If the greatness of a philosophical work can be measured by the volume and vehemence of the public response, there is little question that Rousseau's Social Contract stands out as a masterpiece. Within a week of its publication in 1762 it was banished from France. Soon thereafter, Rousseau fled to Geneva, where he saw the book burned in public. At the same time, many of his contemporaries, such as Kant, considered Rousseau to be 'the Newton of the moral world', as he was the first philosopher to draw attention to the basic dignity of human nature. The Social Contract has never ceased to be read and debated in the 250 years since its publication. Rousseau's Social Contract: An Introduction offers a thorough and systematic tour of this toriously paradoxical and challenging text. David Lay Williams offers readers a chapter-by-chapter reading of the Social Contract, squarely confronting these interpretive obstacles. The book also features a special extended appendix dedicated to outlining Rousseau's famous conception of the general will, which has been the object of controversy since the Social Contract's publication in 1762.
David Lay Williams is Associate Professor of Political Science at DePaul University and the author of Rousseau's Platonic Enlightenment (2007) and The General Will: The Evolution of a Concept (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press), as well as numerous articles in journals such as History of Political Thought, the Journal of the History of Ideas, The Journal of Politics, The American Journal of Political Science, and Polity. He has twice held fellowships at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, as well as a fellowship at the DePaul Humanities Center. He was formerly Professor of Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.
David Lay Williams
Cambridge University Press
Date of Publication
Cambridge Introductions to Key Philosophical Texts