Rousseau on Dependence and the Formation of Political Society



Abstract: I explore Rousseau's account of the problem of dependence by means of an analysis of the distinction he makes between dependence on things and dependence on men. With reference to his Second Discourse, I argue that dependence on things alone exists only in the case of primitive man in the earliest stages of the state of nature, while dependence on men is more properly to be understood as dependence on other human beings as mediated by dependence on things. I go on to argue that in the light of Rousseau's account of dependence and his description in the Second Discourse of a spontaneous dependence and inequality generating process, there is a significant problem with his solution to the problem of dependence on other human beings proposed in the Social Contract. This problem can be understood in terms of the relation of the idea of will to that of necessity, and I suggest that Rousseau was himself aware of it.