Mason, Sheila Mary (1971)
Montesquieu's idea of justice.
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Part One of Montesquieu's Idea of Justice comprises a survey of the currency in philosophical, ethical and aesthetic debate during the second half of the 17th. century of the terms rapport and convenance, which are central to the enigmatic definition given to justice by Montesquieu in Lettres Persanes LXXXIII. In this survey, attention is concentrated on the way in which the connotations of these terms fluctuate with the divergent development of the methodological and speculative outgrowths of Cartesianism into two schools of thought, materialist and idealist, often widely at variance in their views of the nature and organization of the universe. In Part Two, Montesquieu's definition of justice is set against this background whose doctrinal conflicts because of the characteristic associations of its key terms it may be taken to reflect, just as it may be held to epitomize, by virtue of its elaboration in the opening chapter of De 1'Esprit des Lois and its close terminological affinities with the definition of law there given, an undoubtedly related conflict between the implications of causal determinism and the aspirations of idealist metaphysics surviving at the heart of Montesquieu's outlook, and, remaining unresolved, often said to impair the coherence if not the validity of his theory of society. The reconstitution of the philosophical matrix of the definition which is now undertaken, drawing largely on the fragmentary evidence of Montesquieu's notebooks and his minor works, demonstrates however by clarifying his intellectual allegiances and his methodological procedures that, far from internal inconsistency, his idea of justice represents a fruitful interpenetration of the philosophical currents of his time. The union within it of the epistemological assumptions of contemporary empiricism contained in the notion of relationship with the transcendent if elusive ideal of fitness, summarizes in a single formula his double achievement of dignifying his scientific thesis with serious moral aspirations, while at the same time founding this idealism on a solid empirical groundwork, Montesquieu's idea of justice holds the key to establishing the unity of his thought and also offers his posterity an escape from the blind alley of determinism.
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Institution: University of London, Bedford College (United Kingdom).