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Major ideas of Enlightenment: Kant, Rousseau- Part III

Major ideas of Enlightenment: Kant, Rousseau- Part III

Skepticism and Romanticism

New Movements

  • As the Enlightenment progressed into the mid-1700s, a noticeable shift occurred away from the empirical, reason-based philosophies of most of the leading French and English thinkers.
  • The new philosophies that developed tended to take one of two major directions.
    • Romanticism:
      • A philosophy strongly attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, stressed emotion and a return to the natural state of man instead of the confines and constructs of society.
      • It stressed a return to life as it can be seen, felt, and experienced and thus encouraged a reliance on emotion, intuition, and instinct as opposed to reason in guiding human behavior.
      • The innate, approachable philosophies of Romanticism appealed to the public more so than the pure rationalism and reason of the Enlightenment, which often came across as cold.
    • Skepticism:
      • It gained prominence under Scottish philosopher David Hume and was later elevated by German philosopher Immanuel Kant, questioned whether we as human beings are truly able to perceive the world around us with any degree of accuracy.
  • These two movements, along with Church anti-Enlightenment propaganda and increasing unrest as the French Revolution neared, marked a departure from those thoughts that dominated the peak of the Enlightenment.

David Hume

  • David Hume (17111776) was a Scottish writer and philosopher who paved the way for the future of the skeptical school of thought.
    • A dogmatic skeptic, he devoted a substantial portion of his work to investigating the limits of human reasoning.
  • His first major work was A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), a book that, though now highly regarded, went widely ignored because of its complicated prose.
    • Hume made up for this oversight in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), in which he rearticulated much of the same material in a more approachable manner.
  • Hume’s studies focus on reason, perception, and especially morals.
    • Hume questioned whether the senses, and thus perception, could be trusted for a consistent view of the world around us.
    • In considering morality, Hume felt that if a person found a particular action reasonable, then that action was a morally appropriate thing to do.
    • By adding this introspective, individual layer to the issues of perception and morality, Hume stripped the philosophical world of its generalizations.
  • Indeed, the skeptical Hume believed that everything was subject to some degree of uncertainty—an idea that turned the intellectual world on end.
    • Regardless of how he himself felt about Enlightenment ideas, he kept returning to one thought: because we will never know anything beyond a doubt, why bother?
  • Hume also applied his skeptical approach to science and religion, saying that even though neither was capable of fully explaining anything, science was stronger because it could admit that it would never be absolutely correct.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was one of the most influential thinkers during the Enlightenment in eighteenth century Europe. His political philosophy had influenced French Revolution and had the seeds of the development of many modern thoughts.
  • Orphaned in Geneva at an early age, the nomadic and self-taught Rousseau drifted about for most of his youth, contributing intellectually however he could.
  • He devised a new system for musical composition, submitted articles to Diderot’s Encyclopedie, and composed essays on various topics. It was one of these essays, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences in 1750, which first earned him renown. He followed it up with his famous essay Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755).
  • Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755):
    • This work charted man’s progression from a peaceful, noble state in nature to an imbalanced state in society, blaming the advent of various professions and private property for the inequality and moral degradation.
    • In Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755),he showed how greed had corrupted man, how strong man had captured the land and property and have forced the week to obey them.
      • He says that there are two types of inequality:
        • Natural Inequality:
          • For example- some lazy, some are intelligent.
          • It can be tolerated as it is beyond control.
        • Conventional inequality:
          • Inequality created by society.
          • For example- privileged section of society has the right to get a job but weaker section does not. He said that this type of inequality must be removed.
          • His focus was on conventional inequality which he considered as a product of social system.
          • Growth of civilisation and associated social system produced various kinds of inequality based on status, wealth, power etc.
          • He says that the most ideal time the human being had when there was no private property. Property had bred greed corruption and war.
          • In his vision of a perfect world, Rousseau wanted people to be at their most natural state. He presents the view that man in the state of nature was equal and free but with the development of civilisation, man had become unequal.
          • He says that nature dignified man and civilisation corrupt man. People will be less corrupted if civilised institutions followed nature more closely. Such view of Russeau represents elements of romanticism.
          • His frequent denouncements of inequality and the ownership of private property even bore an early suggestion of communism.
  • The novel Julie (1761) told the story of a forbidden love, while Emile (1762) provided a revolutionary dissertation on the proper way to rear and educate a child.
    • Rousseau in his book Emile presented the idea of education.
    • His core idea of education is that it should be close to nature.
    • He was against intensive bookish education and considered practical education more important.
    • He says that:
      • Education should promote child’s thinking and thought process through his own experiences.
      • Education should be in harmony with development of child’s natural capacities.
      • He also focused on observation of nature as an important part of education.
  • Rousseau was among first proponent of Romanticism:
    • Rousseau emphasised on natural order and the natural state of man, instead of distorted through the process of over-emphasising reason in guiding human behavior. His theory of ideas and romanticism reckons all to be born as good but distorted by reasons.
      • Romanticism stressed a return to life as it can be seen, felt, and experienced and thus encouraged a reliance on emotion, intuition, and instinct as opposed to reason in guiding human behavior.
        • Shakespeare’s romantic tragedies were received with a new appreciation during the Romantic era, as were the works of countless other authors and poets that would come to prominence during the next century of Romantic writing.
        • The innate, approachable philosophies of Romanticism also appealed to the public more so than the pure rationalism and reason of the Enlightenment, which often came across as cold.
    • Although Rousseau certainly was not the only notable Romantic author, he was one of the first, and two of his works resonated greatly with the public.
      • Julie told a story of forbidden love in a relatable manner that struck a chord with readers.
      • Rousseau’s autobiography ‘Confessions’ ushered in a whole new era of thinking that eventually developed into Romanticism.
        • Rousseau’s Confessions opened up a whole new world of personal revelation in the genre of autobiography.
        • No previous memoirist had ever discussed his anxiety over the struggle for integrity—nor elucidated his own flaws—so openly.
        • By being so frank and personal, Rousseau questioned the developments taking place in the world through reason.
    • Rousseau said, “The Promptings of the Heart are more to be trusted than the Logic of the Mind”.
      • Here he was reflecting his romanticism.
      • It emphasizes on drawing inspiration from one’s own heart than mind to find the answers in life as mind might be corrupted due to over-emphasising on reason.
      • His philosophy was clearly contrary to the contemporary notions of reason.
      • Rousseau did not see anything ‘human face’ in an era of scientific development and application of science which had brought material developments.
      • According to him, industrialisation brought more misery than good, and this is because we trusted application of mind more than application of heart. Had heart been trusted, there would have been lesser misery.
      • Rousseau favoured more to loving family life, love for labor etc (which could be possible through heart) instead of materialistic life where focus is on scientific developments, increase in production and profit etc.
      • Following lines of English philosopher G.K. Chesterton clearly justifies Rousseau’s statement:
        • “Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of ‘touching ‘a man’s heart but, we can do nothing to his head but hit it.”
  • Frontal assault on the Enlightenment was launched by Jean-Jacques Rousseau:
    • Though many believed that Rousseau shared the basic beliefs of the Enlightenment, some of his thoughts did show his counter-Enlightenment ideas.
    • Rousseau exhibited the same distaste for reason, knowledge and individualism in general as he did for the sciences.
    • Rousseau’s romanticism stressed a return to life as it can be seen, felt, and experienced and thus encouraged a reliance on emotion, intuition, and instinct as opposed to reason in guiding human behavior.
    • Rousseau is considered as a counter-Enlightenment thinker representing Romantic revolt against the scientific and rational learning of Enlightenment.
      • In his first work A Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, he makes point that science did not improve morality nor contribute a great deal to happiness and the progression of the sciences has caused the corruption of virtue and morality.
      • This was clearly against the Enlightenment idea which claimed that the progress in science contribute to the purification of morals and happiness.
    • In his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau started his attack at the foundation of the Enlightenment project: Reason.
      • The philosophes believed that reason is the foundation of civilization.
      • But to Rousseau, civilization’s rational progress is anything but progress, for civilization is achieved at the expense of morality. Human beings are basically good by nature, but were corrupted by the present day civil society.
      • He also argues for the importance of empathy rather than reason as the grounds of morality.
    • He argued that civilization is thoroughly corrupting—not only the oppressive feudal system of eighteenth-century France with its decadent and parasitical aristocracy, but also its Enlightenment alternative with its exaltation of reason, property, the arts and sciences.
    • Rousseau’s arguments are not rooted in individualism but are instead rooted in the belief that the good of the all of mankind is superior to that of the individual.
      • He looked upon society as developing organically, with all its elements inextricably linked which put him in conflict with the mainstream of Enlightenment which believed in individualism.
      • To him, the atomised social ideal of the Enlightenment based on an abstract individualism failed to take into account of how real people actually behave in real societies.
    • Rousseau had fired the shot between the war between Enlightenment and its enemies and several historians like William R. Everdell situated Rousseau as the “founder of the Counter-Enlightenment”.
  • The Social Contract (1762):
    • Rousseau’s best-known and most influential work was The Social Contract.
    • Rousseau begins The Social Contract with the famous words: “Men are born free, yet everywhere are in chains.”
      • From this opening, Rousseau goes on to describe the myriad ways in which the “chains” of civil society suppress the natural birthright of man to physical freedom.
      • He writes that man in the state of nature was free, equal, independent and there was no chain.
        • With the growth of civilisation, growth of prosperity and in order to protect it, there was rise of state and civil institutions.
        • In this context, natural equality was lost and the bliss of natural life was lost.
        • And consequently, everywhere he is in chains i.e. different kinds of inequality and bondage emerged.
      • He states that the civil society does nothing to enforce the equality and individual liberty that were promised to man when he entered into that society.
    • For Rousseau, the only legitimate political authority is the authority consented to by all the people, who have agreed to such government by entering into a social contract for the sake of their mutual preservation.
      • Rousseau calls the collective grouping of all citizens the “sovereign,” and claims that it should be considered in many ways to be like an individual person.
      • While each individual has a particular will that aims for his own best interest, the sovereign expresses the general will that aims for the common good.
    • Rousseau recommends the death penalty for those who violate the social contract.
    • General will:
      • Rousseau describes what he sees as the perfect political system: one in which every individual articulates their wants but ultimately compromises for the betterment of the general public. This was called “general will” which contains traces of every citizen’s will and thus would in some way serve everyone.
        • “General will” represents will of the people (group, community, society etc.) provided each in the group thinks and acts selflessly.
        • It represents genuine interest and common good of the collective body. It is important for everyone to follow it, because everyone’s interest lies in it.
        • “General will” also establishes freedom, as true freedom means to obey “General will”, because if people obey their General will, they obey their true nature (i.e. people by nature thinks of others).
        • General will evolves through appropriate discussions and debate. This does not develop suddenly but is a process.
        • An individual in the collective body may have a particular will, contrary or dissimilar to general will.
          • This means that this person does not think and act selflessly. His thought revolves around his own interest.
          • If that person insist on putting his/her self-interest above community interest, General Will should be imposed on him/her. (this is element of autocracy).
        • General will is established as sovereign or supreme legal power.
          • And the sovereignty of Rousseau is supreme to be obeyed always and this is infallible and this is final authority.
          • In this context Rousseau’s sovereignty is absolute sovereignty and no one has any right to refute or violate it, because it is expression of General will. In General will lies common good- good of everyone.
          • Rousseau transforms sovereignty from monarch (king) i.e. single representative or a parliamentary kind of institution i.e. a group of representatives to the collective body or the community as a whole.
          • When he says that General will/ sovereignty cannot be transferred represented, it always lies in the community, so he refused the idea of any political system where representation is there, like monarchy or parliament.
            • He also says that representation is incompatible with the spirit of General will, because in this case, the General will gets dissolved and the collective body becomes subject to a will of single representative or a group of representative.
            • Monarchy represents will of one person. Parliament kind of institution represent will of a group of person. In both the cases, the collective body comes under the will of some other.
          • Alternative of Rousseau is General will- which is established as sovereignty and which is a supreme rule because everyone’s interest lies in it and while obeying this rule, everyone is obeying his own will and so consequently he is free. (General will as an idea of democracy).
          • In this context, it is said that there are elements of democracy in Rousseau’s ideas and in the same context it is said that he broadened the democratic ideas of Locke (popular sovereignty- state’s duty to protect the natural right i.e. life, liberty and property).
      • The government, composed of magistrates, will be charged with implementing and enforcing the general will. The “sovereign” is the rule of law, ideally decided on by direct democracy in an assembly.
        • In this way the power to make the laws will be in the hands of the people but it will be implemented by the government and thus reconciling both, the liberty of individual and the institution of the government.
        • In this reconciliation, Rousseau asks each individual to gives up his right to control his life in exchange for an equal voice in setting the ground rules of society.
        • He appeals to people to surrender their individual rights to a new moral and collective body with one will called General Will.
    • Criticism of General Will:
      • Rousseau’s conception of General Will is very vague which makes it dangerous and vulnerable to misuse.
      • According to Rousseau, General will is different from the consensus of individual members of the society. This differentiation led to the conflict between the liberty of the individual and the institution of the government and was responsible for the charge that Rousseau’s philosophy contained the seeds of absolutism:
        • “General will” is not just will of all. Will of all may contain private interest of individual also, but “general will” does not contain private will.
          • It implies that instead of the democratic principle of people voting for what they want (even if it’s not good for them) there is a notion of what is really best for them. ‘General will’ represents what is best for them.
          • So ‘general will’ should supersedes any particular individual’s will because general will is best for everyone, but individual’s will might not good for individual.
        • Rousseau says that one should submit to the authority of the ‘general will’ of the people even by abandoning one’s natural rights.
          • This submission guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law (general will).
        • The government can remove any ‘particular wills’ that did not conform to the general will.
          • This was used by dictators to interpret the general will.
            • For example: Robespierre, who was Rousseau’s follower, spread of reign of terror during French Revolution, just to impose “general will”. He executed anyone who he considered not following general will.
          • The government, composed of magistrates, charged with implementing and enforcing the general will can do so even by force.
        • Rousseau also proposes the idea that the more political parties there are the more they divide the people, interfere with the general will.
          • This idea led to the viewing, in France, of any other political party as a faction which had to be removed for the general will to work effectively.
          • These ideas had the power to turn the French ‘republic’ into a one party state without a democratic vote – in a sense a totalitarian regime run by the Committee for Public Safety.
        • Rousseau was opposed to the idea that the people should exercise sovereignty via a representative assembly.
  • Note:
    • Theory of contract from middle ages to Thomas Hobbes, John Locke had hinged on agreement between the governed and a single Governor (for e.g. monarch) or a group of Governors (for e.g. parliament).
      • In this context, it can be said that these thinkers postulated a political contract.
    • Rousseau’s contract is more like a social contract as there is no agreement between a governed and single or a group of governors rather entire society agreed to be ruled by its General will.
      • So contract is among themselves and so can be called a social contract.
      • This was a departure from previous contract ideas.
  • Rousseau’s sovereign was like Hobbesian leviathan with its head chopped off:
    • Thomas Hobbes’s sovereign:
      • Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan argues for a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign.
      • Thomas Hobbes famously said that in a “state of nature” (what the lives of people might have been like before societies came into existence), human life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.
      • In the absence of political order and law, everyone would have unlimited natural freedoms and thus the freedom to plunder, rape, and murder; there would be an endless “war of all against all”.
      • To avoid this, free men contract with each other to establish political community through a social contract in which they all gain security in return for subjecting themselves to an absolute sovereign.
      • The sovereign has to protect the people externally and internally for peace and preservation were basis of the creation of the sovereign or Leviathan. Thus, Hobbesian sovereign represents the ultimate, supreme and single authority in the state.
      • Though the absolute sovereign may well be arbitrary and tyrannical, Hobbes saw absolute government as the only alternative to the terrifying anarchy of a state of nature.
    • Comparison of Rousseau’s sovereign with Hobbesian sovereignty:
      • Rousseau’s sovereign was based on General will.
      • Rousseau’s theory of General will has been criticized as incomplete, vague and vulnerable to misuse. In actual practice it is very difficult to distinguish the general will from the will of all.
      • Rousseau’s theory of General will is rather abstract and narrow. Prof Vaughan criticized Rousseau’s General will has Hobbes’ Leviathan (as both lead to the absolutism) with its head chopped off. Head chopped off because:
        • There would not be a single person as absolute sovereign like in case of Hobbesian sovereignty.
        • General will would be the source of all laws.
          • Each individual would have to be a law maker, consenting to obey a law.
          • It was for this reason that he desired the free state would be a consensual and participatory democracy.
          • He was categorical that the general will could emerge only in an assembly of equal law makers.
          • Only the legislative will, which was sovereign, could be the General will.
        • The general will would always aim and promote the general interests and will of all its members. Rousseau saw the government as an agent of the general will, Sovereign entity in the body politic.
        • Rousseau’s concept of Sovereignty is different from both Hobbes and Locke.
          • In Hobbes, people set up a sovereign and transfer all powers to him.
          • In Locke’s social contract the people setup a limited government for limited purposes, but Locke shuns the conception of sovereignty popular or monarchical as a symbol of political absolutism.
          • Rousseau’s sovereign, on the other hand , is the people, constituted as a political community through social contract. Unlike all other major Political thinkers, Rousseau considers sovereignty of the people inalienable and indivisible.
  • “If there were a nation of Gods, it would govern itself democratically. A government so perfect is not suited to men.”:
    • The given statement is by Rousseau in his most important work ‘The Social Contract’ where he explicitly rejected ‘pure democracy’.
    • In Rousseau’s republican political theory there are three components: the sovereign assembly of the people, the prince or government and the people, who as subjects obey the government in power and as citizens may exercise their sovereignty by changing the government if and when it tends to abuse its authority.
    • While the sovereign exercises legislative power by means of the laws, states also need a government to exercise executive power, carrying out day-to-day business.
    • There are many different forms of government, but they can roughly be divided into democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy, depending on their size.
      • Monarchy is the strongest form of government, and is best suited to large populations and hot climates.
      • While different states are suited to different forms of government, Rousseau maintains that aristocracies tend to be the most stable.
    • Rousseau argues that sovereignty (or the power to make the laws) should be in the hands of the people. But he makes a sharp distinction between the sovereign and the government.
      • He carefully separates government, as administration, from sovereignty, as legislation.
      • The government is composed of princes or magistrates, charged with implementing and enforcing the general will.
      • The “sovereign” is the rule of law, ideally decided on by direct democracy in an assembly. (He opposed representative assembly). He maintains that legislation must be democratic, in the sense that every citizen should participate in it and participate in person (general will).
    • For Rousseau, the citizen is a watchdog rather than a demigod. His function is to monitor the government, be it monarchical or aristocratic, and every so often convene with his fellow-citizens to survey and, if necessary, amend the fundamental laws of the state.
      • It is that ultimate legislative sovereign authority that belongs to the citizenry. Nor can it be delegated.
      • He rejected the device of representation as a mockery and condemned the English system in a famous passage in the Social Contract: “The English people believes itself to be free; it is gravely mistaken; it is free only during the election of Members of Parliament; as soon as the Members are elected, the people is enslaved; it is nothing.”
    • Rousseau rejects- as unsuited to men- democratic administration.
      • The participation by all citizens in the executive government of the state he considers altogether too Utopian an arrangement to be desirable in practice.
      • Executive government, he argues, must be entrusted to magistrates.
      • He sees no abridgment of liberty entailed by the institution of magistrates.
    • Rousseau insists that democratic government is not natural. He writes, “In the strict sense of term, there has never been a democracy, and there never will be. It is contrary to the natural order that the greater number should govern and the smaller number be governed“.
    • Rousseau’s real point was that government by all would be against the natural order because it would result in anarchy, just as sovereignty, which is inalienable, would be against the natural order if possessed by less than all the people.
    • Rousseau said that it was impossible outside a very small community to have democracy.
      • The necessary conditions for a legitimate democracy are rarely, if ever, seen in practice (e.g., a small state where members can readily assemble, perfect homogeneity in the form of shared, even identical, manners and morals as a precondition for settling difficult issues without conflict, economic equality, etc.).
      • For this reason, democracy among all forms of government is the most vulnerable to “civil war and internecine strife”.
    • Rousseau had rejected the notion that a democratic system could promote liberty in a fuller sense.
      • The given statement from The Social Contract meant that democracy is suitable only for exceptionally well-informed people who understand the interests of everyone and not just themselves.
      • For Rousseau, the only justification for such direct democracy would be in small communities where all individuals would understand what would be in the interest of all i.e. the collective interests of the community.
    • In the Discourse on Inequality he writes: “I would have wished to be born under a wisely-tempered democratic government“, adding that his ideal country would be one where the right to legislate was common to all the citizens but where the citizens had no right to initiate legislation, or to have plebiscites, and where the magistrates had the right to exercise the executive function; it would not be democratic on the model of Athens.
    • Rousseau wishes to have democracy only in the legislative organ, the sovereign body whose every act is promulgation of a law; but since he rejected democratic government, it would be better to speak of him as a champion of popular sovereignty rather than a democrat. Rousseau did not have the temperament of a democrat; he did not have much confidence in the wisdom of the common people.
    • Rousseau regards democracy as an unrealistic ideal, and monarchy as close to the worst form of realistic government – though he calls hereditary aristocracy ‘the worst’.
      • The best, he says, is an elective aristocracy. His three most extended evaluations concern democracy (too hot), monarchy (too cold), and the right sort of aristocracy (just right).
    • Rousseau took pride in fact that he was born to a family whose manners distinguished it from the people.
      • He says in The Confessions that he never attracted to working-class girls, or even to daughters of the bourgeoisie; he responded only to the elegant and delicate looks of the nobly born.
    • The Social Contract has a pessimistic conclusion.
      • While Rousseau insists that government in the sense of the executive and administrative function must be conferred on a prince or magistrates, he also argues that prince or those magistrates will naturally tend, with the passage of time, to encroach on the territory of legislation and make more and more of the decisions that ought rightly to be made by the sovereign body and finally destroying the republic.
    • It seems, then, on balance, that the best and most realizable option, in Rousseau’s view, was an aristocracy, but elective rather than hereditary.
      • He says that election of magistrates be regulated by law, for if this is left to the will of the prince there will be an unavoidable decline into a hereditary aristocracy.
    • As with many of the other philosophes, Rousseau admitted that his idea of the perfect system as outlined in The Social Contract was just that—an idea.
      • It wasn’t actually in practice anywhere, nor was it likely that it ever would be.
      • In fact, when asked to provide concrete advice to other countries’ governments, Rousseau would often give advice that was far more moderate than the suggestions of The Social Contract, simply because he knew his ideas would likely not work in practice.
      • In this sense, Rousseau was an idealist, heavily influenced by the “utopian” republics of ancient Greece and Rome, in which each citizen had a vote and a say in the government.
  • Rousseau’s ideas represent a medley of magnificent confusion:
    • He was an advocate of democracy and at the same time he advocated absolutism.
    • He was an advocate of individual liberty and at the same time he advocated the idea of absolute submission of individual to the state.
    • He considers property as a curse of civilization and at another place he writes ‘property is a sacred institution’.
    • He considers equality as a great ideal and at the same time he accepts the sub-ordinated position of women.
    • He talks about importance of toleration and at the same  time he supports banishing an atheist from the country.
  • Rousseau ended his career in solitude, though not before releasing the deeply intimate Confessions (1765–1770), an autobiographical piece that chronicled his struggle to stick to his principles in the face of mounting fame and wealth.
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11 thoughts on “Major ideas of Enlightenment: Kant, Rousseau- Part III”

  1. Hello SIr, Thanks a ton for posting this great piece of work. I just want to know, this much is suffice to solve the history questions in mains?
    Please suggest if any additional reading is required. Thanks in advance

  2. ITS mentioned below the previous year questions “(See answer in the section of previous years solved paper )”,….HOwever I Cannot find this section…Please it would be a great help if anyone can provide me this if there is any…Please also suggest a good book where I can find the solution of previous year paper

    Thanks

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