The Society of the General Will

Joshua Cohen

in Rousseau

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780199581498
Published online May 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722875 | DOI:

Series: Founders of Modern Political and Social Thought

The Society of the General Will

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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Social and Political Philosophy


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How can we be free, self-legislating agents under a collective authority that provides protection for each of us? That is the fundamental problem of political legitimacy, and Rousseau's solution, described in a general terms, is the society of the general will, a free community of equals. The society of the general will meets four conditions. First, the particular interests condition, according to which individuals have and pursue personal interests in bodily security and material wellbeing, which are separate from common concerns. Second, the common good condition, according to which citizens share a conception of the common good. Third, a priority condition, which requires that citizens give public aims priority over private concerns. Finally, the reasonable confidence condition, according to which institutions generally conform to the common good and citizens are confident — based on evidence and reasonable inference rather than faith — that they do.

Keywords: wellbeing; common good; general will; Rousseau; Locke; Rawls; principle; Plato

Chapter.  14965 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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