Rousseau's 'General Will' and Well-Ordered Society

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The belief that man, by nature, is good was espoused by the French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). He believed that people in the state of nature were innocent and at their best and that they were corrupted by the unnaturalness of civilization. In the state of nature, people lived entirely for themselves, possessed an absolute independence, and were content. According to Rousseau, in the state of nature, people tended to be isolated, war was absent, and their desires were minimal and circumscribed (i.e., commensurate with their basic survival needs). People did not have the drive to acquire more possessions. There was plenty to go around, an absence of reliance on others, and no real need for extensive…show more content…
Rousseau viewed private property as a destructive, impulsive, and egotistical institution that rewarded greed and luck. Civil society thus was born when people began fencing off their property, claiming that it was theirs, and finding that other people agreed with them. Depravity is due to the corruption of man 's essence by civilization. For Rousseau, civil society resulted from the degeneration of a basically good state of nature. Man 's problems arose because of civil society. He believed that the state of nature changed because it was internally unstable. For example, because talents were not distributed equally among persons, the balance that existed in the state of nature was disturbed and with inequality came conflicting interests. The more talented, able, and intelligent people brought about advances in science, technology, commerce, and so on. Because people simply are born with certain natural endowments, a person cannot be praised for having talent or blamed for not having it. Rousseau saw talent as naturally leading to achievement. Inequality developed as some people produced more and earned more. He failed to acknowledge the importance of motivation, industry, and volitional use of one 's reason and other potentialities. The perspective of many of today 's environmentalists can be traced back to Rousseau who believed that the more men deviated from the state of nature, the worse off
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