The Social Contract | Study Guide

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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The Social Contract | Glossary


civil society: a formal arrangement of individuals into a cooperative group

common good: good for all, rather than the particularized goods of the individual will

general will: also known as the Sovereign, the abstract idea that aims at preserving and promoting the common good

government: also known as the executive branch, the body that implements the laws. It is the government's role to ensure that everyone respect the general will.

individual will: an individual's particular self-interests

law: the expression of the general will, applicable to citizens generally

liberty: in the state of nature, according to Rousseau, an individual's license to do what they want. A legitimate civil society preserves that freedom in the general will.

social contract: the agreement among individuals to form a civil society. For Rousseau a legitimate social contract preserves liberty and equality.

sovereign: the legislative voice of the citizens. The Sovereign articulates the general will.

state of nature: the condition of human beings, independent of all civil society

will of all: the sum of individual wills, not to be confused with the general will

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