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ROUSSEAU'S GENERAL WILL AND THE CONDORCET JURY THEOREM

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Abstract:

In The Social Contract, Rousseau asserts his infallibility thesis: that the general will can never err, and that one's position in the minority indicates that what one took the general will to be was not actually so. Several theorists have argued that the Condorcet Jury Theorem, which states that in a sufficiently large group the majority opinion on a yes/no question is highly likely to be correct, provides a way to interpret and justify Rousseau's bold claim. I argue that the Jury Theorem cannot be used to interpret the infallibility thesis, since Rousseau takes the majority opinion to be constitutive, and not merely strong evidence, of the content of the general will. Since there is no standard of correctness that is independent of the majority opinion, the Jury Theorem cannot be invoked to support Rousseau's claim. I suggest a different strategy for situating the infallibility thesis in The Social Contract.

Keywords: Condorcet; Democratic theory; Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Jury Theorem; Political obligation; Social contract; general will; political authority

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Marquette University, Coughlin 132, Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881, USA., Email: Jason.Wyckoff@marquette.edu

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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