Rousseau’s project in his Social Contract was to construct a conception of human subjectivity and political institutions that would transcend what he saw to be the limits of liberal political theory of his time. I take this as a starting point to put forward an interpretation of his theory of the general will as a kind of social cognition that is able to preserve individual autonomy and freedom alongside concerns with the collective welfare of the community. But whereas many have seen Rousseau’s ideas as a prelude to communitarianism or authoritarianism, we should instead see his project as articulating an alternative model of moral-cognitivist reasoning. In order to provide a framework for this interpretation, I propose reading his conception of the general will through the theory of collective intentionality and social ontology. I end with a consideration of how this interpretation of the general will can provide a more satisfying understanding of political and practical rationality contemporary debates over republicanism and liberalism.
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DOI 10.1080/09672559.2017.1286364
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