Matthew Babb on Living With Others

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.” Those are the famous words of Jean Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract. For many, these chains are merely metaphorical; I am not literally in chains. My chains are the restrictions society places on my actions. I am not permitted by society to do whatever I want, and I know this. I know that if I cross the lines society has drawn around my freedom, there will be consequences. I will be in some way punished, which may involve being placed in actual chains or subjected to physical violence or ostracization from my community. What interested Rousseau was the question of what could legitimate such a situation. What could make it legitimate that I am both born free and yet everywhere in chains?

Read the rest of Dr. Babb’s reflection on the themes of the upcoming Modeling Interdisciplinary Inquiry conference, Living with Others: Conscience, Coercion, and Freedom.

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