Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Jean-Jacques Rousseau – The Origin of Civil Society
Encyclopedia of Philosophy — http://www.iep.utm.edu/r/rousseau.htm
Themes, Arguments and Ideas: http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/rousseau/themes.html
Quotations by Jean Jacques Rousseau
1. The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he
transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.
2. Never exceed your rights, and they will soon become unlimited.
3. Free people, remember this maxim: We may acquire liberty, but it is never recovered if it is once lost.
4. Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but truth has only one mode of being.
5. Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, 1762
French political philosopher (1712 — 1778)
In the following discussion, Jean Jacques Rousseau, author of ‘The Social Contract’, talks to a young friend of his, Racine, about freedom and the forms it takes in civil society.
Writing Task 1
Freewrite, write without stopping. Read the Pre-reading text above and write what you can about the thoughts that come into your head after you have read it.
What to think about before you read
Before you read the dialogue below, think about your responsibility to yourself and to others, and think about other people’s responsibilities to each other.
Think about the answers to the ten questions below.
1. Why would we agree not to upset each other or do anything that someone else might not like?
2. Do we agree, or not?
3. Does everybody behave in this way – does everybody live their life without hurting those who live close to them?
4. If not, what is it that makes some people act in ways that hurt other people, and what can we do if they act in ways that we do not approve of?
5. Have we got the right to disapprove?
6. If we have, how can we use that right properly and sensibly so that everyone benefits?
7. Is it ever right to take someone else’s property without their consent?
8. In what circumstances?
9. Which is more important: negative freedom or positive freedom?
Racine: Why do you think we need a Social Contract, monsieur?
Jean Jacques Rousseau: I take it you value your freedom?
R: Certainly. Who does not value freedom?
JJR: But what about the freedom of other people – do you value that?
R: I think so, probably not as much as my own, but what does that matter, as long as I am free?
JJR: It matters a great deal, for your freedom depends on other people, does it not?
JJR: You are not thinking, or else if you are, you are thinking only of yourself. We call that being selfish, don’t we? Are you a selfish person?
R: I hope that I am not, but you seem to be saying that I am. If I value my own freedom over the freedom other people enjoy, how am I being selfish? You might as easily say that everyone is selfish.
JJR: You are getting to the position I would like to arrive at.
R: Which is?
JJR: Which is realizing that my freedom depends upon you, and your freedom depends on me.
R: Tell me how that can be.
JJR: Well, before I do that, we must get a few things straight in our minds. Tell me, what is freedom, in your opinion?
R: Freedom is being able to do anything you want.
JJR: Anything? Are you sure?
R: Certainly. If I can do whatever I want, then I am free.
JJR: But you don’t live alone on an island. Other people live all around you. Let me help you a little. I would like you to think of two varieties of freedom: positive freedom, and negative freedom, and after that, a third, which I will call relative freedom.
R: What is negative freedom? It doesn’t sound like freedom at all.
JJR: Negative freedom, as it is called, is freedom from something: freedom from hunger is one of the most basic of all freedoms, is it not?
R: But if I have food, I am free from hunger.
JJR: You are, yes, but where do you get food from?
R: From a shopkeeper – a grocer or a baker, a butcher or from a farm.
JJR: But what if such food was not for sale, or you did not have enough money to buy it – what would you do then?
R: If I was hungry, I would take it.
JJR: And in taking it from someone without paying for it, would you not be taking something that was not yours to take? If you forced a shopkeeper to give you bread at the point of a gun, would that not be taking away some of his freedom?
R: Yes, I suppose it would. Where does that leave us, and what is the other kind of freedom – what is positive freedom?
JJR: You could say it is your freedom to go into a shop and take something without paying for it.
R: So what you are saying is that I must give up some of my positive freedom in order to allow the shopkeeper his freedom.
JJR: Yes, that is what I am saying.
R: What about the third type of freedom: relative freedom? What is that?
JJR: It is the type of freedom in which your freedom to do something you want to do is balanced with someone else’s freedom not to allow you to do it.
R: I can see that would be better than absolute freedom. But if we take wild animals in their natural state, are they not free?
JJR: They are free, yes, but they are free to kill and free to be killed. What sort of freedom is that - the type of freedom you want?
R: No, of course not.
JJR: Then you must surrender some part of your freedom so that you can have more freedom, if you see what I mean.
R: Then someone must decide who gives up what.
JJR: Now we have relative freedom but what we are now unsure about is how to decide what to give up and how much.
R: Who can decide that for us?
JJR: There are many different opinions as to how to decide that. The great writer Thomas Hobbes, in his book, ‘Leviathan’, says we must surrender some of our freedom, some of our power in effect, or else we must live in what he calls ‘a state of nature’, which he says would be “nasty, brutish and short.”
R: Who would we surrender our freedom to — who would decide?
JJR: Again, there are various opinions on that point too; an Italian man called Machiavelli thinks we should be ruled by a Prince with extraordinary powers to punish us if we do wrong
R: What do you think, monsieur?
JJR: I think we should have what I have called a social contract in which we all willingly give up some portion of our power.
R: But surely some would stand to lose a lot by such a contract. The man with power and wealth, for example, would lose much by being made to relinquish his power or give up some of the privileges wealth brings.
JJR: That is undoubtedly true, but he would also be gaining something too, wouldn’t he?
R: What could he gain?
JJR: Freedom from the theft of his property. For if he could not freely exercise his power and his wealth as he pleased, he would have to be compensated by having his property more secure from those who would wish to take it without his permission.
R: As would be the case in a state of Nature – yes, I see what you mean. He would, in fact, be acting rationally by entering into this contract with others – this Social Contract, wouldn’t he?
JJR: You are learning fast, monsieur, and you are absolutely right. If we
were all prepared to let go of a little of our freedom, life would be far more pleasant, we would be more secure – feel safer in our beds at night, and we would undoubtedly find that instead of fighting and quarreling with our neighbours, as we surely would living in Hobbes’ state of Nature; we would come to love our neighbours, begin to co-operate with them and we would prosper too.
R: So, finally, I am prepared to sacrifice some part of my freedom to gain some.
Robert L. Fielding
Things to think about and discuss after reading the dialogue
Think about your answers to the ten questions asked earlier.
Are your answers the same?
If they have changed, why do you think they have changed?
Have your opinions regarding everyone’s responsibilities to each other changed?
In what way have they changed?
Writing Task 2
Write down your thoughts on what you have read, what you think after reading, if your opinions have changed and why they have changed, or why they have not changed.
Use headings to keep you focused on your topic. Begin with a sentence that shapes the rest of what you write.
My original position
Example of a beginning that encapsulates your former opinion on the topic.
I always thought that…... What this meant was ………
My new position
Example of a beginning that encapsulates the changes in your way of thinking about the topic in question.
Since reading about how one person’s freedom can encroach upon another’s, I now feel that …..
Posted by Justice at 3:30 AM