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J.-J. Rousseau on Social Contract - Dictionary of Arguments

Höffe I 273
Social Contract/Rousseau/Höffe: In contrast to his contract-theoretical predecessors Hobbes, Spinoza and Locke, references to the Old and New Testament no longer play a role. The confessional wars are long over, but censorship still prevails.
State: The counter-model that [Rousseau] has devised for the alienated societies is the bourgeois
Höffe I 274
order in the sense of a state, for which he does not develop a natural history, but only examines its justification(1).
Individualism: In doing so, he follows the legitimatory individualism of his predecessors in contract theory. The final basis for the justification of a community that is nevertheless entitled to coercive powers lies with the individual concerned: Each individual must freely consent.
Natural state: RousseauVsHobbes/RousseauVsSpinoza: In contrast to Hobbes and Spinoza, but in agreement with Locke, the natural state for Rousseau is not a state of war. The natural state loses its central meaning. >State/Rousseau, >Human/Rousseau.
Höffe I 275
Because [the] basic treaty is concluded unanimously, Rousseau can, despite his first state theory thesis that every human being is born free and as master of him- or herself (>Freedom/Rousseau), put forward the fourth thesis of the legitimacy (>Justification/Rousseau) of a community with the power of coercion. Because of the unanimity, the social contract may even be considered "the freest act in the world"(2). >Freedom/Rousseau.
Höffe I 277
Justification: Under Rousseau's own principle of self-preservation, the social contract is only worthy of approval if it guarantees (not only physically understood) self-preservation, at least not endangers it. >Justification/Rousseau.


1. Rousseau, The Social Contract (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique), 1762

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Wilson I 24
Social Contract/Rousseau/Wilson, E. O.: Rousseau had issued the slogan "Freedom, Equality, Fraternity" in his social contract.
E. O. WilsonVsRousseau: at the same time he had conceived the fatal abstraction of "collective will" in order to achieve these goals. This collective will, he wrote, forms itself into a "moral law which is objectively justified", since it is the only interest of the "rational will of free individuals" to serve the welfare of society and each of its members.
This social contract should create "equal conditions for all". "Each one of us places together his or her person and all of his or her strength under the supreme direction of the common will, and we accept each member as an inseparable part of the whole."
Wilson: Those who did not want to give in to this collective will were regarded as dissenters and had to face the "necessary violence" exercised by the assembly.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Rousseau I
J. J. Rousseau
Les Confessions, 1765-1770, publ. 1782-1789
German Edition:
The Confessions 1953

Höffe I
Otfried Höffe
Geschichte des politischen Denkens München 2016

WilsonEO I
E. O. Wilson
Consilience. The Unity of Knowledge, New York 1998
German Edition:
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge New York 1998


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-08-01
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