Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Tyman, Stephen


This dissertation offers an interpretation of Rousseau's theory of the general will informed by his treatment of the problem of self-love. The central claim of the dissertation is that standard accounts of the general will have neglected both the role and the problematic character of Rousseau's conception of self-love and its relationship to his theory of the general will. When Rousseau's notion of self-love is understood properly, his theory of the general will is best conceived of as an active phenomenon consisting of an exercise of the self-love of the citizens of a well-formulated republic. In the first four chapters of the dissertation, three prominent readings of the general will are problematized by comparing them to a variety of claims in Rousseau's writings. It is then demonstrated that each interpretation neglects a rich analysis of the problem of self-love, which is central to Rousseau's description of the problem of inequality, the very problem that his theory of the general will sets out to solve. The three interpretations of the general will that are analyzed and critiqued are: (1) a straightforward reading in which any bundle of individual interests are given primacy in the interpretation of the general will and the morality of the law is interpreted as secondary; (2) an ideal reading in which the transcendent idea of justice is given primacy and individual interests are constrained in relation to it; (3) a Neokantian reading in which moral autonomy is emphasized and individual interests are constrained by a rationalistic conception of freedom. Besides pointing out certain textual infelicities involved in these readings, it is shown that they fail to adequately address Rousseau's claim that the general will represents a particular configuration of interest, which he calls the common interest. It is demonstrated that his enigmatic claim requires an analysis of his theory of self-love since for Rousseau interest is ultimately motivated by the more fundamental passion of self-love. In the final chapter, an interpretation of the general will is developed that understands it as an active form of sovereignty best understood as an ongoing phenomenon in which the self-love of the citizen is exercised and civic-virtue maintained. The dissertation concludes with the suggestion that Rousseau has not solved the problem of self-love because his theory of the general will presupposes the cultivation of patriotism in each citizen, a phenomenon most effective when it inflames self-love in relation to foreigners. This antagonism to other citizens and other nations perpetuates a state of war on the international level and inflames the passions that can lead to the types of inequality Rousseau was so careful to describe.




This dissertation is only available for download to the SIUC community. Current SIUC affiliates may also access this paper off campus by searching Dissertations & Theses @ Southern Illinois University Carbondale from ProQuest. Others should contact the interlibrary loan department of your local library or contact ProQuest's Dissertation Express service.