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Taking Rousseau Seriously

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Abstract:

The article argues that Rousseau's thought is unified by a non-materialistic, non-deterministic version of naturalism, according to which human beings are intrinsically good and intrinsically free, and at the same time moulded by their natural and social environment. Within that unity the article identifies a deep, creative tension between two competing visions of the best attainable form of human life: on the one hand a vision of a unified, integrated life (a life of goodness), in which inner conflicts are at a minimum and the goal is happiness; on the other hand a vision of a divided life (a life of virtue) whose goal is self-mastery. In support of this interpretation of Rousseau, the article subjects the readings of Cassirer and Strauss-Masters to a detailed critique. It concludes with a brief examination of Rousseau's intriguing claim that he would 'rather be a man of paradoxes than a man of prejudices'.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Economic and Social Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, Email: t.ohagan@uea.ac.uk

Publication date: January 1, 2004

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