Rousseau : the politics of common sense

Blechman, Max (2013) Rousseau : the politics of common sense. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


In his First Discourse, Rousseau begins a radical critique of modern civilization in the name of a "revolution to bring human beings back to common sense." This dissertation proposes to use Rousseau's notion of common sense heuristically, to outline its main philosophical premises and its organization of moral and political critique. The common sense Rousseau defines as the well-ruled usage of the senses that instructs us about the nature of things is read as the natural law of judgment whose historical contradiction grounds human morality (in the reinstatement of common sense by conscience) and politics (in a people's self-appropriation of the general will at the foundation of society). In the literature on Rousseau there are few attempts to argue both a) that Rousseau's philosophy constitutes a coherent system and b) that the unity of this system is structured by a fundamental concept. By contrast to those who bring the system to light via a postulate-say, the doctrine of "the natural goodness of man" - I think the unity of the system through the major modalities of the power that establishes it. The occluded power of judgment named common sense organizes the architectonic structure of Rousseau's system, and its practical clarification is the real bridge of nature and society. Rousseau's key innovation in the fields of morality and politics is, I argue, here: in his original determination of the imperative relation between natural and human history, and in the new definition of man as "political animal" that results from it.

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