Is Rousseau’s conception of the Amour Propre a central impediment to a successful democratic rule? What precautions must be taken to overcome the influence of Amour Propre? Is he right?

This was written as part of a University Philosophy module.

It is worth exploring Rousseau’s Amour Propre concept at the beginning of this article for the sake of clarity. Along with that, I will look at Rousseau’s argument that Amour Propre is a central impediment to the possibility of a successful democratic rule, though I will withhold my own views until later on in the article. Before arguing for my own views, I will outline Rousseau’s theory on overcoming the influence of Amour Propre. I will then argue that his view needs adjusting in light of objections raised. Just so Rousseau is fully understood, I am going to reference parts of his general political philosophy that are in direct relation to Amour Propre, and is not meant as a divergence from the topic of this article. Any use of philosophical terminology will be defined at first mention.

We can only attain a successful democratic rule under the influence of Amour Soir, or ‘self-realisation’. This term entails being influenced reasoning and by your own norms and values. Amour Soir is seen as a detachment of Amour Propre, a phrase used to refer to people who prefer adopting artificial values, ready-made by society. That is one Rousseau’s fundamental philosophical claims.  How he outlines the essential criteria of Amour Soir in ‘Emile’[1] is by overcoming the influence of primary[2] and secondary[3] socialisation. Doing so will make us free, and that’s a crucial element to a successful democratic rule. His position on this topic is quite elaborate, so I intend on thoroughly examining it in light of the question.

Rousseau on democracy 

To begin with, it is worth explaining Rousseau’s view on democracy, and how that relates to his contractualist theory. No Law could possibly limit the power of a Sovereign, because doing so would entail that there is a higher power than the Sovereign. To put it simply, you cannot have sovereignty over a Sovereign. Doing so implies tyranny, which is an unfavourable political climate, and putting a limit on the power of the Sovereign means maximising Amour Propre[4]. Therefore, it follows that you cannot transfer power from one to another, it is inalienable. Not even part of the power. Because of this, it follows that society must be a democracy. And that is because society is governed by the of the majority. How this argument works is relatively intricate, so therefore I think it is worth formalising it to see how the conclusions follow on from the premises:

Premise 1) limiting the Sovereigns’ power suggests a higher power than the Sovereign.

P2) a higher power implies tyranny.

P3) tyranny moves us towards Amour Propre.

P4) we should avoid Amour Propre.

Conclusion 1) Therefore, we should not limit the power of the sovereign.

P5 1) the sovereign adheres to the will of the majority.

P6) if we limit the power of the Sovereign, then we limit the power of the sovereign.

P7) a democracy is the only solution that satisfies the will of the majority.

C2) Therefore, society must be democratic.

From this, it is clear that the conclusions follow on from the premises, which overall lends it its validity. The argument also seems rationally persuasive, and this is because the argument is made clear and logical. It is easy to be convinced by it. However, I do not think it is wholly sound. I base this on P3. It is unclear how Rousseau argues that tyranny leaves us with a state of Amour Propre. The one thing I want to achieve by pointing this out is that it is a vague premise, and more clarity is essential. However, as a principle of charity, my best interpretation would be that he meant tyranny makes Amour Propre an inevitable conclusion because it allows a shift of focus of values and allows men to “become wicked”[5]. This interpretation follows onto p4, that Amour Propre is therefore something to avoid. P4 is an implicit argument made by Rousseau. I explicitly included it in my formalisation in order to guarantee the validity of the argument.

Essentially, Rousseau’s point is that society should be governed by the general will of the public[6], and that is what is meant when we use the phrase ‘justice’. It is to act in a way that is in the common interest.

The State of Nature

I have suggested in the previous section that returning to the State of Nature is something that should be avoided. I want to clarify what is meant here so we have a deeper understanding of what Rousseau meant by this. This is a relevant part of the question because the only means of achieving a successful democracy is by abandoning Amour Propre, according to Rousseau, and leaving the State of Nature is a fundamental element of doing so.

Rousseau idealised the State of Nature in a way Hobbes didn’t[7]. Rousseau considered this state to be beautiful in that it allows freedom of the individual as there is no centralised authority that has power over you, yet that itself has its issues. The main concern being that the State of Nature limited our ability to be rational, and that by leaving the State of Nature, we can achieve greater objectives with a centralised authority and work collectively to achieve common interests[8], such as developing new antibiotics to fight illnesses. However, precautions must be taken upon leaving the State of Nature to avoid the influence of Amour Propre. The precautions are outlined in ‘Emile’, which I will discuss next.

But first, to answer the question, Rousseau thinks that the one central impediment to the possibility of a successful democratic rule is Amour Propre, because Amour Propre does not make us free. And democratic freedom (as a version of freedom) is a core element to the social contract.


I have briefly mentioned Rousseau’s ‘Emile’ already, but I will now elaborate on it with regards to the question of Amour Propre, something Rousseau thought best to avoid. This part of the article will focus on answering what precautions must be taken to overcome or avoid altogether the influence of Amour Propre, and therefore preserve democracy as the main form of government.

Emile’s aim is also to provide guidance in achieving ‘Amour Soir’, and again, we can interpret this to be the antonym of Amour Propre. The former refers to acts that aren’t at the expense of others, whilst the latter refers to acts that are at the expense of others. Rousseau’s romanticised view of human nature is in direct contrast with the Hobbesian view that humans are innately evil. Though for Rousseau, it is artificial greed created by society that is the root of Amour Propre. And to free ourselves from the influence of Amour Propre, we need to rethink the way people are socialised and educated throughout life, and that is exactly what Rousseau tries to do in ‘Emile’.

Rousseau writes Emile, the central character in his book, to be especially sceptical of academic institutions, including the school system, because they contribute towards the corruption of morals, and therefore allowing Amour Propre to flourish. Emile is raised to also value freethought and scepticism. This is principally the case when confronted with religious institutes, in this case, the church. Thinking critically and philosophically about religion is one method of avoiding the influence of Amour Propre, though Rousseau is quick to point out that this does not necessarily mean to abandon religion altogether. Rousseau’s philosophy seems to focus on the reconciliation between his Christianity and his academic works[9], so we can therefore assume that he means for Emile to be similar. This is one method of removing the influence of Amour Propre. So, if the inability to think for yourself is a symptom of Amour Propre. It entails that people tend to think in herds when influenced by it, especially confronted with political issues. Corollary to this, political parties tend to evolve that only cater to specific interests, creating an atmosphere designed for partisanship and biased voting. Through thinking independently, Rousseau argues, we can ensure the survival of democracy. In conclusion of that, one of Rousseau’s fundamental arguments is to think independently.

I would agree with Rousseau’s reasoning here. It seems intuitive to believe that thinking independently ensures a healthy democracy, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily reasonable to claim that Amour Propre is responsible for restricting us from thinking independently. I base my reasoning on experience: plenty of people’s childhoods seem nowhere near as ideal as Emile’s, and therefore Rousseau would class them as under the influence of Amour Propre. Yet a good proportion of them would still able to think independently and without any bias. Therefore I fail to see how it follows that you must have ‘herd-like’ mentality under Amour Propre, and why it is a threat to the survival of democracy.

Another big issue that Rousseau’s political philosophy raises lies in his view of an ideal education in ‘Emile’. Rousseau describes the relationship Emile has with his tutor, or “master”, and the level of influence that he has over Emile. My initial observation when reading it was just how controlled the relationship between them is.  The purpose of Emile’s education is to “free” him, so to speak, but hardly ever in the text was it suggested that Emile had any freedom at all, except maybe to play outside. What I’m trying to say is that Rousseau’s ideal education has no sign of freedom, and he might have a problem with reuniting his desire for a child to be brought up as a freethinker and for his childhood to be so controlled, even from birth. It’s hard to see how Rousseau might respond, but it certainly poses as a problem for him.

Words: 1768

[1] Rousseau, J. and Foxley, B. (1921). Emile, or, Education. 1st ed. London: J.M. Dent & Sons.

[2] By ‘primary’, I refer to the basic level of education. The education that is provided typically during infancy by guardians, specifically the values and norms associated with their social group.

[3] By ‘secondary’, I refer to external influences that happens later in life, such as the education system and social media.

[4] Shemmer, Y. (2017). Political Philosophy, week 10. First Lecture.

[5] Kolodny, N. (2010). The Explanation of Amour-Propre. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2017].

[6] Munro, A. (2017). general will | philosophy of Rousseau. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2017].

[7] Hobbes, T., Rogers, G. and Schuhmann, K. (2006). Leviathan. Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, pp.289-97.

[8] Shemmer, Y. (2017). Political Philosophy, week 10. First Lecture.

[9] Robinson, D. and Groves, J. (2013). Introducing philosophy. 3rd ed. London: Icon Books LTD, p.85.


Thoughts on fairness and morality.

I recently submitted this essay as part of my Uni coursework, so I thought I’d share it 🙂


In this paper, my main argument that I will justify will be that Utilitarian ethics leads to more fairness than Deontology will. I will also assess Kant’s ‘Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals’ and Rawls’s teachings to support my conclusion. I will begin by briefly explaining the philosophy of utilitarianism for the sake of clarity. I will then offer a justification as to why utilitarianism leads to fairness and will then progress by revising my thesis by taking some objections of it and other philosophies into consideration. This essay will focus mainly on explaining why deontology and Rawls’s theory fail as a substitute for utilitarianism.

One assumption I will be making in this essay is that morality and fairness are the same thing. Fairness is doing what you consider moral, however relative that may be. My definition of morality will be explored in this essay. So in summary: I use fairness to be a part of the fundamental criterion for morality, for the same reasons as Fredrik Bendz does in this article here.

My view is that an action is deemed moral if it is for the greater good of the greatest number of people. This is a core principle of utilitarianism. My belief is that following the utilitarian doctrine will lead to a fairer society. An example would be that, in the case of having to give away one hundred pounds and either choosing between splitting the money between five people or just giving to one. Utilitarianism dictates splitting the money because it leads to more happiness from the greater number of people. Another more extreme case would be where a psychopathic axe murderer knocked on your door with the intention of murdering the innocent child in your care. In this case, you are morally obligated to protect that child because doing otherwise would lead to greater pain and suffering. I find these examples are convincing enough to support the conclusion that utilitarianism is a fair system, particularly considering the deontological[1] response to the problems. In response to the first problem, it is difficult to apply deontological philosophy to it. In recognition of the second example, deontologists would argue that you are morally obligated to reveal the location of the innocent child in your care to the psychopathic axe murderer, and thus to put her in harm’s way.

It also seems to be a rather counter intuitive and unfair action. You could argue that if it seems unfair, then it probably is. I can justify this because the action itself does not lead the greater good of anything or anyone, and an action for the benefit of someone is what is widely considered to be fair. In this case, the deontological response of surrendering to the axe murderer does not fit the criteria of leading to the greater good of anything, and is, therefore, unfair.

Briefly, I will convey the argument that makes deontologists reach this conclusion before explaining how utilitarianism earns the title of fairness. How Deontologists like Kant define morality and fairness is doing your duty for the sake of duty. This means that you should abide by the Laws if they are universally binding[2]. A more analytical reading of this philosophy highlights many of its flaws. One fault is that it cannot be a legitimate system because of Hegel’s non-contradiction theory[3], meaning that statements cannot be simultaneously true and false at one given moment. Hegel bases this on Kant’s argument that it is contradictory to universalise acts that are considered ‘perfect duties’[4]. Acts including murder and lying should be considered wrong because they cannot be universalised without it being a contradiction. For example, if I were to kill someone else, then it would be justifiable (by this logic) for someone to kill me, and this progresses until there is no one left to kill, meaning everyone would be dead. Whilst I agree with the premise that murder and lying should be considered immoral and unfair, I am persuaded by Hegel’s point that there is nothing contradictory about absence. In this case where everyone might be dead if murder were universalised, then the act of murder would no longer exist. To summarise my point, Kant’s point that murder and lying is wrong is justifiable, but his means of achieving that conclusion is faulty.

Utilitarianism fits the concept that what is done for the greater good of the majority and for the benefit of the people is fair. I am in favour of utilitarianism because it avoids the problems deontology raises.

Another Kantian perspective on ethics is Rawls’s ‘Veil of Ignorance’ theory. I will outline this argument in detail and then I will give reasons as to why this theory is not as strong as a utilitarian one. What the ‘Veil of Ignorance’ essentially does is strip people of identity and then allowing them to hypothetically form their ideal version of society. This runs on the presumption that people will create a just society that is fair for all. There is a lot of emphasis on the use of justice here because Rawls’s theory relies on the idea that ethics should be based on justice, which is Kantian in its essence.

The first issue I take with it is that you cannot practically apply this to the real world. What I mean by this is that it is impossible to achieve the complete ignorance, as Rawls describes, to foster the best environment to create a just society. There is no possible method of enforcing a system where everyone is completely ignorant of identity. One counterargument to this is the idea that the situation could be entirely hypothetical, but this also fails how to rule out implicit bias. It is impossible to determine whether a person truly is ignorant in this situation.

But even if could, how do you know that people would not take risks? One example would be a case where three-quarters of the population could be “the masters” and the rest had to be “the slaves”, and had no freedom whatsoever. It is undeniable that at least a small percentage of people would take that risk based on the likelihood that they’ll be one of the lucky 75%. My point here is that Rawls fails to consider human nature, and therefore this leaves a flaw in his theory. Based on these two problems, I reject Rawls’s theory as a substitute for utilitarianism as a means of achieving fairness and equality.

Following a review of the counter-arguments of Kant and Rawls, as well as measuring Utilitarianism, I can conclude that a fair and moral act should always be done for the greater good of the larger number of people. I, therefore, add that Utilitarianism does not lead to unfairness.



[1] Deontologists tend to agree that obedience to objective law is what should be regarded as moral.

[2] What I mean by this is that they work in favour of humanity.

[3] Boer K. ‘Hegel’s Account Of Contradiction In The Science Of Logic Reconsidered’. 1st ed. Gronigen; 2017:347. Available at: Accessed May 8, 2017.

[4] This is defined as any act that is blameworthy if they are not met. Honesty may be considered as an example. This is opposed to ‘perfect duties’, where this encourages you to cultivate a particular talent or skill you have, such as painting.

Further reading on the subject:

  • Boer K. ‘Hegel’s Account Of Contradiction In The Science Of Logic Reconsidered’. 1st ed. Gronigen; 2017: 347.
  • Kant I, Paton H. ‘Groundwork Of The Metaphysic Of Morals’. 1st ed. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Thought; 2009.
  • Pyle A. Utilitarianism. London: Routledge/Thoemmes Press; 1998.

A brief guide to ‘Arhats’ in Theravada Buddhism

“The true ideal of Theravada Buddhism is the Arhat, the being who… realised Nirvana”

– Merv Fowler.

To put it simply: an arhat is an enlightened being who has discharged the burden of karma. Peter Harvey explains that an arhat is someone who has distinguished the three poisons, which are “attachment, hatred, delusion”.

In the period before the existence of Buddhism, the term ‘arhat’ was reserved to describe certain Hindu gods, royals and priests. The Buddha himself, Siddartha Gautama, used this term to describe something completely different.

The meaning of this term is “the worthy one” who deserves respect. An arhat is someone who is “fully endowed with all factors of the path” (P. Harvey), and thus has reached the end of the Noble Eightfold Path and has come to fully comprehend the true nature of existence.

Gautama is widely considered to be the most well-known arhat.

Since they have achieved inner peace, they are no longer mentally or actively selfish, and since they have broken free from the circle of Samsara, they are completely exempt from rebirth. Yet despite them being no longer able to experience pain and suffering, this by no means says that they are apathetic and devoid of emotion. In contrast, they are full of compassion and mercy.

Harvey states that an arhat is a being who has perfected these seven traits:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Study of the Dharma (S)/Dhamma (P)
  3. Vigour
  4. Joyfulness
  5. Concentration
  6. Evenness of the mind

Whereas Skilton, on the other hand, says that the definition of an arhat is someone who has broken free of the 10 Fetters, which are:

  1. The belief in the self
  2. Reservations
  3. Engagements to rituals
  4. Sexual desire
  5. Bad wills
  6. Desire to live in the world
  7. Desire to live in the formless world
  8. Conceit
  9. Restlessness
  10. Ignorance

As the individual progresses through these steps, it gradually becomes harder to regress.

Who gets to be an arhat and how long the progress is to become fully enlightened:

Only monks can achieve the arhat status because of their devotion to the process. However, the laity can work towards being reborn as a monk by leading a good and ethical life through focusing on the Dhamma. Even for monks, it takes many lifetimes to achieve the perfect state of enlightenment.