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Public Vision, Private LivesRousseau, Religion, and 21st-Century Democracy$
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Mark S. Cladis

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195125542

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0195125541.001.0001

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Overcoming Moral Evil

Overcoming Moral Evil

Rousseau at the Crossroads

Chapter:
(p.100) 6 Overcoming Moral Evil
Source:
Public Vision, Private Lives
Author(s):

Mark S. Cladis (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/0195125541.003.0007

Rousseau is often celebrated or cursed as an exemplar Enlightenment philosopher who declared that although humans are naturally good, society tampers with us and thereby corrupts us. Although Rousseau's complex and even contradictory writings engender disagreement among his interpreters, all seem to agree that Rousseau spurned any notion of original sin – of innate corruption – and that he blamed corrupt, irrational social institutions for the majority of our miseries. Ch. 6 argues, however, that this standard interpretation of Rousseau's account of evil is too facile. Rousseau positioned himself at the crossroads of Enlightenment and Augustinian thought, and this awkward position enabled him to produce a rich and complex view on the nature of evil and human culpability. We will see that, in Rousseau's view, humans naturally gather and court harm, and that, in spite of this pessimism, Rousseau could also optimistically declare God's creation and human existence to be good.

Keywords:   Augustinian, culpability, Enlightenment, evil, original sin, pessimism, Rousseau

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