Thinker: Rousseau

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Jean Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau is famous for being an influential Enlightenment philosopher.

Although born into a working family, Rousseau did not "work" for a living, but he lived most of his life on the generosity of others. He was the son of a middle class Protestant watchmaker in Geneva, Switzerland, yet he lived as a Catholic for many years. Although he wrote a whole book on the importance of education, he gave away his own children at birth. Banished from Geneva, Switzerland, the city of his birth, he is now considered its most famous son. Although a romantic by nature, he did not marry the mother of his children until nearly 25 years after he first met her. Despite his unconventional upbringing, or perhaps because of it, Rousseau became well-versed in music, literature, and mathematics. He invented a new system of musical notation and wrote novels, a play, an opera, and numerous essays on many subjects. He was a well-loved member of French society and an influential voice of the French Enlightenment.

Review this video on Rousseau's theory regarding the social contract:

Main Ideas

  • People are naturally good but have been corrupted by society.
  • People are naturally free and equal.
  • The ownership of private property leads to jealousy and crime.
  • There are distinct stages of child development, with appropriate education for each.
  • All religions are equally worthy.
  • There is no such thing as "original sin".
  • The fruits of the earth belong to everyone.

Famous Works
  • Of the Social Contract
  • On Education
  • Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
  • Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men

Famous Statements
Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.
The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine" and found people naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.

Interesting Trivia
Rousseau's mother died shortly after his birth, and he lived with his father until he was ten. His father had a legal battle with a wealthy landowner and was forced to leave Geneva, running away with his wife's sister and leaving his son with an uncle. Rousseau was sent to boarding school and ran away. When he was 15, he met a 29-year-old woman named Françoise-Louise de Warens who had been hired to convert people to Catholicism. She became his benefactor, providing him with not only an education but also the love he had missed as a child; until his death, he referred to her as "Maman". When he turned 20, he became her lover along with the head steward of the house, which made him very uncomfortable. He studied mathematics, music, and philosophy and later moved to Paris where he took up with a poor illiterate seamstress. She gave birth to his children, all of whom he convinced her to give up in the name of her honour because it was not acceptable for an unmarried woman to have a child in those days. He did not marry her until nearly 25 years after their relationship began because Catholics and Protestants could not legally marry. His books were banned in many countries, and he was thrown out of both Switzerland and France for a time. He was forbidden from publishing his books in France, and all his later works were not published until after his death.

Last modified: Monday, 10 February 2020, 10:44 AM