The Specifics Of That Which Is General

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The Specifics Of That Which Is General – A Discussion Of Rousseau’s General Will Essay, Research Paper Rousseau’s concept of “the general will” (la volont? g?n?rale) has been generally misunderstood. It has been criticized on the one hand as a form of vacuous idealism, and on the other hand as nothing more than another name for majority rule. But the concept is, in fact, neither of these. Rousseau constructs a sophisticated and meaningful picture of the general will that manages to avoid both of these extreme positions. Situated between those two poles, it provides a solid foundation for the state that Rousseau envisions. In the role that he has assigned to it, the general will does not fall short; but that does not mean that the general will is beyond criticism. In

this paper I will argue that what needs to be questioned in Rousseau’s theory is not the general will’s efficiency, but rather its possibility. In order to make this argument, my first project will be to clarify just exactly what Rousseau means by “the general will.” Taking him at his word when he says, “[a]ll of my opinions are consistent, but I cannot present them all at once,”1 I will try to piece together the many and various comments on the general will that Rousseau makes throughout the Social Contract in order to form–ultimately–a single coherent picture of the phenomenon. After that, I will raise some questions about that picture, and consider the adequacy of the foundation that it provides for a society. Then I want to take up the deeper question

concerning what makes Rousseau’s general will possible. Has the criticism addressed so far against the general will been misdirected? Should it be applied, not to Rousseau’s elaborate notion of the general will, but rather to the condition of its possibility?2 1) Three Versions of the General Will It seems to me that at least three different meanings or versions of “the general will” can be identified in The Social Contract. Each of these forms of the general will can be distinguished in terms of its subject (that which does the willing), its object (that which is willed), and its relationship to the “private will.”3 The best place to begin in order to identify and compare these three different forms is with that version of the general will that I will characterize as

“ideal.” The following is a chart demonstrating the similarities and differences of the 3 types of General Will, using the distinctions mentioned above: Subject – That which does the willing. Object – That which is willed. Relation to the Private Will. Ideal General Will Hypothetical contract with all members of society. General Good – The means to a particular social end. Therefore there are multiple objects. No necessary relation to the Private Will. Originary General Will Actual contract with all members of society. General Good. General and Private Will are necessarily identical in terms of their various objects. Actual General Will Majority of the members of society. Not necessarily the General Good. Relationship is completely undetermined. A) “Ideal” General

Will This form of the general will is “general” in terms of its object. The object that is willed is the “general good,” which is the good of all–”the general interest” (SC 155). The generality of this object is its applicability to all the willing subjects in a given society. Whatever is willed must be in the best interests of every member of this group; its good effects must extend to all of them universally. But, for Rousseau, there are two possible types of “the general good” which can be willed in a way that will satisfy this requirement: the good which is the universal end of a society; and the “goods” which are the particular means to that singular end. The object of the ideal form of the general will is the latter (SC 153, 158-159). The ideal general