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The General Will…Two New Types of Freedoms?

March 22, 2011

After reading Rousseau’s Social Contract, I could not help but further ponder about his idea of the general will versus the particular will. My issue was not with the distinction between the two in which the general will involved the desire or interest of the people as a whole, and the particular will concerned a particular individual’s will. The two naturally imply their meaning based upon the word itself. My issue arose when I took a step back and formed, what I thought would be, Rousseau’s philosophic argument for a social contract based upon the general will. Here it is in skeletal form:

P1: Naturally free individuals can join with others to form a political association and yet remain as free as before.

P2: Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will.

P3: The general will is always right.

P4: The general will is general in its object as well as in its essence.

Pc1: The general will comes from all and therefore, applies to all.

C: The formation of a direct democratic self-legislation in which each citizen, as a member of the sovereign, makes laws that apply equally to all (The general will).

The problem with Rousseau’s argument does not arise in premise one. You may pose the opposition that it is in fact possible for an individual to be less free then before he joined the contract. My argument to this would be that why would any individual or group of individuals who are currently free, join a contract in which they would drastically lose any inherent freedoms? Any rational beings simply would not, at least not without any force against them. The issue arises with premise two in which each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will. Individuals do not always have the same agenda as everyone else. As Rousseau points out, this is where individual’s particular wills come in to play. There are some people who would not agree with the general will due to their particular will; therefore, it is not possible that everyone  puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will.There will always be that group of people who refuses to go with that status quo. To counter this, Rousseau basically says, well “the general will is always right” and since it is “general in its object as well as in its essence”, the “general will certainly comes from all and must then apply to all regardless of the inherent particular wills”. This is were premise three and four along with pre-conclusion one are trying to establish the validity of the general will in terms of an entire group in the presence of particular wills. The logic behind these two premise and the pre-conclusion according to Rousseau is that the obligations of the political association, which were mutual, ensure that the citizens are dependent on and only on the law of their own making; not on the will of another individual. This thought makes perfect sense however, he is simply in my opinion just giving a run around to the underlying issue still at hand. The general will is the will of EVERYONE. So if one person disagrees, it cannot be the general will any longer. To me, the general will implies that everyone, that is 100% of the sovereign, shares the same will. I suppose further stipulation in regards to what the term ‘everyone’ means in terms of a percentage would be immensely helpful. It could be plausible that if 99.9% of people share the same will, then it could be considered everyone, especially if the population is lets say 300 million people. If there are 299,999,999 people that agree, can that 1 remaining individual be excluded in the term everyone? I am not sure, I will leave it up to you.

When Rousseau stated that the “general will is always right”, it would most certainly be true if I had a clearer understanding of the term everyone as discussed above. But since particular wills are still in play and have not be shown to be trumped by the general will, at least in the term of everyone, I cannot agree with this statement. This would be like all of the states in the US agreeing to sell Oklahoma, except for Oklahoma, to China in order to help repay our debt. If we considered this the general will of the people, how can this be right? It is not, at least not morally right. This is where my solution to this ‘everyone’ and ‘general will’ problem comes in. Perhaps the general will is not referring to all of our inherent freedoms but rather creating two new ones in which it operates on, that of civil and moral freedoms. There is, in the United States at least, a sort of standard that has been set in terms of what society views as right and wrong in regards to civil and moral events. If the general will is the same as this society view, which it is based on the fact that they are both conjured from the desire or interest of the people as a whole. Then I could now accept the premises that I earlier rejected. Everyone can think of an event that the entire population would think would be morally wrong. For instance, killing someone just for fun. Any normal human being without any mental disorders would agree that this is morally wrong. Hence, the general will of the people is that killing someone for fun is not right. The general will would always be right in this case. Phewww!!! (I am finally shedding a little light on this situation, or so I think?)

The conclusion now logically follows from the premises and based on the arguments form, I would consider it to be valid. That is, if I were to be fully convinced that premises two and three were in fact true based upon the solution I raised above. I would also conclude the pre-conlcusion in my decision in terms of validity but in logic, pre-conclusion have no weight on determining validity. They can be either true or false. All that is needed is for the premises, assuming they are all true, to guarantee the truth of the conclusion. If any premise can be proven false, or the conclusion false following all true premises, the argument is not valid. (Just a quick basic logic lesson for anyone who has not had any courses pertaining to logical arguments.)

There you have it! The general will operates on two new freedoms; civil freedom and moral freedom. At least that is what I have come to conclude thus far in my logical analysis of Rousseau’s possible political philosophical argument pertaining to his notion of a civil contract and the general will.

Does the general will operate on the two new freedoms, civil and moral, it presents?



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