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Example Question #1 : Answering Other Questions About Seventeenth And Eighteenth Century Nonfiction And Philosophy
Which of the following philosophers was most influential on the drafting of the Declaration of Independence?
Baron de Montesquieu
Francisco de Vitoria
In a way, all of these thinkers were influential, though in different ways. Francisco de Vitoria was a teacher in Spain whose work on natural rights is part of a broader discussion that would eventually filter through many Catholic and Protestant thinkers. These thinkers would become sources for the pivotally important Thomas Hobbes, whose best known political work is the Leviathan—a brutal but fully developed treatise on a quite domineering notion of the nation state. Likewise, Baron de Montesquieu was quite influential on many political thinkers during this period, as was Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
The most important thinker concerning the Declaration of Independence is John Locke. It is from Locke's thought that Thomas Jefferson derived his remarks regarding the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." In Locke's political philosophy, he actually presents life, liberty, and property as the three fundamental rights of human persons. Locke's position was a kind of softening of the much harsher position of Hobbes, who stated that when we are not in society, we only have one fundamental right—self defense! Note, of course, that Jefferson changed "property" to "pursuit of happiness." This followed the recommendations of his fellow drafters, who hoped thereby to avoid issues that could have arisen because of a very problematic form of property in the colonies—slaves.
Example Question #34 : Nonfiction And Philosophy
For which of the following concepts is Jean-Jacques Roussea known?
The problem of universals
The general will
The general will
In his political philosophy, Jean-Jacques Rousseau discusses (among other things) the idea of the "general will" of the people. This idea can seem very horrifying—almost like a tyrannical will of the majority over the rest of the people. He means something much simpler than that. He is merely referring to the idea that in a given group of people, the people as a whole have a will that is aimed at certain common goals. Indeed, in some ways, Rousseau's thought in this regard is a kind of strange version of what some Aristotelians and Medieval Scholastics meant in their discussions of how the common good is willed by a political body. Of course, there are great differences in how they conceived of the common good and how Rousseau discussed the "general will." What remains, however, is the fact that Rousseau is, in fact, well known for using this notion in his political philosophy.