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J.-J. Rousseau on Humans - Dictionary of Arguments

Höffe I 274
Human/Rousseau/Höffe: Rousseau takes the people; he says at the beginning (1), "how they are, and how the laws can be. As is reasonable for a theory of legitimation alone, he does not presuppose a new, better human - he designs him in the Emile. To him it depends solely on the legitimacy of the social order, in his opinion a "sacred right" (un droit sacré), which serves as the basis for all others. He does not give a clear answer to the obvious question of whether every social order can be considered legitimate or whether a criterion for better political conditions is needed. It is therefore not surprising that Rousseau is read in both directions, as a conservative and as a revolutionary thinker.
Community/State/Rousseau: The justification of a state is based on the irritating observation that the human is born free, but is everywhere in chains. On closer examination, this pathetic and incisive introductory thesis (1) contains four state theory assertions.
Freedom: 1) The human "is" born free; freedom, therefore, is neither a mere conception nor an illusion, but a reality. Because this applies to "the" human, it distinguishes the human as a human. Freedom is not merely an epochal concept, a characteristic of modernity. Rather, it belongs to the nature of humans, and thus has a greater, anthropological rank.
2) Nevertheless one (...) perceives the opposite everywhere. Although man is free by birth, therefore by "nature," one discovers a fundamentally different reality: everywhere he lies in chains.
3) [Here appears] irritatingly [the thesis of an] equality of “un-freedom”.
Höffe I 275
If the human shall remain free nevertheless, reality has only the status of potentiality (...).
4) [This status must be] actualized (...). There are two areas of responsibility for this, which Rousseau deals with in two different works, but which he rightly publishes in the same year in a systematic way: education is responsible for the actual freedom of the individual alone (Émile)(2), the community is responsible for the actual freedom of the individual in the political sphere (From the Social Contract)(1).


1. Rousseau, The Social Contract (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique), 1762
2. Rousseau, Emile, or on Education (Émile ou De l’éducation), 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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