Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: May 06, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412958660 | Print ISBN: 9781412958653 | Online ISBN: 9781412958660| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
The central idea in the political thought of JeanJacques Rousseau, the general will (volonté générale) had already figured in French theological and philosophical discourse for a century before Rousseau appropriated it and made it forever his own. The general will first gained wide circulation in the writings of Nicholas Malebranche, who employs the term in the Traité de la nature et de la grace to characterize the way in which God's will operates in the world. He argues that God wills generally, establishing laws to regulate the universe as a whole, rather than by willing particularly to assign specific attributes and destinies to individual people and things. Physical deformations and moral evil are not part of God's general will, Malebranche argues, although they arise as predictable but unwilled consequences of the operation of general laws. In Book 11 of De l'esprit des lois , Montesquieu characterizes the legislative activity of ...