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The Social Contract
The Age of Enlightenment was a term used to describe the French Revolution during the eighteenth century. The philosophers thought that if humanity could unlock the laws of God, then it could also unlock the laws of all nature and society. They also thought that through proper education that humanity itself could be changed-for the better, of course. The philosophers thought that they could discover the truth through nature and not through the Bible and former philosophers. The philosophers of the eighteenth century saw the church, mainly the Roman Catholic church, as the main reason why the human mind was enslaved, and not allowed to think freely. Because of this, the philosophers didn't really believe in religion, but believed that humans should not center their focus on the next life, but rather on improving this life. Many of the leaders of the Enlightenment Era, such as Charles de Montesquieu, Denis Diderot and Voltaire struggled against huge odds to have their voices heard. Several of these leaders were imprisoned, but most were attacked by the church and the government for merely voicing what they believed in. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was another French philosopher that left a great impression on the French Revolution and opened up a pathway to nineteenth century romanticism. Rousseau was born in Geneva and raised there by his aunt and uncle until the age of sixteen when he ran away and became the secretary and companion to Madame Louise de Warens. She eventually became a very powerful role model and influence to Rousseau through his writings and his life in general. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's view on life in general is quite different from the other Enlightenment philosophers in the sense of his view on the "ideal society," the general will and the individual as a person.
In the book The Social Contract, Rousseau creates the "ideal society" of the French Revolution. His goal is to find truth and to politically reform society. "The Social Contract was basically an agreement on the part of an entire society to be governed by its general will. If any individual wished to follow his own self-interest, then he should be compelled to abide by the general will. Thus liberty was achieved through being forced to follow what was best for all people because, he believed, what was best for all was best for each individual (Spielvogel 609)." In Rousseau's "ideal society," everyone is under the rule of the legislator which causes less confusion because only one person is ruling. "Each of us puts in common his person and his whole power under the supreme direction of the general will; and in return we receive every member as an indivisible part of the whole (Rousseau 18)."
The individuals had the freedom to chose to accept the general will, but once you accept it your freedom is gone. The general will is, in short, the will of the majority. The people are motivated to do what is best for society. Everyone has to submit himself to each other in order for the general will to run smoothly, and has to conform to the general will. Once the will is formed than democracy is lost, but it is through the general will that individuals are free. The will of the people is always right and is usually good for the public too. He assumes that the people will act rationally for the greater good of the people and in a calm manner. Rousseau believed that there never has been a true democracy, and that there never will be one. It is against tradition that many should govern and few are governed. Rousseau proposed a separation of government powers because he thought that it is best when few govern as long as they govern for the good of the people and not for their own benefit. Under a democratic government, the people are more willing to submit to the general will willfully. "Individuals can have freedom through the general will only if the general will is their own will (Neuhouser 367)." Rousseau was also trying to impress on the people the importance of free will, or the ability of the human to make a decision without being exposed to a punishment.
Rousseau believed that a natural man is someone born
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Philosophes, Free will, Political philosophy, Hypochondriacs, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, General will, Social contract, The Social Contract, Age of Enlightenment, Reason, Voltaire, Emile, or On Education
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