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Rousseau's Pufendorf: natural law and the foundations of commercial society

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I have tried to sketch certain aspects of Rousseau's revolutionary significance on several occasions before, and I do not here mean to pursue that subject further. My aim, rather, will be to consider the political dimension of liberty, as he conceived it, in the light of a particular debate which to my mind has formed the most important contribution to the study of Rousseau's political thought in the twentieth century, around a theme which had received perhaps insufficient, and certainly less problematic, attention before. This debate has to do with the place of natural law in his philosophy, and with the extent to which, in his idea of the foundations of the state, he upheld or rejected principles of jurisprudence espoused by earlier thinkers. I will consider such principles in three rather different forms, which I here term superior, anterior and generative natural law, and in my final and longest section I will comment on Rousseau's idea of representation in the light of arguments drawn from a number of jurisprudential thinkers before him. In the course of my discussion, moreover, I mean to offer a new interpretation of his assessment of one figure in particular -- that is, Pufendorf -- whom I believe Rousseau came to confront in his writings as much as, if not more than, any other political thinker.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 1994


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