In Search of the Reason and the Right—Rousseau's Social Contract as a Thought Experiment

Acta Analytica 28 (4):509-526 (2013)
Nenad Miščević
Central European University
For Rousseau, social contract is a hypothetical one; the paper claims that it is, in contemporary terms, a political thought-experiment (TE). The abductive way of thinking, looking for the best normative pattern in the data, finds its counterpart in the historical abduction in the Second Discourse; the analogy between the two secures the methodological unity of Rousseau’s political philosophy. The proposed reading of the work as a TE shows that it fulfills the necessary requirements put by (hopefully) intuitively acceptable definition of a TE, and fits in the contractarian tradition that has been experimenting with hypothetical arrangements since its start. The reading of The Social Contract as a TE has helped to systematize some of its shortcomings from the wider perspective of methodology of political philosophy. Finally, the political thought experiment (PTE) reading of Rousseau places his central work where it belongs: in the tradition started by Plato’s Republic, continuing with Renaissance and early modern philosophical utopias, culminating in the contractarian social contract TE, and going all the way to the work of Rawls and his present day continuators. We hope that this can contribute to a more positive picture of Rousseau’s work, despite criticism concerning his brusque manner of thought-experimenting
Keywords Social contract  Thought experiment  Rousseau
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DOI 10.1007/s12136-013-0200-x
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Human Nature and the Limits (If Any) of Political Philosophy.David Estlund - 2011 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 39 (3):207-237.
Why Not Socialism?G. A. Cohen - 2009 - Princeton University Press.

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