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Rousseau remained with Mme de Warens through the rest of the s, moving to Lyon in to take up a position as a tutor. In he travelled to Paris, having devised a plan for a new numerically-based system of musical notation which he presented to the Academy of Sciences. The system was rejected by the Academy, but in this period Rousseau met Denis Diderot. In , while walking to Vincennes to visit the briefly-imprisoned Diderot, Rousseau came across a newspaper announcement of an essay competition organized by the Academy of Dijon. The Academy sought submissions on the theme of whether the development of the arts and sciences had improved or corrupted public morals.

Rousseau later claimed that he then and there experienced an epiphany which included the thought, central to his world view, that humankind is good by nature but is corrupted by society. Rousseau entered his Discourse on the Sciences and Arts conventionally known as the First Discourse for the competition and won first prize with his contrarian thesis that social development, including of the arts and sciences, is corrosive of both civic virtue and individual moral character.

The Discourse was published in and is mainly important because Rousseau used it to introduce themes that he then developed further in his later work, especially the natural virtue of the ordinary person and the moral corruption fostered by the urge to distinction and excellence. The First Discourse made Rousseau famous and provoked a series of responses to which he in turn replied. The first of these was his opera Le Devin du Village The Village Soothsayer , which was an immediate success and stayed in the repertoire for a century.

Rousseau, who had already developed a taste for Italian music during his stay in Venice, joined the dispute through his Letter on French Music and the controversy also informed his unpublished Essay on the Origin of Languages. Rousseau went so far as to declare the French language inherently unmusical, a view apparently contradicted by his own practice in Le Devin. In he regained this citizenship by reconverting to Calvinism. In the following year he published his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality , again in response to an essay competition from the Academy of Dijon.

Julie appeared in and was an immediate success. The novel is centred on a love triangle between Julie, her tutor Saint Preux and her husband Wolmar. Unfortunately for Rousseau, the publication of these works led to personal catastrophe. Emile was condemned in Paris and both Emile and The Social Contract were condemned in Geneva on grounds of religious heterodoxy. Partly in response to this, Rousseau finally renounced his Genevan citizenship in May Rousseau was forced to flee to escape arrest, seeking refuge first in Switzerland and later, in January , at the invitation of David Hume, travelling to England. He spent fourteen months in Staffordshire where he worked on his autobiographical work, the Confessions , which also contains evidence of his paranoia in its treatment of figures like Diderot and the German author Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm.

He returned to France in and then spent much of the rest of his life working on autobiographical texts, completing the Confessions but also composing the Dialogues: Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques and The Reveries of the Solitary Walker. He also completed his Considerations on the Government of Poland in this period. In later life he further developed his interest in botany where his work proved influential in England via his letters on the subject to the Duchess of Portland and in music, as he met and corresponded with the operatic composer Christoph Gluck. Rousseau died in Rousseau repeatedly claims that a single idea is at the centre of his world view, namely, that human beings are good by nature but are rendered corrupt by society.

Unfortunately, despite the alleged centrality of this claim, it is difficult to give it a clear and plausible interpretation. One obvious problem is present from the start: since society, the alleged agent of corruption, is composed entirely of naturally good human beings, how can evil ever get a foothold? In various places Rousseau clearly states that morality is not a natural feature of human life, so in whatever sense it is that human beings are good by nature, it is not the moral sense that the casual reader would ordinarily assume.

Rousseau attributes to all creatures an instinctual drive towards self-preservation. Human beings therefore have such a drive, which he terms amour de soi self love. Amour de soi directs us first to attend to our most basic biological needs for things like food, shelter and warmth. Since, for Rousseau, humans, like other creatures, are part of the design of a benevolent creator, they are individually well-equipped with the means to satisfy their natural needs.

In the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality Rousseau imagines a multi-stage evolution of humanity from the most primitive condition to something like a modern complex society. Rousseau denies that this is a reconstruction of history as it actually was, and Frederick Neuhouser has argued that the evolutionary story is merely a philosophical device designed to separate the natural and the artificial elements of our psychology. The human race barely subsists in this condition, chance meetings between proto-humans are the occasions for copulation and reproduction, child-care is minimal and brief in duration.

If humans are naturally good at this stage of human evolution, their goodness is merely a negative and amounts to the absence of evil. In this story, human beings are distinguished from the other creatures with which they share the primeval world only by two characteristics: freedom, and perfectibility. Freedom, in this context, is simply the ability not to be governed solely by appetite; perfectibility is the capacity to learn and thereby to find new and better means to satisfy needs. Together, these characteristics give humans the potential to achieve self-consciousness, rationality, and morality. Nevertheless, it will turn out that such characteristics are more likely to condemn them to a social world of deception, dissimulation, dependence, oppression, and domination.

As human populations grow, simple but unstable forms of co-operation evolve around activities like hunting. According to Rousseau, the central transitional moment in human history occurs at a stage of society marked by small settled communities. At this point a change, or rather a split, takes place in the natural drive humans have to care for themselves: competition among humans to attract sexual partners leads them to consider their own attractiveness to others and how that attractiveness compares to that of potential rivals. In Emile , where Rousseau is concerned with the psychological development of an individual in a modern society, he also associates the genesis of amour propre with sexual competition and the moment, puberty, when the male adolescent starts to think of himself as a sexual being with rivals for the favours of girls and women.

Amour propre makes a central interest of each human being the need to be recognized by others as having value and to be treated with respect. The presentation of amour propre in the Second Discourse —and especially in his note XV to that work—often suggests that Rousseau sees it as a wholly negative passion and the source of all evil. Interpretations of amour propre centered on the Second Discourse which, historically, are the most common ones for example Charvet , often focus on the fact that the need for recognition always has a comparative aspect, so that individuals are not content merely that others acknowledge their value, but also seek to be esteemed as superior to them. This aspect of our nature then creates conflict as people try to exact this recognition from others or react with anger and resentment when it is denied to them.

More recent readings of both the Second Discourse , and especially of Emile , have indicated that a more nuanced view is possible Den , Neuhouser This project of containing and harnessing amour propre finds expression in both The Social Contract and Emile. In some works, such as the Second Discourse , Rousseau presents amour propre as a passion that is quite distinct from amour de soi.

In others, including Emile , he presents it as a form that amour de soi takes in a social environment. The latter is consistent with his view in Emile that all the passions are outgrowths or developments of amour de soi. Although amour propre has its origins in sexual competition and comparison within small societies, it does not achieve its full toxicity until it is combined with a growth in material interdependence among human beings. In the Discourse on Inequality , Rousseau traces the growth of agriculture and metallurgy and the first establishment of private property, together with the emergence of inequality between those who own land and those who do not. In an unequal society, human beings who need both the social good of recognition and such material goods as food, warmth, etc.

Subordinates need superiors in order to have access to the means of life; superiors need subordinates to work for them and also to give them the recognition they crave. In such a structure there is a clear incentive for people to misrepresent their true beliefs and desires in order to attain their ends. Thus, even those who receive the apparent love and adulation of their inferiors cannot thereby find satisfaction for their amour propre. Once people have achieved consciousness of themselves as social beings, morality also becomes possible and this relies on the further faculty of conscience. It is, to that extent, akin to a moral sentiment such as Humean sympathy.

But as something that is merely instinctual it lacks, for Rousseau, a genuinely moral quality. Genuine morality, on the other hand, consists in the application of reason to human affairs and conduct. This requires the mental faculty that is the source of genuinely moral motivation, namely conscience. Conscience impels us to the love of justice and morality in a quasi-aesthetic manner. However, in a world dominated by inflamed amour propre , the normal pattern is not for a morality of reason to supplement or supplant our natural proto-moral sympathies.

For recent discussion of Rousseau on conscience and reason, see Neidleman, , ch. So, for example, theatre audiences derive enjoyment from the eliciting of their natural compassion by a tragic scene on the stage; then, convinced of their natural goodness, they are freed to act viciously outside the theater. Philosophy, too, can serve as a resource for self-deception. However, many of his other works, both major and minor, contain passages that amplify or illuminate the political ideas in those works. This idea finds its most detailed treatment in The Social Contract. In The Social Contract , Rousseau sets out to answer what he takes to be the fundamental question of politics, the reconciliation of the freedom of the individual with the authority of the state.

This reconciliation is necessary because human society has evolved to a point where individuals can no longer supply their needs through their own unaided efforts, but rather must depend on the co-operation of others. The process whereby human needs expand and interdependence deepens is set out in the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality. In the Second Discourse , this establishment amounts to the reinforcement of unequal and exploitative social relations that are now backed by law and state power.

In an echo of Locke and an anticipation of Marx, Rousseau argues that this state would, in effect, be a class state, guided by the common interest of the rich and propertied and imposing unfreedom and subordination on the poor and weak. The propertyless consent to such an establishment because their immediate fear of a Hobbesian state of war leads them to fail to attend to the ways in which the new state will systematically disadvantage them.

The Social Contract aims to set out an alternative to this dystopia, an alternative in which, Rousseau claims, each person will enjoy the protection of the common force whilst remaining as free as they were in the state of nature. The key to this reconciliation is the idea of the general will: that is, the collective will of the citizen body taken as a whole. The general will is the source of law and is willed by each and every citizen. In obeying the law each citizen is thus subject to his or her own will, and consequently, according to Rousseau, remains free.

On such a reading, Rousseau may be committed to something like an a posteriori philosophical anarchism. Such a view holds that it is possible, in principle, for a state to exercise legitimate authority over its citizens, but all actual states—and indeed all states that we are likely to see in the modern era—will fail to meet the conditions for legitimacy. Rousseau argues that in order for the general will to be truly general it must come from all and apply to all. This thought has both substantive and formal aspects.

Formally, Rousseau argues that the law must be general in application and universal in scope. The law cannot name particular individuals and it must apply to everyone within the state. Rousseau believes that this condition will lead citizens, though guided by a consideration of what is in their own private interest, to favor laws that both secure the common interest impartially and that are not burdensome and intrusive. For this to be true, however, it has to be the case that the situation of citizens is substantially similar to one another.

In a state where citizens enjoy a wide diversity of lifestyles and occupations, or where there is a great deal of cultural diversity, or where there is a high degree of economic inequality, it will not generally be the case that the impact of the laws will be the same for everyone. In such cases it will often not be true that a citizen can occupy the standpoint of the general will merely by imagining the impact of general and universal laws on his or her own case. In The Social Contract Rousseau envisages three different types or levels of will as being in play. First, individuals all have private wills corresponding to their own selfish interests as natural individuals; second, each individual, insofar as he or she identifies with the collective as a whole and assumes the identity of citizen, wills the general will of that collective as his or her own, setting aside selfish interest in favor of a set of laws that allow all to coexist under conditions of equal freedom; third, and very problematically, a person can identify with the corporate will of a subset of the populace as a whole.

The general will is therefore both a property of the collective and a result of its deliberations, and a property of the individual insofar as the individual identifies as a member of the collective. In a well-ordered society, there is no tension between private and general will, as individuals accept that both justice and their individual self-interest require their submission to a law which safeguards their freedom by protecting them from the private violence and personal domination that would otherwise hold sway. In practice, however, Rousseau believes that many societies will fail to have this well-ordered character.

One way in which they can fail is if private individuals are insufficiently enlightened or virtuous and therefore refuse to accept the restrictions on their own conduct which the collective interest requires. Another mode of political failure arises where the political community is differentiated into factions perhaps based on a class division between rich and poor and where one faction can impose its collective will on the state as a whole. The Social Contract harbors a further tension between two accounts of how the general will emerges and its relation to the private wills of citizens.

Sometimes Rousseau favors a procedural story according to which the individual contemplation of self interest subject to the constraints of generality and universality and under propitious sociological background conditions such as rough equality and cultural similarity will result in the emergence of the general will from the assembly of citizens see Sreenivasan In this account of the emergence of the general will, there seems to be no special need for citizens to have any specifically moral qualities: the constraints on their choice should be enough.

However, Rousseau also clearly believes that the mere contemplation of self interest would be inadequate to generate a general will. This may partly concern issues of compliance, since selfish citizens who can will the general will might still not be moved to obey it. But Rousseau also seems to believe that citizen virtue is a necessary condition for the emergence of the general will in the first place. This presents him with a problem for which his figure of the legislator is one attempted solution. As a believer in the plasticity of human nature, Rousseau holds that good laws make for good citizens. However, he also believes both that good laws can only be willed by good citizens and that, in order to be legitimate, they must be agreed upon by the assembly.

This puts him in some difficulty, as it is unlikely that the citizens who come together to form a new state will have the moral qualities required to will good laws, shaped as those citizens will have been by unjust institutions. The legislator or lawgiver therefore has the function of inspiring a sense of collective identity in the new citizens that allows them to identify with the whole and be moved to support legislation that will eventually transform them and their children into good citizens. In this story, however, the new citizens at first lack the capacity to discern the good reasons that support the new laws and the lawgiver has to persuade them by non-rational means to legislate in their own best interests.

The figure of the legislator is a puzzle. Like the tutor in Emile , the legislator has the role of manipulating the desires of his charges, giving them the illusion of free choice without its substance. Little wonder then that many critics have seen these characters in a somewhat sinister light. In both cases there is a mystery concerning where the educator figure comes from and how he could have acquired the knowledge and virtue necessary to perform his role. This, in turn, raises a problem of regress. Since he uses the notion in several distinct ways, though, it is important to distinguish several uses of the term.

First, we should note that Rousseau regards the capacity for choice, and therefore the ability to act against instinct and inclination, as one of the features that distinguishes the human race from animal species and makes truly moral action possible. In the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality , for example, he characterizes animal species in essentially Cartesian terms, as mechanisms programmed to a fixed pattern of behavior. Human beings, on the other hand are not tied to any particular mode of life and can reject the promptings of instinct. It was her last year before aging out of the competition, and Gast said she's been aiming for this moment since childhood.

I hope this inspires someone else to come up and do this too, because that's what this is all about. He took over the job from his father, Bill Riley Sr. Not just the kids that are in the competition but their families, their teachers, those that are setting up the regional competitions. Robin Opsahl covers trending news for the Register. Reach them at ropsahl registermedia.

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