The General Will before Rousseau

The General Will before Rousseau: The Transformation of the Divine into the Civic

Patrick Riley
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 294
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvrff
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  • Book Info
    The General Will before Rousseau
    Book Description:

    Patrick Riley traces the forgotten roots of Rousseau's concept to seventeenth-century questions about the justice of God. If He wills that all men be saved, does He have a general will that produces universal salvation? And, if He does not, why does He will particularly" that some men be damned? The theological origin of the "general will" was important to Rousseau himself. He uses the language of divinity bequeathed to him by Pascal, Malebranche, Fenelon, and others to dignify, to elevate, and to "save" politics.

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5818-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. ONE THE GENERAL WILL ESTABLISHED: FROM PAUL AND AUGUSTINE TO PASCAL AND MALEBRANCHE
    (pp. 3-63)

    “The phrase ‘general will,’” says the eminent Rousseau scholar Judith Shklar, “is ineluctably the property of one man, Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He did not invent it, but he made its history.”¹ And he made that history by giving the notion ofvolonté généralea central place in his political and moral philosophy. Rousseau himself insists that “the general will is always right,”² that it is “the will that one has as a citizen”—when one thinks of the common good and not of one’s own “particular will” (volonté particulière) as a “private person.”³ Even virtue, he says, is nothing but a...

  5. TWO THE GENERAL WILL UNDER ATTACK: THE CRITICISMS OF BOSSUET, FÉNELON, AND BAYLE
    (pp. 64-98)

    In selecting representative contemporary criticisms of Malebranche’s theory of general will one cannot do better than to choose the works of Bossuet and of Bayle. Both offer striking criticisms of Malebranchism, but from radically different perspectives; Bossuet was a pillar of the Catholic church and a close ally of the French monarchy, while Bayle was a Calvinist emigré to Holland who was tolerated by neither French church nor state. Bossuet represented an inspired and eloquent perfect orthodoxy, while Bayle was an independent intellectual frequently accused of undercutting all orthodoxy.¹ Despite these enormous differences, both developed influential critiques of Malebranchism during...

  6. THREE THE DEPARTURE FROM GENERAL WILL: MALEBRANCHE ON MORAL RELATIONS, ORDER, AND OCCASIONALISM
    (pp. 99-137)

    In treating Malebranche, it is common enough to speak as if his whole practical philosophy confined itself to elevatingvolonté généraleand execratingvolonté particulière. (In their critiques of Malebranche, Bossuet and Bayle had certainly singled outgénéralitéas the main problem, or defect, in the Oratorian’s thought.) Pierre Jurieu, writing at the end of the seventeenth century in hisTraitté[sic]de la nature et de la grâce, insisted that “one can scarcely say how much this thought [of general will] pleases this philosopher, for he loves it to the point of idolatry, and causes it to appear everywhere...

  7. FOUR THE GENERAL WILL SOCIALIZED: THE CONTRIBUTION OF MONTESQUIEU
    (pp. 138-180)

    Even if the gap between Malebranche (who died in 1715) and Rousseau (who first published works onvolonté généralein the mid-1750s) is narrowed by considering Pierre Bayle’s extensive and well-known secularization ofgénéralitéandparticularitéand by examining the Malebranchian idea of order, which later played a large role in Rousseau’sEmile,¹ it still seems that something or someone is missing in the translation of general will from a primarily theological notion into a primarily political one—though one should recall that even Descartes occasionally relies on a general-particular dichotomy in treating politics (as when he says, apropos of...

  8. FIVE THE GENERAL WILL COMPLETED: ROUSSEAU AND THE VOLONTÉ GÉNÉRALE OF THE CITIZEN
    (pp. 181-250)

    Did Rousseau, then—who tells us in theConfessionsof his reading of the great seventeenth-century theologians of general will¹—use the notions ofvolonté généraleandvolonté particulièresimply out of historical piety, simply because the notions were “there” (as he is sometimes said to have used social contract theory simply because it was a “venerable fiction” in his time)?² Is it simply a question of the influence of Pascal, Malebranche, Bayle, and Montesquieu on Rousseau? By no means. Judith Shklar has argued persuasively that the notion of general will “conveys everything he most wanted to say,” that it...

  9. SIX A BRIEF CONCLUSION
    (pp. 251-260)

    By now it should be clear that what holds together the tradition of French moral and political thought from Pascal to Rousseau, unifies it, and distinguishes it from either English or German practical thought, is the notion thatgénéralitéis good,particulatébad—that, if one is just, one will embrace the general good of the body, to which one will subordinate egoism and self-love. In the first instance this is traceable to 1 Corinthians 12, a passage much admired by the French Augustinians of thegrand siècle, which insists that the foot and the eye must “realize” (in a...

  10. INDEX
    (pp. 261-274)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 275-275)