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Rousseau's General Will, The Pareto Principle, and the Problem of Consent

Jones, William Thomas (1981) Rousseau's General Will, The Pareto Principle, and the Problem of Consent. Social Science Working Paper, 412. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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Most critics of Rousseau regard his account of the general will as incoherent. In this paper, this assessment is challenged. I argue that the general will is simply the sum of the decisions made by individual citizens about what is in the public interest, and it is in the public interest to be governed by a regime that is capable of making Pareto improvements in the living conditions of those it governs, that is, a regime whose policies are such that at least one citizen is better off and no citizen is worse off. This reading is supported by an examination of the procedures Rousseau recommended for conducting assemblies at which the general will is to be expressed. Further, this reading has the advantage of being psychologically plausible -- at least for the small, homogeneous societies Rousseau was discussing. Finally, on this reading the problem of consent Rousseau's chief concern -- is solved, but again only for small homogeneous societies.

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Alternate Title:Rousseau's General Will and the Problem of Consent
Additional Information:I am much indebted to Bruce E. Cain, Ed Green and Charles Young for reading and commenting helpfully on an earlier draft of this paper. Published as Jones, W. T. "Rousseau's general will and the problem of consent." Journal of the History of Philosophy 25.1 (1987): 105-130.
Group:Social Science Working Papers
Series Name:Social Science Working Paper
Issue or Number:412
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20171003-163815196
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:82020
Deposited By: Jacquelyn Bussone
Deposited On:04 Oct 2017 18:54
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 18:50

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