Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.



General will

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S027-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

The fundamental claim for general will is that the members of a political community, as members, share a public or general interest or good which is for the benefit of them all and which should be put before private interests. When the members put the general good first, they are willing the general will of their community. The claim was given special and influential shape by Rousseau. He produced a comprehensive theory of the legitimacy of the state and of government, revolving around the general will. Some contend this solves the central problem of political philosophy – how the individual can both be obliged to obey the state’s laws, and be free. If laws are made by the general will, aimed at the common good and expressed by all the citizens, the laws must be in accordance with the public interest and therefore in the interest of each, and each is obliged by the law yet free because they are its author. Rousseau’s formulation has been much criticized. But others have found it essentially true and have variously adapted it.

Citing this article:
Nicholson, Peter P.. General will, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S027-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches