(Second semester, 2003/4)

Unit Director and Lecturer: Christopher Bertram


The course runs during the second semester. The lectures are on Wednesdays at 11am in Lecture Room One (3-5 Woodland Road) and the seminar groups meet at 2 and 3 on Thursdays in my room (top floor 9 Woodland Road).


You can contact the lecturer by email ( or telephone (928 9140). Or come along to his office hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 11.10-12.00

Please make sure to check your email account and the unit weblog regularly for announcements regarding this course.


PHIL 30026 carries 20 credits. In order to obtain the credit you must: i) attend the weekly seminars; ii) deliver at least one satisfactory presentation in a seminar; iii) submit one essay by the end of the Spring term; and iv) pass (or make a fair attempt at passing) an examination in the summer term.

Mode of Assessment:

The summative assessment for this course is by examination only. Coursework (one essay and a presentation at a seminar) is also assessed, for formative and diagnostic purposes, with feedback provided by the seminar instructor. Note that although your coursework assessment will not officially count towards the final mark, it is registered in an end-of-semester report.

Teaching Methods:

There will be two sessions each week. The first of these will consist of a lecture by CB, the second will take the form of a seminar in which we shall interrogate some text together. Each week a student will have the task of presenting to the seminar an introductory analysis of the prescribed passage for that week, that introduction will be followed by a discussion led by CB. In order to obtain the credits for this unit you are required to submit at least one satisfactory essay and make a satisfactory presentation or its equivalent at the seminar.


I'm running a weblog in parallel with this unit as an experiment. I'll be making announcement about the course there, posting material relevant to each week's teaching, responding to points people made in the seminar that I've thought further about, linking to Rousseau stories in the media etc etc. The weblog is called Rousseau and you can leave comments about individual posts to which I shall respond as appropriate. Remember though, that anything on the blog (including comments) is open to the whole internet.

Essay Topics:

You must submit to the office, by the end of the Spring term, an essay of not more than 2,500 words on one of the following topics:

  1. Does the Social Contract solve the social problem posed by Rousseau in his other writings. Does this solution involve the 'denaturing' of individuals?
  2. Explain and comment upon Rousseau's distinction between the general will and the will of all.
  3. 'It is not consciousness that determines social being but social being that determines consciousness' (Marx). Discuss with reference to Rousseau.
  4. What can we make of Rousseau's insistence that man is by nature good but has been corrupted by society?
  5. Why does Rousseau reject the idea that sovereign authority may be vested in representatives?
  6. 'At least Rousseau allows that a man can be either an individual or a citizen. He does not allow a woman to be either'. Discuss.
  7. What, according to Rousseau, is the role of religion in a legitimate state?
  8. Should we understand Rousseau as a partisan of direct democracy?
  9. Is the rule of the general will compatible with the freedom of the individual?
  10. Why does Rousseau believe the degeneration of the state to be inevitable?

Reading list and course programme:

(Note: I also maintain a page on Rousseau-related web-resources)

Reading (books)


The standard edition of Rousseau's work in French is the Pleiade edition edited by Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond. Volume III contains most of his political writings.

There are many translations of the Social Contract and the Discourses. For many years, the standard one has been G.D.H. Cole (revised by J.H. Brumfitt and J.C. Hall), published in the Everyman library. It is easy to get hold of second-hand copies of this.

I shall normally use translations by Victor Gourevitch in The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings and The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings (both Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

I shall also make reference to:
Emile , trans. Allan Bloom (Penguin, 1979); But see also the ILT Web retranslation by Grace G. Roosevelt (here ).
The Confessions, trans J.M. Cohen (Penguin, 1954);
Rousseau Judge of Jean-Jacques: Dialogues, trans Bush, Kelly and Masters (University of New England Press, 1990); and
The Reveries of the Solitary Walker, trans P. France (Penguin, 1979).
A good collection of Rousseau's broader writings is John Hope Mason (ed.) The Indispensable Rousseau (Quartet, 1979).
Many of these texts are available on the internet via the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Association.
You can hear an excerpt from his opera "Le Devin du Village" from here .

2. Works by others


As a corrective to Rousseau's own account of himself, you might want to consult Maurice Cranston's masterly three-volume biography, Jean Jacques; The Noble Savage; and The Solitary Self (all Penguin, 1983-1996).

General Studies

Robert Wokler, Rousseau
Marshall Berman, The Politics of Authenticity (New York, 1970). Inspiring, but hard to obtain.
Ernst Cassirer, The Question of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (U. Indiana Press, 1954). A brilliant synthesis.
N. J. H. Dent, Rousseau (Blackwell, 1988) contains a reversal of tradtional evaluations as found in e.g.,
John Charvet, The Social Problem in the Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Cambridge, 1974).
Tracy B. Strong, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Politics of the Ordinary (Sage, 1994) is an inspiring but sometimes obscure work.
Timothy O'Hagan's Rousseau in Routledge's Arguments of the Philosophers, is worthy but not as exciting as,say, Dent or Strong.
Jean Starobinski, Transparency and Obstruction (Chicago, 1988) is highly influential.

Work specifically on the political philosophy

Roger D. Masters, The Political Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Judith Shklar, Men and Citizens
James Miller, Rousseau, Dreamer of Democracy
Zev Tractenberg, Making Citizens
The key (untranslated) work in French is Robert Derathé, Jean-Jacques Rousseau et la science politique de son temps (Paris, 1970) but another work that is useful in situating Rousseau's political philosophy in context is
Keohane, N.O. (1980) Philosophy and the State in France.

Commentaries on the social contract

Christopher Bertram, Rousseau and The Social Contract (London: Routledge, 2003).
Hilail Gildin, Rousseau's Social Contract (Chicago, 1983).
Noone, J.B. (1981) Rousseau's 'Social Contract': A Conceptual Analysis.
Papers on specific topics are suggested below, but the following papers should be read as guides to the difficulty of apprehending the content of a political text in a foreign language that is over two centuries old:
Quentin Skinner, 'Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas', History and Theory 8 (1969).
Timothy O'Hagan, 'On Rousseau's Social Contract: Translation and Exegesis' History of Political Thought vol. 3, no. 2 (1982).
Ellen Meiksins Wood, 'The State and Popular Sovereignty in French Political Thought: A Genealogy of Rousseau's "General Will", History of Political Thought, vol. 4, no. 2 (1983).

Schedule of Lectures and Seminars

(essential reading is marked with an *)

Week One: Rousseau: The Man

*Bertram, ch. 1
*The Confessions (yes, I know this is a lot but it is highly entertaining and easy to read. As much as you can).
The study of Rousseau that best situates his political thought in the context of his life is Miller (see above).
Quentin Skinner, 'Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas', History and Theory 8 (1969) also in James Tully, ed. Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and his Critics.

Week Two: History: Selfhood and Modernity

*Discourse on Inequality
Essay on the Origin of Languages
Bertram, ch. 2
Lovejoy, A.O., 'The supposed primitivism of Rousseau's "Discourse on Inequality"' in his Essays in the History of Ideas.
Joshua Cohen, 'The Natural Goodness of Humanity', in Herman, Korsgaard and Reath eds, Learning from the History of Ethics. Also at:

Week Three: Rousseau, Modernity, the Self (continued)

*Discourse on Inequality (finish it if you haven't already).
*Emile (E), especially the beginning and the first forty pages of book 4; but also try to look at the discussions of the idea of property, of Robinson Crusoe, and of the magician.
Bertram, ch. 2
Dent, discussion of E.
Dent, 'Rousseau on Amour-Propre', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume LXXII (1998) p. 65
Gauthier, D., 'The Politics of Redemption', in his Moral Dealing.
Taylor, C. (1992) 'The politics of recognition', parts 1-3, in Multiculturalism and the 'Politics of Recognition, ed. A. Gutmann, enlarged edition as Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, 1994.

Week Four: Man is born free but is everywhere in chains

*SC title page, 'notice', I. Introductory para, I.i (first para).
*'The General Society of the Human Race', from the Geneva Manuscript. Here is a translation by me .
'The State of War', in the Gourevitch edition or Grace G. Roosevelt. 'A Reconstruction of Rousseau's Fragments on the State of War', History of Political Thought (1987).
*Bertram, ch. 3.

In general, for weeks 4-9 consult, ad lib, Dent, Charvet, Gildin, Noone, Shklar, Masters and Hall. If your French is good enough, you could also consult the commentary contained within Maurice Halbwachs's edition of Du Contrat Social (there's a copy in the library).
For this week see especially Hall, ch. 4.
MacAdam, J.I., 'The Discourse on Inequality and the Social Contract', Philosophy, Oct 1972, reprinted in J. Lively & A. Reeve eds. Modern Political Theory from Hobbes to Marx.

Week Five: Power versus Legitimacy

*SC I.1-5
Locke, Second Treatise
*Bertram, ch. 4.
Gildin, ch. 1.

Week Six: The Social Pact and the Sovereign

*SC I.6-9 and IV.2
       *Bertram, ch. 5.
See also especially Gildin, Noone, Masters.

Week Seven: Sovereignty and the general will

*SC II passim (esp. II.1-6) and I.9 , III.13-18 and IV.1-2
* Bertram, ch. 6.
*Neuhouser, F. (1993) 'Freedom, dependence and the general will', Philosophical Review 102:3
See also Gildin, Noone, Masters, Strong, Dent, Trachtenberg, Riley.
Jones, W.T. (1987) 'Rousseau's general will and the problem of consent', J. of the History of Philosophy 25
Cohen, J. (1986) 'Reflections on Rousseau: autonomy and democracy', Philosophy and Public Affairs 15:3 and in Christopher W. Morris,(ed.) The Social Contract Theorists.
Runciman, W.G. and Sen, A.K., 'Games, Justice and the General Will', in Mind (1965).
Strong, ch. 3.
Riley, P., 'A Possible Explanation of Rousseau's General Will', in Morris (ed.) The Social Contract Theorists and in the American Political Science Review 64:1 (1970).
Ripstein, A., 'The General Will', in Morris,(ed.), The Social Contract Theorists and in History of Philosophy Quarterly 9:1 (1992)/
Brian Barry, 'The Public Interest' in A. Quinton ed. Political Philosophy.
Steven G. Affeldt, 'The Force of Freedom: Rousseau on Forcing to Be Free' Political Theory, 27:3 (June 1999).

Week Eight: The Lawgiver, culture and virtue

*SC II. 7-12
*Emile, book 1, discussion of the role of the tutor (at p. 50 and thereabouts of the Penguin edition)
Considerations on the Government of Poland chs 1 and 2.
Essay on the Origin of Languages (esp ch. 20)
*Bertram, ch. 7.
Christopher W. Kelly "To Persuade without Convincing": The Language of Rousseau's Legislator", in American Journal of Political Science vol. 31:2 (May 1987) pp. 321–35.
Gildin, Noone, Masters
Dent, ch. 6.
Trachtenberg, ch. 3.
Shklar, J.N., 'Rousseau's Images of Authority', American Political Science Review, vol. 58 (1964).

Week Nine: Government and Sovereign

*SC III. 1-11 (and III, chs 12-18; IV.2)
*Bertram, ch. 8
Dent, ch. 6
Gildin, Noone, Masters
Bertrand de Jouvenel, 'Rousseau's Theory of the Forms of Government', in Cranston, ed., Modern Political Philosophies.
Strong, ch. 3.
Cole, G.D.H., Modern Social Theory.
Frank Marini, 'Popular Sovereignty but Representative Government: The Other Rousseau', in Midwest Journal of Political Science, vol. 11, Issue 4 (1967).

Week Ten: Civil Religion

'Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar' in Emile.
*Bertram, ch. 9.
*Leigh, Rousseau and the problem of tolerance in the eighteenth century (Oxford, 1978)
Bertram, "The Role of Rousseau's Civil Religion" (unpublished ms).
Dent, ch. 7
Noone, ch. 7.
Gildin, ch. 6
Robert Derathé, 'La Religion Civile selon Rousseau', in Annales de la Société Jean-Jacques Rousseau 35 (1959-62).

Week Eleven: Impact and Influence

Bertram, ch. 10.
Cassirer, The Question of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (esp.the introduction by Peter Gay).
Coletti, From Rousseau to Lenin.
Wokler, 'Rousseau and Marx', in Miller and Siedentop (eds), The Nature of Political Theory.
Kant, Groundwork.

Week Twelve: Totalitarian democracy?

Talmon, J.L. (1952) The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, ch. 3
Berlin, I. [1958] 'Two concepts of liberty', secs. 2-5, in his Four Essays on Liberty 1969, also in A. Quinton ed. Political Philosophy 1967
Plamenatz, J. [1965] 'Ce qui ne signifie autre chose, sinon qu'on le forcera d'être libre', in Cranston & Peters eds. Hobbes and Rousseau
Chapman, J.W. (1968) Rousseau - Totalitarian or Liberal?
Dodge, G.H. ed. (1971) Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Authoritarian Libertarian?
Wokler, R. (1979) 'Rousseau's perfectibilian libertarianism' in Alan Ryan ed. The Idea of Freedom: Essays in Honour of Isaiah Berlin
Wokler, R. (1987) 'Rousseau's two concepts of liberty' in G. Feaver & F. Rosen eds. Lives, Liberties and the Public Good


For electronic journals have a look at: and for useful philosophy links you should try: PHILOSOPHER'S INDEX:

Indexing and abstracts from books and over 400 journals. A major source of information in the area of aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics, and the philosophy of various disciplines e.g. education, history, law, religion and science. Further information and search help are available on the CD-ROM which is available from the Arts and Social Sciences Library or can be searched on the CD-ROM network of databases which is available on PCs in all the branch libraries, in the Philosophy department library (in the basement) and also accessible from the Arts Faculty Graduate Centre, 7 Woodland Road, and the Psychology Department. To access a particular CD-ROM database from one of these PCs click on:

The networked CD-ROM menu should then open and you can double click on the particular database that you wish to use to start it up.

Routledge Encycopaedia of Philosophy On-Line (REP Online):

This is the online version of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Published in June 1998 in print and CD-ROM editions, this was the first multi-volume encyclopedia released in the discipline for over thirty years. Like the print and CD-ROM editions, REP Online features over 2000 original articles from over 1300 leading international experts across the discipline of philosophy. The articles cover an unparalleled breadth of subject matter, including Anglo-American, ethical and political, cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, continental and contemporary philosophy. A summary provides a rapid orientation at the beginning of every in-depth article. Further information and search help are available on the the system. You can search this resource on the at:

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