Preston Ito: Diderot’s Natural Law

7. It is to the general will that the individual must address himself to learn how to be a man, citizen, subject, father, child, and when it is suitable to live or to die. It fixes the limits on all duties. You have the most sacred natural right to everything that is not disputed by the rest of the species. The general will enlightens you on the nature of your thoughts and your desires. Everything that you conceive, everything that you meditate upon will be good, grand, elevated, sublime, if it is in the general and common interest…. Tell yourself often: I am a man, and I have no other true, inalienable natural rights than those of humanity. (7th proposition)

I had to read through this passage several times to understand this passage as a whole. After reading the passage multiple times on my own and discussing it with other Humesters, I came to the conclusion that the big idea of this passage emphasizes the importance of working together as one cohesive group to better humanity. It’s not only everyone’s right, but everyone’s duty to share any positive contributions to society “if it is in the general and common interest.” The ability to freely share ideas is essential to push humanity forward. This passage made me think about our class discussion about the hypocrisy in these passages. The point that Prof. Quillen brought up about analyzing how some of our Founding Fathers were able to speak of freedom while simultaneously owning humans as property is fascinating to me. In this excerpt defining “natural law,” Diderot doesn’t address women and uses words such as, “man” and “father.” Often times, the word “man” has several meanings, so it can usually be inferred that the author is referring to the human race. However, Diderot uses the word “father,” which changes the meaning of the word “man.” I feel like that goes to show how easy it is for people to unawarely act the opposite of what they speak, and I think this idea is still relevant today. 

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