Maximization of life and the role of women in Rousseau
Farkas, Ann C
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This study examines Rousseau's female characters and their possibility to achieve "maximization of existence", a concept defined by Laurence D. Cooper. Rousseau's goal of the "maximization of existence" of every individual is both the motivation for as well as the result of Rousseau's grand plan for the revitalization of society. Both of these goals address the larger philosophical questions of the meaning behind being male or female and how mankind can better accomplish his humanity. I examine this question in a more concrete manner with an investigation of Rousseau's ideas on gender difference and sexual relations. Part One focuses on the requirements for man's successful "maximization of existence". A discussion that encompasses Rousseau's conception of nature, the definition of "natural man", and the educational program necessary in order for man to achieve "maximization of existence". Part Two concentrates on the importance of women to the successful achievement of not only man's "maximization of existence" but also to Rousseau's political theory and the remoralization of society. I contend that Rousseau's realization of a better humanity is founded on the couple, i.e. the family. It is a project to which both men and women contribute. In addition, at the individual level, neither gender can maximize their existence without the other. An examination of women's potential to "maximize their existence" leads to a discussion of women's nature, their education, and their "natural" roles. Rousseau's theory exemplifies the eighteenth-century precept of sexual differentiation and separation. He formally rejects the premises of sexual equality and participation of women in the public sphere. Nevertheless through an examination of women's "maximization of existence", the complexity and ambiguity of Rousseau's position vis-à-vis women and their nature, is revealed. Rousseau ascribes women and their nature with a certain power founded in their natural difference. For Rousseau, a woman's difference is not only fundamental at the individual level of each woman's possibility for the maximization of existence but also at the communal level for his plan for humanity. Rousseau's ambiguity regarding women is also illustrated by his heroines and their fate. They face the paradox of women's existence.