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RousseauA Free Community of Equals$
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Joshua Cohen

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199581498

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199581498.001.0001

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The Society of the General Will

The Society of the General Will

(p.23) 2 The Society of the General Will

Joshua Cohen

Oxford University Press

How can we be free, self-legislating agents under a collective authority that provides protection for each of us? That is the fundamental problem of political legitimacy, and Rousseau's solution, described in a general terms, is the society of the general will, a free community of equals. The society of the general will meets four conditions. First, the particular interests condition, according to which individuals have and pursue personal interests in bodily security and material wellbeing, which are separate from common concerns. Second, the common good condition, according to which citizens share a conception of the common good. Third, a priority condition, which requires that citizens give public aims priority over private concerns. Finally, the reasonable confidence condition, according to which institutions generally conform to the common good and citizens are confident — based on evidence and reasonable inference rather than faith — that they do.

Keywords:   wellbeing, common good, general will, Rousseau, Locke, Rawls, principle, Plato

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