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Free Will in Montaigne, Pascal, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire and Sartre


Mary Efrosini Gregory

Free Will in Montaigne, Pascal, Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire and Sartre takes the reader on a journey through the corridors of time to explore the evolution of thought regarding free will. The arguments and works presented in this volume raise critical and timeless issues for ethicists, the criminal justice system and the responsible citizen. Montaigne held that humans can break out of the determinist confines of their given cultures and acquired habits by employing reason, welcoming change and promoting education. In The Nun, Diderot chronicles portraits of pathology, records symptoms and leaves it up to the reader to decide whether the unfortunate victims are products of nature, nurture or both. Rousseau thought that civilized man, having joined society, surrenders his free will to the general will to enjoy protection of his person, family and property. Sartre, an indeterminist, averred that since humans have the capacity to be self-reflective, they can exercise creativity with regard to who and how they choose to be from moment to moment. Freud observed that we are marionettes whose strings are commandeered by various realms competing for dominance – the conscious and subconscious; id, ego and superego. Bernays, Freud’s nephew, employed psychoanalytic theory as a tool to advise corporations how to entice the public to purchase their products when confronted with a range of choices. This book opens the door to lively classroom discussion on moral issues. French literature, philosophy, psychology and political science classes will find it an invaluable source presenting a wealth of views on free will.


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5. Rousseau 119


Chapter Five Rousseau I have seen those vast unfortunate regions that only seem to be destined to cover the earth with herds of slaves. From their sordid sight I have averted my eyes with dis- dain, horror and pity; and, seeing one fourth of my fellow humans changed into beasts for the service of others, I have grieved to be a man.1 —Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Julie, or the New Heloise (1761) In the epigraph above, Rousseau combines his masterful skill as a fluid, seduc- tive novelist with his political agenda. The landscape that he paints is truly an iconic representation of his belief system that “man is born free, but that eve- rywhere he is in chains.” In a few lines, the reader visualizes the landscape covered with wretched slaves as if he were standing on a hill gazing at the panorama below. He is provided with an iconic representation of men who have left the simple virtues of living in the countryside to be exploited by decadent civilization. Rousseau’s literary style is flowing and seductive. His long, sinuous, elegant sentences, like ocean waves, carry the reader’s emotions where he dictates. The panorama he paints stirs a deep, involuntary emotional response from the reader. Rousseau’s objectives are to attack the institutions of slavery and also of private property. He believed that the notions of slavery and private property did not exist in natural man: it was not until men left the woods to join civiliza- tion that they developed the notions...

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