About Cosmo

Welcome! I am a fifth year PhD candidate at the University of California, Davis. My fields of study are political theory and American politics. My research focuses on the work of Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and how his political thought is used by contemporary deliberative democrats. My dissertation is concerned with the tragic character of Rousseau's thought, most especially in his On the Social Contract: Or, Principles of Political Right. 

An intense critic of the Enlightenment and modernity, Rousseau is nonetheless often taken to be an advocate for an extraordinarily optimistic form of deliberative democracy. I argue we should take Rousseau's moral psychology more seriously -- along with consequent limitations on the political project. Rousseau is at his most powerful indicting societal corruption, and we should be wary of passing over that critique too quickly. 


Let us therefore see through our frivolous displays of good will to what goes on in the depths of our hearts, and let us reflect on what must be the state of things where all men are forced to flatter and destroy one another and where they are born enemies by duty and knaves by interest. (Discourse on Inequality, 128). 
The man of the world is whole in his mask. Almost never being in himself, he is always alien and ill at ease when forced to go back there. What he is, is nothing; what he appears to be is everything for him. (Emile, 230). 






Presented at MPSA 2016:

Between Beasts and Gods: Free Will in the Second Discourse and Moral Freedom in the Social Contract

Re-securing our freedom is the subject of Rousseau’s Social Contract. Yet, despite its status as the central subject of the Social Contract, the form of freedom secured by the civil state remains ambiguous. Rousseau offers multiple senses in which we may be free. He is clear that the civil state secures “civil freedom,” that which is “limited by the general will.” But he also describes what he calls “moral freedom,” which consists in “obedience to the law one has prescribed to oneself,” as opposed to the “impulsion of appetite.” I argue that this second form of moral freedom is tied to free will in Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality. Free will requires above all consciousness of the capacity to acquiesce or resist impulse. While the latent ability to actualize free will is a quality Rousseau sees in every man, he gives little reason to think that every man will or will fully actualize his capacity. Casting cognizance of choice as the foundation of free will sheds new light on Rousseau’s discussion of moral freedom. Fully realized moral freedom, as one’s consciousness of his capacity for choice, is not a necessary acquisition of the civil state, and if it is a product of the civil state, it is an incidental one.


UC Davis, Department of Political Science

677 Kerr Hall


twitter: @cosmohouck