Posted on May 6, 2022
Apart from Kant’s narrow and rigid logic, it is essentially one with his doctrine of the autonomy of the will. The germ of mis application is already found in Rousseau’s own work; for he protests more than once against attempts to treat moral and political philosophy apart, as distinct studies, and asserts their absolute unity. This is brought out clearly in the Social Contract (Book I, chap, viii), where he is speaking of the change brought about by the establishment of society. “The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they had hitherto lacked. What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds in getting; what he gains is civil liberty . which is limited by the general will. We might, over and above all this, add to what man acquires in the civil state moral liberty, which alone makes him truly master of himself; for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves is liberty.”
In Kantian language, the will is autonomous (i
This one chapter contains the gist of the Kantian moral philosophy, and makes it quite clear that Rousseau perceived its application to ethics as well as to politics. The morality of our acts consists in their being directed in accordance with universal law; acts in which we are guided merely by our passions are not moral. Further, man can only possess freedom when his whole being is unified in the pursuit of a single end; and, as his whole being can be unified only in pursuit of a rational end, which alone excludes contradiction, only moral acts, only men directing their lives by universal law, are free. e. prescribes to itself its own law) only when it is directed to a universal end; when it is guided by selfish passions, or particular considerations, it is heteronomous (i.e. receives its law from something external to itself), and in bondage. Rousseau, as he says (Book I, chap, viii), was not directly concerned with the ethical sense of the word “liberty,” and Kant was, therefore, left to develop the doctrine into a system; but the phrases of this chapter prove false the view that the doctrine of a Real Will arises first in connection with politics, and is only transferred thence to moral philosophy. Rousseau bases his political doctrine throughout on his view of human freedom; it is because man is a free agent capable of being determined by a universal law prescribed by himself that the State is in like manner capable of realising the General Will, that is, of prescribing to itself and its members a similar universal law.
Kant takes Rousseau’s political theory, and applies it to ethics as a whole
The General Will, then, is the application of human freedom to political institutions. Before the value of this conception can be determined, there is a criticism to be met. The freedom which is realised in the General Will, we are told, is the freedom of the State as a whole; but the State exists to secure individual freedom for its members. A free State may be tyrannical; a despot may allow his subjects every freedom. What guarantee is there that the State, in freeing itself, will not enslave its members? This criticism has been made with such regularity that it has to be answered in some detail.