Essays On Rousseau Social Contract

Generally included with Hobbes and Locke is a third theorist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). 48., he famously argues we have a natural right to private property by mixing our labor with land.

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Who was not allowed to sign the contract or help create its terms?

In many societies, women and non-Europeans were intentionally excluded, and certainly many individuals and groups of people would not consent to much of many governments’ policies and practices, past or present.

A seemingly rational and practical concept in its general form, the social contract theory began to lose its luster as its proponents clashed over what form the State should take and what rights, if any, the individual should retain.

During this period of intense conflict, French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau produced a seminal work entitled “The Social Contract.” In it Rousseau proposes a visionary society in which all rights and property would be vested in the State, which would be under the direct control of “the People.” Large meetings of the public would be held in order to determine the collective interest as perceived by the “general will”; this the State would then dutifully enforce.

When you make an agreement of some significance (e.g., to rent an apartment, or join a gym, or divorce), you typically agree to certain terms: you sign a contract.

This is for your benefit, and for the the other party’s benefit: everyone’s expectations are clear, as are the consequences of failing to meet those expectations. Most think it would be very bad: after all, there would be no officials to punish anyone who did anything bad to us, resulting in no deterrent for bad behavior: it’d be every man, woman and child for him or herself, it seems.

This ambiguity is rather symptomatic of the contradictions underlying Rousseau’s entire essay.

His work is particularly vulnerable in three essential areas: the formulation of the “general will,” the subordination of individual rights, and the validity of the “social contract” concept.

Do citizens agree simply by enjoying the benefits of things only made possible by living in society?

For example, being able to drive on public roads is a benefit.


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