First Advisor

Michael F. Reardon

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History




Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Liberty



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, ii, 104 p.)


Rousseau and Kant were philosophers of freedom. Both believed freedom was the essence of humanity, and both believed that "freedom is self-legislation." This thesis examines what they understood to be self-legislation. According to Rousseau natural freedom was lost with the establishment of society. Society is an "unnatural" order and the true basis of society is simply convention. Man is free only if he is subject to laws of his own making, or at least to those laws to which he has consented. The ideal state, according to Rousseau, is the republic based on laws that have been created and adopted by each members of the community. It is in this sense of freedom, for Rousseau, is self-legislation. Kant believed the important issue was demonstrating the metaphysical possibility of freedom, not the reconstruction of society. Kant argued that freedom could be demonstrated, and morality reaffirmed, by focusing on the 11 ought" of reason. The 11 ought 11 transcends the physical world and was a pure law of reason. It is not subject to the physical laws of causality. Man has the ability to act according to this law of reason. Man is transcending the physical realm, and the physical laws of nature, whenever he makes a moral decision based on what he 11 ought 11 to do, or whenever he puts duty before his physical desire. This, Kant argues, is self-legislation, and only here may man hope to be free.


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