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While Rousseau takes us a step further than Diderot in seeking to explain not only the sources of the de facto authority of social norms but also the sources of their legitimacy through the idea of obligation, he undermines his account by the way in which he seeks further to bind the exercise of such legitimate authority to a notion of the common good. The mutual recognition of the legislative rights of the citizens established through the social contract has an important corollary in the collective assumption of the duty to exercise these rights to legislate for the common good.

While eloquently filling in the genealogical-historical account, he says nothing about the latter. The “philosophical” account remains an unredeemed promise and the “public moral entity” a cipher. Yet Diderot’s impasse can also be viewed as offering the opportunity to strike out in a new direction. This is the direction taken by Rousseau. Rousseau’s basic insight is that the authority Diderot is searching for cannot be found because the public moral entity is an essentially artificial entity, the modeling and preservation of which are the essential tasks of the polis.

There is but one virtue and that is wealth. One is either rich or contemptible” (Oeuvres Politiques, 285). The moralization of economic categories is perhaps the most insidious effect of the tyranny of luxury, for it allows a recognizable value system to survive that is devoid of any moral commitments. In their stead emerge relations of abuse and parasitism: The bad poets, bad painters, bad sculptors, antique dealers, jewellers and prostitutes . . avenge us. They are the vermin that gnaw our vampires and destroy them, pouring back, drop by drop, the blood that they drained from us.

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Monopsychism Mysticism Metaconsciousness by Philip Merlan


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