Ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, by Theme

[Swiss, 1712 - 1778, Born in Geneva. Died in Paris.]

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2. Reason / A. Nature of Reason / 9. Limits of Reason
Reason leads to prudent selfishness, which overrules natural compassion
2. Reason / B. Laws of Thought / 2. Sufficient Reason
Both nature and reason require that everything has a cause
11. Knowledge Aims / A. Knowledge / 1. Knowledge
No one would bother to reason, and try to know things, without a desire for enjoyment
15. Nature of Minds / C. Capacities of Minds / 5. Generalisation by mind
General ideas are purely intellectual; imagining them is immediately particular
Only words can introduce general ideas into the mind
18. Thought / D. Concepts / 5. Concepts and Language / a. Concepts and language
Language may aid thinking, but powerful thought was needed to produce language
21. Aesthetics / A. Aesthetic Experience / 4. Beauty
Without love, what use is beauty?
22. Metaethics / B. The Good / 1. Goodness / h. Good as benefit
If we should not mistreat humans, it is mainly because of sentience, not rationality
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 1. Nature of Ethics / g. Moral responsibility
Without freedom of will actions lack moral significance
22. Metaethics / C. Ethics Foundations / 2. Source of Ethics / b. Rational ethics
Rational morality is OK for brainy people, but ordinary life can't rely on that
23. Ethics / B. Contract Ethics / 2. Golden Rule
The better Golden Rule is 'do good for yourself without harming others'
23. Ethics / C. Virtue Theory / 3. Virtues / f. Compassion
The fact that we weep (e.g. in theatres) shows that we are naturally compassionate
23. Ethics / F. Existentialism / 6. Authentic Self
Feelings are prior to intelligence; we should be content to live with our simplest feelings
24. Political Theory / A. Basis of a State / 1. A People / a. Human distinctiveness
Humans are less distinguished from other animals by understanding, than by being free agents
24. Political Theory / A. Basis of a State / 1. A People / b. The natural life
Most human ills are self-inflicted; the simple, solitary, regular natural life is good
Primitive man was very gentle
Is language a pre-requisite for society, or might it emerge afterwards?
I doubt whether a savage person ever complains of life, or considers suicide
Savages avoid evil because they are calm, and never think of it (not because they know goodness)
Savage men quietly pursue desires, without the havoc of modern frenzied imagination
Leisure led to envy, inequality, vice and revenge, which we now see in savages
Our two starting principles are concern for self-interest, and compassion for others
Natural mankind is too fragmented for states of peace, or of war and enmity
24. Political Theory / A. Basis of a State / 1. A People / c. A unified people
Rousseau assumes that laws need a people united by custom and tradition [Wolff,J]
The act of becoming 'a people' is the real foundation of society
To overcome obstacles, people must unite their forces into a single unified power
Human nature changes among a people, into a moral and partial existence
24. Political Theory / A. Basis of a State / 2. Population / b. State population
A state must be big enough to preserve itself, but small enough to be governable
Too much land is a struggle, producing defensive war; too little makes dependence, and offensive war
If the state enlarges, the creators of the general will become less individually powerful
If the population is larger, the government needs to be more powerful
24. Political Theory / A. Basis of a State / 3. Natural Values / a. Natural freedom
A savage can steal fruit or a home, but there is no means of achieving obedience
No man has any natural authority over his fellows
Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains
24. Political Theory / A. Basis of a State / 3. Natural Values / b. Natural equality
In a state of nature people are much more equal; it is society which increases inequalities
It is against nature for children to rule old men, fools to rule the wise, and the rich to hog resources
24. Political Theory / B. Nature of a State / 1. Purpose of a State
A state's purpose is liberty and equality - liberty for strength, and equality for liberty
The greatest social good comes down to freedom and equality
The measure of a successful state is increase in its population
24. Political Theory / B. Nature of a State / 2. State Legitimacy / a. Sovereignty
People accept the right to be commanded, because they themselves wish to command
Rousseau insists that popular sovereignty needs a means of expressing consent [Oksala]
The sovereignty does not appoint the leaders
Sovereignty is the exercise of the general will, which can never be delegated
Just as people control their limbs, the general-will state has total control of its members
Political laws are fundamental, as they firmly organise the state - but they could still be changed
24. Political Theory / B. Nature of a State / 2. State Legitimacy / b. Natural authority
Force can only dominate if it is seen as a right, and obedience as a duty
24. Political Theory / B. Nature of a State / 2. State Legitimacy / c. Social contract
The social order is a sacred right, but based on covenants, not nature
The government is instituted by a law, not by a contract
24. Political Theory / B. Nature of a State / 2. State Legitimacy / d. General will
The social pact is the total subjection of individuals to the general will
We need a protective association which unites forces, but retains individual freedom
To foreign powers a state is seen as a simple individual
The act of association commits citizens to the state, and the state to its citizens
Individual citizens still retain a private will, which may be contrary to the general will
Citizens must ultimately for forced to accept the general will (so freedom is compulsory!)
The general will is common interest; the will of all is the sum of individual desires
The general will is always right, but the will of all can err, because it includes private interests
If the state contains associations there are fewer opinions, undermining the general will
If a large knowledgeable population votes in isolation, their many choices will have good results
The general will changes its nature when it focuses on particulars
The general will is always good, but sometimes misunderstood
Laws are authentic acts of the general will
Assemblies must always confirm the form of government, and the current administration
The more unanimous the assembly, the stronger the general will becomes
24. Political Theory / B. Nature of a State / 4. Citizenship
We all owe labour in return for our keep, and every idle citizen is a thief
Citizens should be independent of each other, and very dependent on the state
A citizen is a subject who is also sovereign
24. Political Theory / B. Nature of a State / 5. Culture
We seem to have made individual progress since savagery, but actually the species has decayed
The flourishing of arts and letters is too much admired
24. Political Theory / C. Ruling a State / 2. Leaders / b. Monarchy
Ancient monarchs were kings of peoples; modern monarchs more cleverly rule a land
The highest officers under a monarchy are normally useless; the public could choose much better
Hereditary monarchy is easier, but can lead to dreadful monarchs
Attempts to train future kings don't usually work, and the best have been unprepared
24. Political Theory / C. Ruling a State / 2. Leaders / d. Elites
Natural aristocracy is primitive, and hereditary is dreadful, but elective aristocracy is best
Natural aristocracy is primitive, hereditary is bad, and elective aristocracy is the best
Large states need a nobility to fill the gap between a single prince and the people
24. Political Theory / C. Ruling a State / 3. Government / a. Government
The state has a legislature and an executive, just like the will and physical power in a person
Law makers and law implementers should be separate
24. Political Theory / C. Ruling a State / 3. Government / c. Executive
I call the executive power the 'government', which is the 'prince' - a single person, or a group
24. Political Theory / C. Ruling a State / 3. Government / d. Size of government
Large populations needs stronger control, which means power should be concentrated
Democracy for small states, aristocracy for intermediate, monarchy for large
24. Political Theory / C. Ruling a State / 4. Changing the State / c. Revolution
Revolutionaries usually confuse liberty with total freedom, and end up with heavier chains
If inhabitants are widely dispersed, organising a revolt is much more difficult
The state is not bound to leave civil authority to its leaders
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 5. Democracy / a. Nature of democracy
If the sovereign entrusts government to at least half the citizens, that is 'democracy'
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 5. Democracy / b. Consultation
Plebiscites are bad, because they exclude the leaders from crucial decisions
Silence of the people implies their consent
Democratic elections are dangerous intervals in government
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 5. Democracy / c. Direct democracy
In a direct democracy, only the leaders should be able to propose new laws
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 5. Democracy / d. Representative democracy
The English are actually slaves in between elections
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 5. Democracy / e. Democratic minorities
Minorities only accept majority-voting because of a prior unanimous agreement
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 5. Democracy / f. Against democracy
Democracy leads to internal strife, as people struggle to maintain or change ways of ruling
When ministers change the state changes, because they always reverse policies
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 9. Communism
The nature of people is decided by the government and politics of their society
24. Political Theory / D. Ideologies / 10. Theocracy
In early theocracies the god was the king, and there were as many gods as nations
25. Social Practice / A. Freedoms / 1. Slavery
Enslaved peoples often boast of their condition, calling it a state of 'peace'
If the child of a slave woman is born a slave, then a man is not born a man
People must be made dependent before they can be enslaved
Sometimes full liberty is only possible at the expense of some complete enslavement
We can never assume that the son of a slave is a slave
25. Social Practice / A. Freedoms / 5. Freedom of lifestyle
Like rich food, liberty can ruin people who are too weak to cope with it
Appetite alone is slavery, and self-prescribed laws are freedom
25. Social Practice / B. Equalities / 1. Grounds of equality
Three stages of the state produce inequalities of wealth, power, and enslavement
The social compact imposes conventional equality of rights on people who may start unequally
25. Social Practice / B. Equalities / 4. Economic equality
The pleasure of wealth and power is largely seeing others deprived of them
No citizen should be rich enough to buy another, and none so poor as forced to sell himself
25. Social Practice / C. Rights / 3. Alienating rights
If we all give up all of our rights together to the community, we will always support one another
In society man loses natural liberty, but gains a right to civil liberty and property
We alienate to society only what society needs - but society judges that, not us
25. Social Practice / C. Rights / 4. Property rights
Persuading other people that some land was 'owned' was the beginning of society
What else could property arise from, but the labour people add to it?
Land cultivation led to a general right of ownership, administered justly
If we have a natural right to property, what exactly does 'belonging to' mean?
Private property must always be subordinate to ownership by the whole community
25. Social Practice / D. Justice / 2. The Law / a. Legal system
The state ensures liberty, so civil law separates citizens, and binds them to the state
25. Social Practice / D. Justice / 2. The Law / c. Natural law
Writers just propose natural law as the likely useful agreements among people
Natural justice, without sanctions, benefits the wicked, who exploit it
25. Social Practice / D. Justice / 3. Punishment / a. Right to punish
We accept the death penalty to prevent assassinations, so we must submit to it if necessary
A trial proves that a criminal has broken the social treaty, and is no longer a member of the state
25. Social Practice / D. Justice / 3. Punishment / b. Retribution for crime
Primitive people simply redressed the evil caused by violence, without thought of punishing
25. Social Practice / D. Justice / 3. Punishment / c. Deterrence of crime
Only people who are actually dangerous should be executed, even as an example
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 1. War / b. Justice in war
War gives no right to inflict more destruction than is necessary for victory
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 1. War / c. Combatants
Wars are between States, not people, and the individuals are enemies by accident
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 1. War / e. Peace
A state of war remains after a conquest, if the losers don't accept the winners
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 2. Religion in Society
By separating theological and political systems, Jesus caused divisions in the state
Every society has a religion as its base
Civil religion needs one supreme god, an afterlife, justice, and the sanctity of the social contract
All religions should be tolerated, if they tolerate each other, and support citizenship
25. Social Practice / E. Policies / 4. Taxation
The amount of taxation doesn't matter, if it quickly circulates back to the citizens
25. Social Practice / F. Life Issues / 6. Animal Rights
Both men and animals are sentient, which should give the latter the right not to be mistreated
26. Natural Theory / B. Natural Kinds / 2. Defining Kinds
Men started with too few particular names, but later had too few natural kind names
27. Natural Reality / G. Biology / 3. Evolution
Small uninterrupted causes can have big effects
29. Religion / B. Monotheistic Religion / 4. Christianity / a. Christianity
A tyrant exploits Christians because they don't value this life, and are made to be slaves