By Jeremiah Alberg (auth.)

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He sees that in their system, the “first and holiest of the social laws”—the right of the accused to face his accusers—has been openly violated (CW 1:58; Pl. 1:735). This form is sacred, and the sacred is being profaned by this system for “the first time since the world began” (CW 1:58; Pl. 1:735). It inspires horror in Rousseau because its principles “reverse all principles of justice and morality” (CW 1:75; Pl. 1:756). The right to pardon, according to Rousseau, is based on the right to punish, and that, in turn, is based on the prior conviction of the criminal.

He is lost. This abyss of darkness has metaphysical implications for the others. Jean-Jacques is no longer capable of seeing his contemporaries as human beings: “He sees in it [the entire generation] neither good people, nor bad people, nor humans. He sees beings about whom he has no ideas. He doesn’t honor them, nor does he despise them or have a conception of them. He doesn’t know what it is” (CW 1:169; Pl. 1:878). Rousseau then concedes that if the Frenchman’s assent to the results of his research depends on the solution of his single objection, no agreement is possible.

This is not an uncritical reading. Rather, it is a reading that takes precisely those parts of Rousseau’s text that have most often been ignored, discounted, mutilated, or expelled, and lets those texts speak. Precisely these texts open up this new possibility of interpretation. ” In the course of this transformation, the author reveals his system. The Dialogues shows that, far from being an abstract starting point, the principle of natural goodness is the positive expression of an absence of forgiveness that constitutes the true heart of Rousseau’s system.

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