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Realist, Liberal, Critical Theorist
Rousseau: Realist, Liberal, Critical Theorist?
What is Rousseau's real Philosophical identity?
There are several questions and ideas to be addressed and analyzed in this paper. One: Is Jean-Jacques Rousseau a realist -- can it be said from the assigned essay, without equivocation that his views follow those of classic realism? (Realism: the doctrine that puts forth the idea that universals only exist outside one's mind; the insistence that all things in the empirical world should be explained in terms of the "real world" and not in terms of abstractions or perceptions.)
Based on this essay, is Rousseau a liberal in the tradition sense -- not today's "liberal" in the popular juxtaposition of "liberal" and "conservative" -- and do his views follow that thread throughout his extensive narrative? (Liberalism: a moral philosophy that emphasizes religious toleration, personal freedom, governments being led by consent of the governed, economic freedom, human justice and civil liberties.)
Three: Is Rousseau's writing in the critical theory genre? (Critical Theory: the essence of this line of thinking is that social theory, whether it is through educational research, business, philosophy, the arts, should have a key role in making necessary changes, and not in just recording and presenting information.)
In The Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, by C.E. Vaughan, he points out (which readers clearly understand in the assigned essay) that "the first question" Rousseau addressed is, "What is the nature, and what the source, of Right?" And Vaughan also notes that the "two strands" which are found in his political thought are "individual liberty" and also the "sovereignty of the State." These may seem to conflict, and they actually do, but the "historical significance" of Rousseau is that he "prepares the ground for the wholly different ideals of the future."
Rousseau's theories in this assigned essay are somewhat conflicting from time to time, but it is clear his views can safely be placed in the genre of liberalism. He steps "out of the lecture room" and sees "wretched nations groaning beneath of yoke of iron." Mankind is "ground down by a handful of oppressors." That last quote certainly shows Rousseau's great concern for the less fortunate and the politically powerless citizens; and when he says "ground down by a handful of oppressors" readers can easily see those oppressors are not governing with the consent of the governed.
Rousseau sees the "rich" people drinking "the blood and tears of their victims"; and on every side he sees that "the strong armed" powers-that-be are using their "terrible powers of the Law against the weak." Since liberals emphasize social justice and civil rights in their doctrines, and liberalism emphasizes representative rather then dictatorial governments, there is little doubt that what Rousseau is writing about falls into the liberalism category.
The philosopher Rousseau rages on: " ... before me lies a scene of murder, ten thousand slaughtered, the dead piled in heaps, the dying trampled under foot by horses, on every side the image of death and the throes of death." And then he seemingly pokes fun at himself, using some irony, when he writes, "Yes, heartless philosopher! Come and read us your book on a field of battle!" The rule of the world, he explains, is that "Justice and truth are commanded to give way before the interest of the powerful."
And moreover, Rousseau would seem to be entering into a critical theorist phase when he advocates "testing the institutions of man by their first principles ... " because "we find ourselves exposed to the evils of ... civil order and the state of nature." And as long as in the union of "force and Law" force is not "controlled by Law," and the "prince is regarded as absolutely uncontrolled, it is force alone which speaks to the subject under the name of Law and to the foreigner under the name of reason of State."
Why would it be suggested that Rousseau is also edging toward a critical theorist position? It is not for certain that he is, but since the definition used for critical theorist states that art and philosophy (a philosopher's writing is within the context of the arts), should play a significant role in changing the world. Rousseau discusses the "true source of our social misery" by putting forth the idea that the only possible sanction for governments which brutally rule over citizens are when members of the "international Right" -- if they have "self-interest" -- voluntarily submit to the law of nature.
Here, as follows, is also what this paper views as potential critical theorist philosophy by asking the pertinent observation, " ... I am not asking what makes war profitable to him who wages it, but what makes it legitimate. To be just almost always entails some sacrifice. But does that entitle a man to be unjust?"
Actually, some of what Rousseau is raging about in this essay could also come under the genre of "realism," because "objects of sense perception or cognition exist independently of the mind," according to Merriman-Webster Online dictionary. Since Rousseau writes that "... war is possible only between such 'moral beings,' it follows that the belligerents have no quarrel with individual enemies and can wage war without destroying a single life."
In other words, a realist about "Y" (in this case, war) believes that "Y" enjoys an independent reality and thus "Y" exists regardless of whether any man or woman wishes, fears or hopes that "Y" indeed exists.
Meanwhile, why is Rousseau so very passionate -- and yet seeming reasonable -- about the issues in the Contrat Social essay? "To speak of 'reason' and 'passion' in discussing Rousseau's writing is, of course, to reduce and oversimplify his language" (Hall, 2001), according to a research piece in the journal, Polity. And beyond those two concepts (reason -- "raison" -- and passion), Rousseau also writes in Contrat Social about understanding, intelligence, sentiment, love, pity, enlightenment and "inclination," Hall explains. All of these themes add to the notion that Rousseau is the quintessential liberal, in the context of the classic definition of liberalism.
Hall's article states that "evidence" can be found in Rousseau's writing that he indeed (strengthening the argument that he embraces liberalism) criticizes "rationalism and celebrates at least some forms of passion." Rousseau writes that "reason" causes damage, and "deteriorate [es] the species" (59) in his Second Discourse. This attitude is very liberal in its nature and its tone. Reason, Rousseau writes, "turns man in upon himself," Hall quotes Rousseau as writing. "Reason is what separates him from all that troubles him and afflicts him."
As a result of that, Rousseau continues, the philosopher "has merely to place his hands over his ears and argue with himself a little" -- which helps him ignore the cries of his fellow citizens. Meanwhile, continuing his discourse, Rousseau contends in the Second Discourse (54-55) that while, "for lack of wisdom and reason [savage man] is always seen thoughtlessly giving in to the first sentiment of humanity."
Taking to task the argument by rationalists that "good behavior depends primarily on the use of reason," Hall writes, "Rousseau contends that ' ... with all their mores, men would never have been anything but monsters if nature had not given them pity to aid their reason'."
Meantime, an article in the Canadian Journal of Political Science argues that the Contrat Social (or Social Contract) "both upholds and transcends liberal concepts of political right" (Froese, 2001). Rousseau tries to effect "a transition from a bourgeois society to a moral community" by collapsing "the division" between "public right and public good."
This is Rousseau's strategy, Froese explains, because "Rousseau's conception of morality is not based on absolutes, but is a process whereby individuals consciously integrate themselves into the community." Individuals "are best protected from each…[continue]
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