The Natural Goodness of Humanity<sup>1</sup>

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 Natural Goodness of Humanity1

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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Social and Political Philosophy


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Why should we suppose that human beings are capable of living together in a free community of equals? This question expresses one part of the realism objection to Rousseau's free community of equals, the problem of motivational possibility. The answer, which draws on Rousseau's idea of the natural goodness of humanity, has four elements. First, Rousseau distinguishes the abstract potentialities that are essential to human nature from particular expressions of those potentialities provoked by social institutions. Second, Rousseau traces the vices of selfishness, jealousy, and envy, not to our essential nature, but to the inflamed form of amour-propre, which is prompted by inequality and bad institutions. Third, under better institutions — associated with a free community of equals — the aspects of our nature currently expressed as inflamed amour-propre might be expressed as self-worth, reciprocity, generalized compassion, and egalitarian amour-propre. Fourth, we can support Rousseau's answer based on our practical reasons for doing so, along with the fact that the conception does not offend against theoretical reason.

Keywords: human nature; virtue; vice; amour de soi; amour-propre; compassion; reciprocity; practical reason; Rousseau; Kant

Chapter.  12713 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy ; Social and Political Philosophy

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