PHIL 332A:  Study Questions on Rousseau


1.  The State of Nature.  How does Rousseau's conception of the state of nature resemble Hobbes's?  How does Rousseau's conception of the state of nature resemble Locke's?  How, according to Rousseau, do we leave the state of nature and enter into civil society?


2.  The General Will. What, according to Rousseau is the General Will?  Keep track of all the passages in which Rousseau tells us something about the content of the General Will.  Rousseau likes mathematical formulas, but he gives no mathematical formula for determining the general will.  Is there any reason to think that there is a satisfactory specification of the General Will, or is the idea hopelessly vague? 


3. Consent and the General Will.  What is the role of consent in determining the General Will?  How can individual wills conflict with the General Will?  How does Rousseau believe that the General Will is to be determined?  Is unanimous consent either necessary or sufficient for an expression of the General Will?  Is there any reason to believe that any kind of voting procedure would ever express the General Will? 


4.  Individual Rights.  According to Rousseau, who or what is the Sovereign?  Are there any limits on the legislative power of the Sovereign?  Explain.  Does Rousseau believe that individuals should have any rights against the Sovereign?  Explain.  Make the strongest case you can that Rousseau's political philosophy is totalitarian.  Then make the strongest case you can on the other side. 


5.  Direct Democracy.  Why does Rousseau favor a direct democracy over a representative democracy?  Suppose that it were possible to make Internet voting accessible to all adults in the U.S. and to secure the system against fraud.  Would Rousseau favor replacing the U.S. Congress with direct voting by the people on all legislation? 


6.  Rights to Rebel.  Under what circumstances does Rousseau believe citizens have a right to rebel against their government?  Why?  How can a citizen determine whether or not those circumstances obtain?  Compare Rousseau's position on this question with Locke's.