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J.-J. Rousseau on Human Rights - Dictionary of Arguments

Höffe I 271
Human Rights/Rousseau/Höffe: According to Rousseau, there is no natural law, no law of nature that precedes the civil state. The right arises only in political society and with it.(1) >State/Rousseau. >Natural State/Rousseau.
Höffe I 275
Origin/Justification: Because the state takes its origin in an act of freedom, it has legitimacy, which however comes into being exclusively by the means of a free consent, i.e. the >Social Contract. No power, no matter how superior, can create any right. Only an all-sided consensus, an agreement which is not contradicted by any of the parties concerned, empowers to rule lawfully (2). >Justification/Rousseau, >State/Rousseau, >Social Contract/Rousseau.
Höffe I 278
Common good: Since [the common good] is oriented towards the good of the whole, both the common preservation and the general welfare, it always and without restriction has normative precedence over the (particular) will of the individuals. The common good is based on the will of those concerned.
Höffe: Question: How do you determine this will? A conception of the common will (volonté général) as a thought experiment could lead to a criterion of consentability: The answer could (...) consist in human rights according to this strict understanding, i.e. in rights that are due to a person simply because he or she is a human being.
Rousseau/Höffe: Even if one can interpret some references in this sense, Rousseau does not defend such rights in the articles of association. Instead, he votes for an empirical reading of the common will. >General Will/Rousseau.


1. Rousseau, Discours sur l'inégalité parmi les hommes, 1755
2. Rousseau, The Social Contract (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique), 1762


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Rousseau I
J. J. Rousseau
Les Confessions, 1765-1770, publ. 1782-1789
German Edition:
The Confessions 1953

Höffe I
Otfried Höffe
Geschichte des politischen Denkens München 2016


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-08-05
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