Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 6-6-1967


One of the more perplexing problems in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau is the apparent inconsistency between the conceptions of natural impulse and restraint. Rousseau appears to advocate simultaneously in the law of the heart and the restraint of the passions. To throw light on this problem, Rousseau is compared with Kant. This comparison reveals that the rationalist elements in Rousseau cluster about the conception of will, viz., autonomy of the will, self-legislation, universalization principle, etc. Where they differ most radically is on the function of sentiment and conscience, the apprehension of the moral law and the status of the universalization principle. Each of these difficulties is examined carefully. First differences: In objecting to the lack of subjective motivation in Kant’s moral theory, the assertion will be made that Rousseau presents a theory of enlightened moral sentiment in which reason and sentiment are never separate. Rousseau’s aim is to overcome factitious passions by restraint, in order to restore conscience; the rationalist or Kantian element can thus be assimilated into his theory of sentiment. The peculiar alliance of reason and sentiment explains the confusion emerging from his discussion of impulse and restraint. Second differences The intertwining of reason and sentiment gives Rousseau a complex conception of natural law. He accepts the idea that moral law emanates from reason, and adds to this a conception of natural right derived from the natural feelings. He is therefore able to argue that what reason knows to be good, conscience senses to be good. The objective moral law known to reason is reflected in the conscience. Third difference: Kant regards the universalization principle as a moral principle; Rousseau thinks of it as a moral-political principle. This emphasis by Rousseau implies that natural right is built into the dynamics of the general will. To defend this point, particular emphasis must be placed on justice and its function in the act of universalization. Finally, it is asserted that the general will has both objective and subjective components; reason and sentiment are allied in impelling us to comply with the general will.