns everyone. It requires all members of the community to
think about what each wants as a citizen, rather than what each wants as a private
Particular Will and General Will
•A will is particular when the object of some good is good for myself alone. It only
concerns me and not anyone else. E.g. my preference to have tea or coffee in the morning
is a particular will because it concerns only me and no one else.
•Public power should be used to deliver the general good
•The principle is: holding a vote. The general will is identified through the majority
decision. How can you be certain of this? You cannot be certain. There is nothing
magical about a majority decision. Rousseau writes: it presupposes that the characters of
the general will is present in the majority. If the majority has stopped thinking like
citizens, then it does not matter if the minority is right or wrong about the general will. At
that point, the conditions necessary to preserve all citizens have disappeared.
•Politics creates conditions under which persons of a certain character are created. The
point of politics is to preserve this character of politics in this certain body.
•Politics are factions because each party is present to advance the interests of their party.
E.g. you can count on the NDP to support unions and count on the Conservatives to
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