Freedom, Justice, and the Social Contract: A Study in the Moral and Political Philosophies of Rousseau and Kant
Jeppe Platz, University of Pennsylvania
The theme of this dissertation is the relation between freedom and justice. I approach this theme by studying the relation between freedom and justice in the philosophies of Rousseau and Kant. I argue that the moral and political philosophies of Rousseau and Kant can be understood in terms of the interplay between the norms of moral freedom and liberty, and I show how they have different understandings of the relation between these norms, and, therefore, offer two different views on the relation between freedom and justice. I identify three basic contrasts. First, there is a difference in the kind of freedom that they think is the primary concern of justice: Rousseau thinks justice is primarily about moral freedom, while Kant thinks that it is primarily about liberty. Second, there is a difference in the way that they think justice is concerned with freedom: Rousseau thinks that justice requires the promotion of moral freedom, while Kant thinks that justice requires that the exercise of freedom of each respects the equal rights to liberty of all. Third, there is a difference in their views on when justice is fully satisfied: for Rousseau, justice is satisfied if the social conditions are maximally conducive to the moral freedom, while for Kant, justice is fully satisfied when the exercise of freedom of each is consistent with the equal freedom of all others. The contrasts between Rousseau and Kant can be drawn quite sharply. For Rousseau, liberty is a requirement of justice, for Kant, justice is the requirements of liberty. For Rousseau justice is about promoting the human good; for Kant justice is not about the human good. So, for Rousseau, justice is only fully satisfied by a nation of angels (for only then would all realize the ideal of moral freedom); for Kant, justice could be fully satisfied by a nation of devils (if no devil's rights are violated). ^
Law|Philosophy|Political Science, General
Platz, Jeppe, "Freedom, Justice, and the Social Contract: A Study in the Moral and Political Philosophies of Rousseau and Kant" (2011). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3462192.
Since August 19, 2011
The aim of the Discourse is to examine the foundations of inequality among men, and to determine whether this inequality is authorized by natural law. Rousseau attempts to demonstrate that modern moral inequality, which is created by an agreement between men, is unnatural and unrelated to the true nature of man. To examine natural law, Rousseau argues, it is necessary to consider human nature and to chart how that nature has evolved over the centuries to produce modern man and modern society.
To do this, he begins in the imaginary state of nature, a condition before society and the development of reason. Discarding the Biblical account of human creation and development, Rousseau attempts to conjecture, or guess, what man in this state would be like. He examines man's physical and mental characteristics, and finds him to be an animal like any other, motivated by two key principles: pity and self-preservation. The only real attribute that separates him from the animals is his perfectibility, a quality that is vitally important in the process Rousseau goes on to describe. Man in the state of nature has few needs, no idea of good and evil, and little contact with other humans. Nevertheless, he is happy.
However, man does not remain unchanged. The quality of perfectibility allows him to be shaped by, and to change in response to, his environment. Natural forces such as earthquakes and floods drive men into all parts of the globe, and force them to develop language and other skills. As men come into contact more frequently, small groups or societies start to form. The human mind begins to develop, and as man becomes more aware of others, he develops a series of new needs. The emergence of reason and society are related, but the process by which they evolve is a negative one. As men start to live in groups, pity and self- preservation are replaced by amour propre, which drives men to compare themselves to others, and to need to dominate others in order to be happy.
The invention of property and the division of labor represent the beginning of moral inequality. Property allows for the domination and exploitation of the poor by the rich. Initially, however, relations between rich and poor are dangerous and unstable, leading to a violent state of war. As an attempt to escape from this war, the rich trick the poor into creating a political society. The poor believe that this creation will secure their freedom and safety, but in fact it merely fixes the relations of domination that existed before, creating laws to establish inequality. Inequality is now more or less unrelated to man's original nature; physical inequality is replaced by moral inequality.
Rousseau's account of the operation of society focuses on its various stages. Beginning with the trick played by the rich, he sees society as becoming more and more unequal, until its last stage, which is despotism, or the unjust rule of everyone by one man. This development is not inevitable, but it is extremely likely. As wealth becomes the standard by which men are compared, conflict and despotism become possible. For Rousseau, the worst kind of modern society is that in which money is the only measure of value.
Rousseau's conclusions to the Discourse are clear: inequality is natural only when it relates to physical differences between men. In modern societies, however, inequality derives from a process of human evolution that has corrupted man's nature and subjected him to laws and property, both of which support a new, unjustifiable kind of inequality, termed moral inequality. This is an unacceptable situation, according to Rousseau, but he gives few clues about how it can be improved.