A Flawed Moralist?
Political Science Reviewer, Volume 42.2
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Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Immanuel Kant
Ernst Cassirer
natural goodness

How to Cite

A Flawed Moralist? On Kantian and Other Constructive Interpretations of Rousseau’s Life and Thought. (2020). The Political Science Reviewer, 44(2), 257-288. https://politicalsciencereviewer.wisc.edu/index.php/psr/article/view/606


Of the two leading philosophical paradigms interpreting Rousseau’s corpus as a whole, only one defends him as a moralistic and constructive author.  We offer the first comprehensive and critical introduction to this paradigm, which was first articulated by Ernst Cassirer, but extends far beyond Kantians.  We question its firm distinction between a lofty normative philosophy and claims amounting to merely personal deviations.  First, we find Rousseau’s theory of natural goodness to be in some ways subversive of his theories of virtue and community, especially regarding foresight, the status of politics, and the commitment to domestic virtue.  Second, the autobiographies develop the idea of natural goodness in philosophically substantive ways, and in depicting Jean-Jacques as preeminent in goodness, this two-tiered system of judgment grounds a broad range of self-exculpation.  Despite this paradigm’s illumination of what is most elevating in Rousseau, it has not done full justice to his philosophy as a whole.

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