03/02/2010 17:02

Rousseau’s Two Concepts of Obligation

Rafeeq Hasan
University of Chicago

Rousseau’s Two Concepts of Obligation

In this paper I argue that Rousseau has two concepts of obligation. The first, which locates the ground of obligation in the agent’s rational commitment, looks like the beginning of the Kantian road. But in the second Rousseau recognizes something like a meta-obligation: an obligation to create a form of life in which both the agent and others can find their happiness in having and incurring obligations. Said otherwise, Rousseau recognizes an actual obligation (as opposed to say, a general feature of being a well-disposed or even virtuous person) to find one’s happiness in the life of obligation, and to promote the same possibility for others. I suggest that in a world that does not yet meet what Stanley Cavell has called “conditions of good enough justice” the second concept of obligation reveals itself as something like fidelity to the moment of constituent power—the power that institutes an order of justice.