Social Contract Theory

Social Contract Theory - Social Contract Theory Jean...

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Social Contract Theory Jean Jacques Rousseau
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Rousseau’s Biography Rousseau was both a child of the Enlightenment as well as one of its most fierce critics. Born in Geneva in 1712, which was then an independent fiercely-Calvinist stronghold outside both France and the Swiss Confederation Rousseau began his career as a writer and an admirer of Voltaire and an enthusiastic contributor to his friend Diderot’s Encyclopedia
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Biography He first came to fame as author of a short essay called the Discourse on the Arts and Sciences , which he wrote in 1750, and submitted to the Academy of Dijon in an essay competition The topic: a response to the question posed by the Academy as to whether the arts and sciences have a purifying effect upon morals His work ended up winning first prize. In this essay he launches a frontal attack on one of the movement’s central tenets, namely the idea that human progress is identified with scientific knowledge and the spread of civilized manners.
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Significant Works His next work, the Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality depicted civilized man as artificial, unhappy, and servile, the victim of passions that are unknown in nature. His later works included his classic political treatise called the Social Contract which explored the ways men and women might overcome or escape this disordered and degenerate social state through a radical restructuring of the social and political order. Rousseau’s social contract was yet another version of the theory, which infused classical republican ideals with modern notions of human rights, giving us the idea of law as the expression of people’s collective will.
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Significant Works The authority of government, according to Rousseau, is based on consent that is periodically and actively renewed by citizens. The model of government in the Social Contract is that of small, independent city-states, since Rousseau believed that true republican democracy could never take place in the large, modern nation-state: only in smaller social units does one understand the notions of radical equality and participation. In Rousseau’s social contract, everyone is literally the author of the laws.
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Rousseau’s Methodology Notice the difference between the Anglo- American analytic style of Locke/Hobbes and Rousseau’s “Continental” tradition. Locke & Hobbes: clear, simple, crisp arguments based on airtight logic Rousseau: long, meandering, descriptive narratives based on a series of assertions, but much more poetic and sentimental in style, much more emotive, speaking to human soul.
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The “Counter-Enlightenment” Rousseau as a child of the Enlightenment: incorporates liberal ideals of rights, sovereignty, radical freedom, egalitarianism and democracy (mostly in his Social Contract ) Rousseau as a critic of the Enlightenment: Rousseau criticizes of the Enlightenment’s faith in human reason and in the association of reason with development
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Social Contract Theory - Social Contract Theory Jean...

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