Reading questions for Rousseau’s Social Contract, Book I and part of Book II

(1) What is Rousseau’s stated purpose in writing this text?

(2) In chapter 2, Rousseau examines several possible answers to his question: what are the answers he examines and why are these answers wrong?

(3) In chapter 3, Rousseau addresses yet another possible answer to his question, one perhaps more interesting than those in chapter 2; what is this answer, and why is does Rousseau think it is wrong?

(4) Why does Rousseau argue that slavery is always illegitimate?

(5) Why is it necessary to trace the origin of a legitimate society to a “first convention”? What does this mean?

(6) What is the form of association Rousseau is looking for (Book I, chapter 6)? What is the problem the social contract is to solve? What are the main clauses of Rousseau’s social contract? How does Rousseau’s contract solve the problem he identifies?

(7) What does Rousseau mean by the term “sovereign”? What are some of the features of Rousseau’s sovereign?

(8) At the end of Book I, chapter 7, Rousseau makes one his most notorious claims, namely, that an individual can be “forced to be free.” What does Rousseau mean by this? How is it possible for someone to be forced to be free? Try to think of an example.

(9) What makes property legitimate?

(10) Big question: what does Rousseau mean by the idea of the “general will”?

(11) Why does Rousseau say that it is impossible to divide sovereign power?

(12) Why is it impossible for the general will to err?

(13) What limits are there to the sovereign’s power, according to Rousseau? What protections are there for individuals?

(14) Pay particular attention to Rousseau’s Book II, chapter 7 and the remainder of Book II. What is the problem that Rousseau is dealing with in Book II, chapter 7? What problems does this issue introduce for Rousseau’s radically democratic conception of sovereignty?

(15) Does Rousseau solve the problem he identifies in chapter 7?

(16) How much does Rousseau trust the people to decide its will properly?

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