Rousseau on refined Epicureanism and the problem of modern liberty

European Journal of Political Theory 17 (4):411-431 (2018)
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This article argues that in order to understand the form of modern political freedom envisioned by Rousseau, we have to understand his theory of taste as refined Epicureanism. Rousseau saw the division of labour and corrupt taste as the greatest threats to modern freedom. He identified their cause in the spread of vulgar Epicureanism – the frenzied pursuit of money, vanity and sexual gratification. In its place, he advocated what he called ‘the Epicureanism of reason’, or refined Epicureanism. Materially grounded on an equitable proportion of needs and faculties, this was a hedonist theory of self-command designed to cultivate the temperate enjoyment of sensual pleasure. I argue that Rousseau hoped that a shift from vulgar to refined Epicureanism would secure political freedom in modernity by grounding the politics of the general will in an economics of balanced growth and a reinvigorated appreciation of natural beauty. This perspective provides a new way of both clarifying the role of economic justice and aesthetic judgment in Rousseau's republican state theory, and of assessing the consistency of his moral and political thought.



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Jared Holley
Cambridge University

References found in this work

Natural Right and History (Chicago, 1953).Leo Strauss - 1953 - The Correspondence Between Ethical Egoists and Natural Rights Theorists is Considerable Today, as Suggested by a Comparison of My" Recent Work in Ethical Egoism," American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (2):1-15.
What Is the General Will?Gopal Sreenivasan - 2000 - Philosophical Review 109 (4):545-581.
Voting the General Will.Melissa Schwartzberg - 2008 - Political Theory 36 (3):403-423.

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