Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Radasanu, Andrea M., 1973-

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


Political science


In his Second Discourse and elsewhere, Jean-Jacques Rousseau famously argues for the perfectibility and malleability of man. That is, for Rousseau, man is the "historical" being whose moral character, dispositions, and inclinations are variable and to a large extent under-determined by his nature. This thesis argues, however, that Rousseau also believes man's moral character to be in various ways constrained by his nature. These "constraints of human nature" flow from the basic nature of the human person as asocial and activated solely by self-love. They characterize all human conditions and human types and permanently limit man in terms of his social, moral capacities, and his ability to practice moral virtue. In the first half of the thesis, I discuss the constraints and provide textual evidence for them from the Second Discourse, Emile, and the political writings. In the second, I show how Rousseau's social contract theory and its centerpiece---the sovereignty of the general will---presuppose the constraints of nature. This analysis demonstrates the morally realistic character of Rousseau's seemingly idealistic political thought and clarifies both the place of natural rights in the legitimate state and the notion of the moral infallibility of the legitimate sovereign. Last, I address an objection to the essay's essential thesis that natural human asociality constitutes a permanent constraint---namely, civil man's acquisition of sociability in the forms of moral freedom and civic virtue.


Advisors: Andrea Radasanu.||Committee members: Andrea Radasanu; S. Adam Seagrave; Matthew J. Streb.||Includes bibliographical references.


49 pages




Northern Illinois University

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