Activity, Passivity and the Politics of Will and Disposition in the Thought of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau: A Philosophical and Contextual Examination of Locke’s and Rousseau’s Theories of Volition and their Moral and Political Significance
Thompson, Benjamin Christopher
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
I am seeking publication of portions of my thesis as scholarly articles and (or) a monograph.
This thesis addresses the creative encounter between volition and politics, in the philosophical, theological and political writings of Locke and Rousseau. Utilising historical, contextual and philosophical forms of interpretation, it aims to explore whether Locke or Rousseau held consistent views about volition and what those were. It then seeks to cash out these views for their understanding of political institutions and political agents. This thesis explores the way Locke and Rousseau understood volition according to a traditional distinction between active and passive powers; however, both of them reconsider the nature of this dichotomy. Locke, it is argued, thought volition could be either active or passive. Rousseau, by contrast, believed volition to be a composite of interrelating active and passive capacities. Both thinkers identify active willing with real virtue and freedom, and both believe a kind of sublimated love is essential to realise this activity. Furthermore, this thesis considers the ways in which these theories of volition underlie Locke and Rousseau’s broader understandings of an agent’s disposition. This links Locke’s views on active volition to the mentalities appropriate for discourse, philosophy and Christian charity. Likewise, Rousseau’s understanding of true philosophy and virtue presuppose the conditions of active, moral will. This thesis cashes out the political importance of volition for Locke and Rousseau in two ways: a) as a heuristic and polemical device to reject unacceptable forms of government and to construct appropriate ones; b) as a philosophical framework with which the relationship between political agents and political institutions can be explained and constructed so as to cultivate citizens’ active will. Thus, the active dispositions appropriate to legitimate communication and politics are pivotal for Locke’s refutation of Filmer. But further, Lockean politics is constituted to preserve a space in which active dispositions might actually flourish. For Rousseau, the terms of the state of nature, the original compact and the Sovereign itself are all attuned to human agency, yet, this thesis explores how this scheme of political justice is only realised when the General Will is determined and enlightened. Thus, Rousseau uses his understanding of agency to explain the Legislator, his relation to the body politic, and the subsequent relations amongst the people, the Sovereign, Government and public moeurs as actual phenomena by which an active will is evoked.
Robert Lamb and Benjamin Thompson, 'The Meaning of Charity in Locke's Political Thought', European Journal of Political Thought, Vol. 8, No. 2, April 2009
PhD in Politics