A question is posed to me via my coursework: “Does justice require that anything be distributed equally? If so, what?” This is, of course, the bog-standard prompt for the student to explain the modern dispute between John Rawls1 and Robert Nozick2 . We’ll get there shortly, but first I want to back up and ask the more fundamental (indeed, perennial) question: What is justice? At the risk of plagiarizing Socrates, I might clarify that I am not asking, “what makes a … Justice, Culture, and the Inheritance of the Enlightenmentread more
In the end, the ‘general will’ is a solution in search of a problem. Rousseau wants to craft an account of the collective behaviour of humans in large groups, before he really understands the behaviour and motivations of individual humans. This is hardly surprising, given the fact that Rousseau was himself a deeply confused and corrupt man.
On it’s surface, it is a pop-culture expression of Cold War anxiety. But Cold War anxiety is just a symptom of a much deeper problem, and in this movie, is used as a mere cover story to ask essential questions: What does it mean to be human? What makes us so special? How did the Enlightenment change our understanding of ourselves as creatures in the universe: unique, and deserving of special regard because of that uniqueness? What would it matter if we did in fact “blow it all to hell”? What is the significance of our capacity to learn and understand, to communicate, to experience love and loss, to create, and to destroy? Planet of the Apes asks all of these questions, and more…
This book does far more than “inspire further investigation”. It is a compact hand-grenade with the explosive power of an H-bomb. Anyone with the ambition and the sensitivity to the philosophical conundrums addressed in this book, could find himself on a life-long quest hunting down the splinters in the mind it leaves behind…. given a wise guide, and a group with which to discuss the men and ideas presented in this book, I think the book is a fantastic place to begin a journey, not just in the ideas of the Enlightenment, but in philosophy itself.