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Justice and the General Will: Affirming Rousseau's Ancient Orientation

Justice and the General Will: Affirming Rousseau's Ancient Orientation David Lay Williams There is much confusion about how to characterize the work of JeanJacques Rousseau. His thought has at various times been related to such dissimilar thinkers as Plato and Hobbes. From Plato he is said to have acquired his affinities for community and civic virtue. And one does not have to look too hard to find his praise for the great sage of the Academy: ``Plato only purified the heart of man.''1 He was often eager to affiliate his ideas with those of antiquity. He yearned for modern society to rekindle the flames of a oncegreat civilization. ``[W]hat keeps us [the moderns] from being men like them [the ancients]? Our prejudices, our base philosophy, and the passions of petty self-interest, concentrated together with egoism in all hearts by inept institutions in which genius never had any share.''2 Despite his obvious admiration for the perceived greater ideas of the past, however, Rousseau also expressed some skepticism. James Miller has suggested that he held Plato's theory of the Forms to be unsustainable.3 Allan Bloom has likewise argued that Rousseau's ``teaching is not . . . a revival of those of Plato. . . . If he admires the http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of the History of Ideas University of Pennsylvania Press

Justice and the General Will: Affirming Rousseau's Ancient Orientation

Journal of the History of Ideas , Volume 66 (3) – Oct 24, 2005

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Publisher
University of Pennsylvania Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2005 The Journal of the History of Ideas, Inc.
ISSN
1086-3222
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Abstract

David Lay Williams There is much confusion about how to characterize the work of JeanJacques Rousseau. His thought has at various times been related to such dissimilar thinkers as Plato and Hobbes. From Plato he is said to have acquired his affinities for community and civic virtue. And one does not have to look too hard to find his praise for the great sage of the Academy: ``Plato only purified the heart of man.''1 He was often eager to affiliate his ideas with those of antiquity. He yearned for modern society to rekindle the flames of a oncegreat civilization. ``[W]hat keeps us [the moderns] from being men like them [the ancients]? Our prejudices, our base philosophy, and the passions of petty self-interest, concentrated together with egoism in all hearts by inept institutions in which genius never had any share.''2 Despite his obvious admiration for the perceived greater ideas of the past, however, Rousseau also expressed some skepticism. James Miller has suggested that he held Plato's theory of the Forms to be unsustainable.3 Allan Bloom has likewise argued that Rousseau's ``teaching is not . . . a revival of those of Plato. . . . If he admires the

Journal

Journal of the History of IdeasUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: Oct 24, 2005

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