Force, Right, and Freedom in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Philosophy

Satisfactory Essays
In the Social Contract Rousseau discusses the best way to run a state

and uses philosophical arguments to argue his case. He also uses the

ideas of force, right and freedom to support his argument. He feels

we require a civil state, as opposed to living in the state of nature,

as ‘it substitutes justice for instinct….and gives his actions a moral

quality’ and describes the civil state as having ‘transformed him from

a stupid, limited animal into an intelligent being and a man’ (Unit,


He believed that it is not right that you should obey someone just

because of force and that for the state to be run properly the power

it has must be legitimate. He say’s ‘authority is legitimate if the

person (or institution) possesses the right to command others’ (Unit,

p.97), in other words, authority cannot use naked force to command

obedience. He also believed that ‘to be legitimate, the authority the

state has over the people must come from the people themselves, and

not from a single person such as the king.’ (Unit, P.97)

In order to prove the point that might does not equal right, that is

that ‘because you can force me to obey you, is it right that I should

obey you?’ (Unit, p100), Rousseau uses the example of ‘The strongest

is never strong enough to be master all the time, unless he transforms

force into right and obedience into duty….Force is a physical power; I

fail to see what morality can result from its effects.’ (Unit, p100),

in other words, unless the authority is legitimate and the people feel

obliged to obey, rather

than forced to obey, when the authority is absent, the people ‘will

not necessarily obey’ (Unit, p100).

Rousseau defines the fundamental problem of the best way to run a

state as how the people can live in the state and still remain free,

and he goes on to suggest that the solution is to ‘find a form of

association’, i.
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