Rousseau and The Ideal Society

Although men with minds like that of Socrates may be able to acquire virtue by reason, the human race would long since have ceased to exist if its preservation had depended only on the reasoning of its members.


Rousseau believed that the ideal society was based on his idea of the natural man. According to this idea, humans were corrupted by society and had come a long ways from being what they were intended to be. However, Rousseau also believed that humans cannot reclaim their natural state through education alone since education and educational conventions have also been corrupted.

Rousseau thought that natural man was humanity that acted out of feelings and from the heart. Over time, Rousseau believed that humans had lost their capacity to respond in accordance to what nature intended. The reclaimed nature, together with his vision of the ideal society would allow humans to once again live up to their moral potential. In Rousseau's reclaimed society, equality, not freedom, was to be the goal Likewise, common well-being rather than individual preference would be the pre-eminent.

The emphasis on a re-natured society also meant that Rousseau did not believe that humans needed to be taught about morals. Compassion, the most important of all human virtues, would allow humans to act acordingly. There is also no place for reason in Rousseau's ideal society. In his Discourse on Inequality Among Men Rousseau notes that "although men with minds like that of Socrates may be able to acquire virtue by reason, the human race would long since have ceased to exist if its preservation had depended only on the reasoning of its members." Reason too, in the frame work of Rousseau's theories, is corruptible and can be used in the service of self-interest.

Self-interest has also led to the desire to acquire property and the acquisition of property has ultimately led to inequality: "or where there is no property there is no injustice." Thus, it is hardly surprising that in Rousseau's ideal society there would be no justification for ownership of goods.

Ultimately, creating, or rather re-making, the ideal society requires a a very specific kind of education. In Rousseau's view, the primary factor in the curriculum for such a society will rest on the natural instincts to seek good in common well-being, and to refocus the individualism in terms of collective interests.

Rousseau Home Page
On Inequality
The Social Contract
Rousseau and The Ideal Society
Natural Education