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“Conscience” according to Rousseau
© Incoprom, Genève et Institut de France, Paris

Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Switzerland persecuted and without asylum

The main difficulty of the theory rousseauist of the conscience lies in the reports which it maintains with the reason. Within the tradition scholastic, the conscience occupied already a considerable place in the moral life. But it consisted very whole of a reasoning, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau challenges this interpretation explicitly: the conscience is a feeling.

However, this spontaneous love of the good develops only at the time of one intellectual operation. The reason, morally neutral, must present to the conscience the objects about which it returns to this one to come to a conclusion one can thus speak about authentic morality only if one rational knowledge clarifies the first movements of the conscience. On this point, the author of the Profession of faith of the Savoyard vicar is inspired especially by Malebranche, of which it simplifies nevertheless the matter. At all events, Rousseau affirms that, all its life, it put a term at the long deliberations by consulting its conscience: “In all the difficult questions of morals (...), I was always well to rather solve them by the dictamen of the conscience than by the lights of the reason” (Daydreams of the solitary walker).

But if it is precisely question of a dictamen, it is that the man of the man must overcome his own resistances in order to listen to in him the “interior verb” which slices infallibly out of moral matter.

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