Response paper instructions

Your assignment is to write a short essay (500-1000 words, or approximately 2-4 pages, double-spaced). Papers should be typed, in 12 point font, double-spaced, and with one inch margins. Deviations from this formatting may be penalized (particularly if it appears that your deviation is designed to hide the fact that you didn’t meet length requirements). This paper is optional, but it is a good idea to write it, particularly if you intend to choose essay-writing as one of your optional components.

This paper is to be a “response paper.” To respond to a text, you must examine some part of it and then comment on the ideas, themes, or issues that the text raises. When commenting on something, we usually defend, challenge, qualify, or elaborate on it. So one takes something that the author says or argues, and then defends that claim, challenges that claim, or qualifies it (that is, defends some version of the claim but not another, or defends the claim in some context but not another). Elaborating on a an idea is a bit different, and perhaps will be the response you might want to take if you are interested simply in expanding on Rousseau’s core ideas. In an elaboration, you try to explain the implications of a passage, idea, theme, or claim.

Like all college papers, you need an introductory paragraph that explains the problem or puzzle you are addressing (e.g., “The problem I want to explore is why Rousseau thinks that it is so essential to have a small homogenous population in order to be free, and whether that position makes sense”), and also presents your main claim or thesis (“I argue that Rousseau’s insistence on a small, relatively equal, and homogeneous society does make sense, but it also means that his idea of the general will no longer makes much sense for contemporary societies”).

The following questions are designed to get you thinking about the kinds of responses you might have to the texts we have read so far. You can write your response guided by one of these questions, or you develop your own.

(1)  Why does Rousseau think it makes sense to say that people in a legitimate society can be “forced to be free” (p. 26)? Is Rousseau’s notion that forcing those to obey the law is the same as forcing them to be free more dangerous than other possible justifications of punishing lawbreakers?

(2)  What are some of the conditions that make it possible for a people to become free? Why does Rousseau establish those conditions? Do we in the U.S. (who do not really mean any of those conditions) have anything to learn from Rousseau’s discussion?

(3)  Does Rousseau’s rule by the general will guarantee everyone’s rights equally, or are there possibilities for singling out groups of people for oppressive treatment? (In other words, does the general will prevent the kinds of abuses we saw in the internment of the Japanese during World War II)?

(4)  Explain the ways in which the problem that the lawgiver is supposed to solve actually keeps recurring. What do you think Rousseau means to express in showing this recurrence?

(5)  Do you agree with Rousseau that it’s a good idea for societies to have a civil religion (Book IV, chapter VIII)? Why or why not?

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