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Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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To the surprise of his friends, he took her with him to Geneva, presenting her as a nurse. Although her presence caused some murmurings, Rousseau was readmitted easily to the Calvinist communion, his literary fame having made him very welcome to a city that prided itself as much on its culture as on its morals. Rousseau had by that time completed a second Discourse in response to a question set by the Academy of Dijon: The argument follows on that of his first Discourse by developing the proposition that people are naturally good and then tracing the successive stages by which they have descended from primitive innocence to corrupt sophistication.

It is the inequalities of the latter sort that he set out to explain. Human vices, he argued, date from the time when societies were formed.

Rousseau thus exonerates nature and blames society. He says that passions that generate vices hardly existed in the state of nature but began to develop as soon as people formed societies. He goes on to suggest that societies started when people built their first huts, a development that facilitated cohabitation of males and females; that in turn produced the habit of living as a family and associating with neighbours.

Only it did not endure. With the tender passion of love there was also born the destructive passion of jealousy. Their innocent self-love turned into culpable pride, as each person wanted to be better than everyone else. The introduction of property marked a further step toward inequality, since it made law and government necessary as a means of protecting it.

Those passages in his second Discourse excited later revolutionaries such as Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilich Lenin , but Rousseau himself did not think that the past could be undone in any way.

There was no point in dreaming of a return to the golden age. Civil society , as Rousseau describes it, comes into being to serve two purposes: It is thus of some advantage to everyone, but mostly to the advantage of the rich, since it transforms their de facto ownership into rightful ownership and keeps the poor dispossessed. It is a somewhat fraudulent social contract that introduces government, since the poor get so much less out of it than do the rich.

Even so, the rich are no happier in civil society than are the poor because people in society are never satisfied. Society leads people to hate one another to the extent that their interests conflict, and the best they are able to do is to hide their hostility behind a mask of courtesy. Thus, Rousseau regards inequality not as a separate problem but as one of the features of the long process by which men become alienated from nature and from innocence. Like Plato , Rousseau always believed that a just society was one in which everyone was in his proper place.

And having written the second Discourse to explain how people had lost their liberty in the past, he went on to write another book, Du Contrat social ; The Social Contract , to suggest how they might recover their liberty in the future.

Again Geneva was the model: The Social Contract begins with the sensational opening sentence: If a civil society, or state, could be based on a genuine social contract, as opposed to the fraudulent social contract depicted in the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality , people would receive in exchange for their independence a better kind of freedom, namely true political, or republican, liberty.

Such liberty is to be found in obedience to a self-imposed law. For while it can be readily agreed that an individual is free if he obeys only rules he prescribes for himself, this is so because an individual is a person with a single will. A society, by contrast, is a set of persons with a set of individual wills, and conflict between separate wills is a fact of universal experience.

The social contract that brings society into being is a pledge, and the society remains in being as a pledged group. Rousseau sounds very much like Hobbes when he says that under the pact by which people enter civil society everyone totally alienates himself and all his rights to the whole community. Rousseau, however, represents this act as a form of exchange of rights whereby people give up natural rights in return for civil rights.

He does not claim that a whole society can be forced to be free but only that an occasional individual, who is enslaved by his passions to the extent of disobeying the law, can be restored by force to obedience to the voice of the general will that exists inside of him.

For Rousseau there is a radical dichotomy between true law and actual law. Actual law, which he described in the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality , simply protects the status quo. True law, as described in The Social Contract , is just law, and what ensures its being just is that it is made by the people in their collective capacity as sovereign and obeyed by the same people in their individual capacities as subjects.

Rousseau is confident that such laws could not be unjust because it is inconceivable that any people would make unjust laws for itself.

Rousseau is, however, troubled by the fact that the majority of a people does not necessarily represent its most-intelligent citizens. Indeed, he agrees with Plato that most people are stupid. Thus, the general will, while always morally sound, is sometimes mistaken. Hence Rousseau suggests the people need a lawgiver —a great mind like Solon or Lycurgus or Calvin —to draw up a constitution and system of laws. He even suggests that such lawgivers need to claim divine inspiration in order to persuade the dim-witted multitude to accept and endorse the laws it is offered.

Rousseau does not go so far as Machiavelli in proposing a revival of pagan cults, but he does propose a civil religion with minimal theological content designed to fortify and not impede as Christianity impedes the cultivation of martial virtues. By the year , however, when The Social Contract was published, Rousseau had given up any thought of settling in Geneva.

But he became increasingly ill at ease in such worldly society and began to quarrel with his fellow philosophes. Rousseau hastened into print with a defense of the Calvinist orthodoxy of the pastors and with an elaborate attack on the theatre as an institution that could only do harm to an innocent community such as Geneva.

After formally renouncing his Genevan citizenship in , Rousseau became a fugitive, spending the rest of his life moving from one refuge to another. The New Eloise , being a novel , escaped the censorship to which the other two works were subject; indeed, of all his books it proved to be the most widely read and the most universally praised in his lifetime.

It develops the Romanticism that had already informed his writings on music and perhaps did more than any other single work of literature to influence the spirit of its age. If it did not exempt him from persecution, at least it ensured that his persecution was observed, and admiring femmes du monde intervened from time to time to help him so that Rousseau was never, unlike Voltaire and Diderot, actually imprisoned. It is about people finding happiness in domestic as distinct from public life, in the family as opposed to the state.

Because these tasks required a division of labor, some people were better suited to certain types of physical labor, others to making tools, and still others to governing and organizing workers. Soon, there become distinct social classes and strict notions of property, creating conflict and ultimately a state of war not unlike the one that Hobbes describes. Those who have the most to lose call on the others to come together under a social contract for the protection of all.

But Rousseau claims that the contract is specious, and that it was no more than a way for those in power to keep their power by convincing those with less that it was in their interest to accept the situation.

Ultimately, the work is based on the idea that by nature, humans are essentially peaceful, content, and equal. It is the socialization process that has produced inequality, competition, and the egoistic mentality.

In terms of its content the work seems to be, in many ways, a precursor to the Social Contract , which would appear in And whereas the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts and the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality look back on history and condemn what Rousseau sees as the lack of morality and justice in his own present day society, this work is much more constructive. That is, the Discourse on Political Economy explains what he takes to be a legitimate political regime. There is debate among scholars about how exactly one ought to interpret this concept, but essentially, one can understand the general will in terms of an analogy.

A political society is like a human body. A body is a unified entity though it has various parts that have particular functions. And just as the body has a will that looks after the well-being of the whole, a political state also has a will which looks to its general well-being. The major conflict in political philosophy occurs when the general will is at odds with one or more of the individual wills of its citizens.

With the conflict between the general and individual wills in mind, Rousseau articulates three maxims which supply the basis for a politically virtuous state: Citizens follow these maxims when there is a sense of equality among them, and when they develop a genuine respect for law. This again is in contrast to Hobbes, who says that laws are only followed when people fear punishment.

That is, the state must make the penalty for breaking the law so severe that people do not see breaking the law to be of any advantage to them.

Rousseau claims, instead, that when laws are in accordance with the general will, good citizens will respect and love both the state and their fellow citizens. Therefore, citizens will see the intrinsic value in the law, even in cases in which it may conflict with their individual wills. The Social Contract is, like the Discourse on Political Economy , a work that is more philosophically constructive than either of the first two Discourses.

Furthermore, the language used in the first and second Discourses is crafted in such a way as to make them appealing to the public, whereas the tone of the Social Contract is not nearly as eloquent and romantic. Another more obvious difference is that the Social Contract was not nearly as well-received; it was immediately banned by Paris authorities.

And although the first two Discourses were, at the time of their publication, very popular, they are not philosophically systematic. The Social Contract , by contrast, is quite systematic and outlines how a government could exist in such a way that it protects the equality and character of its citizens. For the earlier works discuss the problems in civil society as well as the historical progression that has led to them.

The Discourse on the Sciences and Arts claims that society has become such that no emphasis is put on the importance of virtue and morality. The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality traces the history of human beings from the pure state of nature through the institution of a specious social contract that results in present day civil society. The Social Contract does not deny any of these criticisms.

But unlike the first two Discourses , the Social Contract looks forward, and explores the potential for moving from the specious social contract to a legitimate one.

The concept of the general will, first introduced in the Discourse on Political Economy , is further developed in the Social Contract although it remains ambiguous and difficult to interpret.

The most pressing difficulty that arises is in the tension that seems to exist between liberalism and communitarianism. On one hand, Rousseau argues that following the general will allows for individual diversity and freedom.

But at the same time, the general will also encourages the well-being of the whole, and therefore can conflict with the particular interests of individuals. Despite these difficulties, however, there are some aspects of the general will that Rousseau clearly articulates. First, the general will is directly tied to Sovereignty: Simply having power, for Rousseau, is not sufficient for that power to be morally legitimate. True Sovereignty is directed always at the public good, and the general will, therefore, speaks always infallibly to the benefit of the people.

Second, the object of the general will is always abstract, or for lack of a better term, general. It can set up rules, social classes, or even a monarchial government, but it can never specify the particular individuals who are subject to the rules, members of the classes, or the rulers in the government.

This is in keeping with the idea that the general will speaks to the good of the society as a whole. It is not to be confused with the collection of individual wills which would put their own needs, or the needs of particular factions, above those of the general public.

This leads to a related point. Rousseau argues that there is an important distinction to be made between the general will and the collection of individual wills: The latter looks only to the common interest; the former considers private interest and is only a sum of private wills. But take away from these same wills the pluses and minuses that cancel each other out, and the remaining sum of the differences is the general will. This point can be understood in an almost Rawlsian sense, namely that if the citizens were ignorant of the groups to which they would belong, they would inevitably make decisions that would be to the advantage of the society as a whole, and thus be in accordance with the general will.

But if the state is to protect individual freedom, how can this be reconciled with the notion of the general will, which looks always to the welfare of the whole and not to the will of the individual? This criticism, although not unfounded, is also not devastating. To answer it, one must return to the concepts of Sovereignty and the general will.

True Sovereignty, again, is not simply the will of those in power, but rather the general will. Sovereignty does have the proper authority override the particular will of an individual or even the collective will of a particular group of individuals.

However, as the general will is infallible, it can only do so when intervening will be to the benefit of the society. Proper intervention on the part of the Sovereign is therefore best understood as that which secures the freedom and equality of citizens rather than that which limits them.

Ultimately, the delicate balance between the supreme authority of the state and the rights of individual citizens is based on a social compact that protects society against factions and gross differences in wealth and privilege among its members. It was originally published just several months after the Social Contract. Like the Social Contract , the Emile was immediately banned by Paris authorities, which prompted Rousseau to flee France.

The major point of controversy in the Emile was not in his philosophy of education per se, however. Rather, it was the claims in one part of the book, the Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar in which Rousseau argues against traditional views of religion that led to the banning of the book.

The Emile is unique in one sense because it is written as part novel and part philosophical treatise. Rousseau would use this same form in some of his later works as well. The book is written in first person, with the narrator as the tutor, and describes his education of a pupil, Emile, from birth to adulthood.

The basic philosophy of education that Rousseau advocates in the Emile , much like his thought in the first two Discourses , is rooted in the notion that human beings are good by nature. Rousseau is very clear that a return the state of nature once human beings have become civilized is not possible. Therefore, we should not seek to be noble savages in the literal sense, with no language, no social ties, and an underdeveloped faculty of reason.

Rather, Rousseau says, someone who has been properly educated will be engaged in society, but relate to his or her fellow citizens in a natural way. At first glance, this may seem paradoxical: If human beings are not social by nature, how can one properly speak of more or less natural ways of socializing with others? The best answer to this question requires an explanation of what Rousseau calls the two forms of self-love: Amour de soi is a natural form of self-love in that it does not depend on others.

Rousseau claims that by our nature, each of us has this natural feeling of love toward ourselves. We naturally look after our own preservation and interests. By contrast, amour-propre is an unnatural self-love that is essentially relational.

That is, it comes about in the ways in which human beings view themselves in comparison to other human beings. Without amour-propre , human beings would scarcely be able to move beyond the pure state of nature Rousseau describes in the Discourse on Inequality.

Thus, amour-propre can contribute positively to human freedom and even virtue. Nevertheless, amour-propre is also extremely dangerous because it is so easily corruptible. Rousseau often describes the dangers of what commentators sometimes refer to as 'inflamed' amour-propre.

In its corrupted form, amour-propre is the source of vice and misery, and results in human beings basing their own self worth on their feeling of superiority over others. While not developed in the pure state of nature, amour-propre is still a fundamental part of human nature. Therefore goal of Emile's natural education is in large part to keep him from falling into the corrupted form of this type of self-love.

This will allow the pupil to be virtuous even in the unnatural and imperfect society in which he lives. The character of Emile begins learning important moral lessons from his infancy, thorough childhood, and into early adulthood. The tutor must even manipulate the environment in order to teach sometimes difficult moral lessons about humility, chastity, and honesty.

They depend on women only because they desire them. By contrast, women both need and desire men. Sophie is educated in such a way that she will fill what Rousseau takes to be her natural role as a wife. She is to be submissive to Emile. And although Rousseau advocates these very specific gender roles, it would be a mistake to take the view that Rousseau regards men as simply superior to women. Women have particular talents that men do not; Rousseau says that women are cleverer than men, and that they excel more in matters of practical reason.

These views are continually discussed among both feminist and Rousseau scholars. In his discussion of how to properly educate a pupil about religious matters, the tutor recounts a tale of an Italian who thirty years before was exiled from his town. Disillusioned, the young man was aided by a priest who explained his own views of religion, nature, and science.

The priest begins by explaining how, after a scandal in which he broke his vow of celibacy, he was arrested, suspended, and then dismissed. In his woeful state, the priest began to question all of his previously held ideas. Doubting everything, the priest attempts a Cartesian search for truth by doubting all things that he does not know with absolute certainty. But unlike Descartes, the Vicar is unable to come to any kind of clear and distinct ideas that could not be doubted.

Among these truths, the Vicar finds that he exists as a free being with a free will which is distinct from his body that is not subject to physical, mechanical laws of motion.

The system was rejected by the Academy, but in this period Rousseau met Denis Diderot. In , while walking to Vincennes to visit the briefly-imprisoned Diderot, Rousseau came across a newspaper announcement of an essay competition organized by the Academy of Dijon.

The Academy sought submissions on the theme of whether the development of the arts and sciences had improved or corrupted public morals. Rousseau later claimed that he then and there experienced an epiphany which included the thought, central to his world view, that humankind is good by nature but is corrupted by society. Rousseau entered his Discourse on the Sciences and Arts conventionally known as the First Discourse for the competition and won first prize with his contrarian thesis that social development, including of the arts and sciences, is corrosive of both civic virtue and individual moral character.

The Discourse was published in and is mainly important because Rousseau used it to introduce themes that he then developed further in his later work, especially the natural virtue of the ordinary person and the moral corruption fostered by the urge to distinction and excellence.

The First Discourse made Rousseau famous and provoked a series of responses to which he in turn replied. The first of these was his opera Le Devin du Village The Village Soothsayer , which was an immediate success and stayed in the repertoire for a century. Rousseau, who had already developed a taste for Italian music during his stay in Venice, joined the dispute through his Letter on French Music and the controversy also informed his unpublished Essay on the Origin of Languages.

Rousseau went so far as to declare the French language inherently unmusical, a view apparently contradicted by his own practice in Le Devin. In he regained this citizenship by reconverting to Calvinism. In the following year he published his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality , again in response to an essay competition from the Academy of Dijon. Julie appeared in and was an immediate success. The novel is centred on a love triangle between Julie, her tutor Saint Preux and her husband Wolmar.

Unfortunately for Rousseau, the publication of these works led to personal catastrophe. Emile was condemned in Paris and both Emile and The Social Contract were condemned in Geneva on grounds of religious heterodoxy.

Partly in response to this, Rousseau finally renounced his Genevan citizenship in May Rousseau was forced to flee to escape arrest, seeking refuge first in Switzerland and later, in January , at the invitation of David Hume, travelling to England.

He spent fourteen months in Staffordshire where he worked on his autobiographical work, the Confessions , which also contains evidence of his paranoia in its treatment of figures like Diderot and the German author Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm. He returned to France in and then spent much of the rest of his life working on autobiographical texts, completing the Confessions but also composing the Dialogues: He also completed his Considerations on the Government of Poland in this period.

In later life he further developed his interest in botany where his work proved influential in England via his letters on the subject to the Duchess of Portland and in music, as he met and corresponded with the operatic composer Christoph Gluck. Rousseau died in Rousseau repeatedly claims that a single idea is at the centre of his world view, namely, that human beings are good by nature but are rendered corrupt by society.

Unfortunately, despite the alleged centrality of this claim, it is difficult to give it a clear and plausible interpretation. One obvious problem is present from the start: In various places Rousseau clearly states that morality is not a natural feature of human life, so in whatever sense it is that human beings are good by nature, it is not the moral sense that the casual reader would ordinarily assume.

Rousseau attributes to all creatures an instinctual drive towards self-preservation. Human beings therefore have such a drive, which he terms amour de soi self love. Amour de soi directs us first to attend to our most basic biological needs for things like food, shelter and warmth.

Since, for Rousseau, humans, like other creatures, are part of the design of a benevolent creator, they are individually well-equipped with the means to satisfy their natural needs. In the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality Rousseau imagines a multi-stage evolution of humanity from the most primitive condition to something like a modern complex society.

Rousseau denies that this is a reconstruction of history as it actually was, and Frederick Neuhouser has argued that the evolutionary story is merely a philosophical device designed to separate the natural and the artificial elements of our psychology.

The human race barely subsists in this condition, chance meetings between proto-humans are the occasions for copulation and reproduction, child-care is minimal and brief in duration. If humans are naturally good at this stage of human evolution, their goodness is merely a negative and amounts to the absence of evil.

In this story, human beings are distinguished from the other creatures with which they share the primeval world only by two characteristics: Freedom, in this context, is simply the ability not to be governed solely by appetite; perfectibility is the capacity to learn and thereby to find new and better means to satisfy needs.

Together, these characteristics give humans the potential to achieve self-consciousness, rationality, and morality. Nevertheless, it will turn out that such characteristics are more likely to condemn them to a social world of deception, dissimulation, dependence, oppression, and domination. As human populations grow, simple but unstable forms of co-operation evolve around activities like hunting.

According to Rousseau, the central transitional moment in human history occurs at a stage of society marked by small settled communities. At this point a change, or rather a split, takes place in the natural drive humans have to care for themselves: In Emile , where Rousseau is concerned with the psychological development of an individual in a modern society, he also associates the genesis of amour propre with sexual competition and the moment, puberty, when the male adolescent starts to think of himself as a sexual being with rivals for the favours of girls and women.

Amour propre makes a central interest of each human being the need to be recognized by others as having value and to be treated with respect. The presentation of amour propre in the Second Discourse —and especially in his note XV to that work—often suggests that Rousseau sees it as a wholly negative passion and the source of all evil. Interpretations of amour propre centered on the Second Discourse which, historically, are the most common ones for example Charvet , often focus on the fact that the need for recognition always has a comparative aspect, so that individuals are not content merely that others acknowledge their value, but also seek to be esteemed as superior to them.

This aspect of our nature then creates conflict as people try to exact this recognition from others or react with anger and resentment when it is denied to them.

More recent readings of both the Second Discourse , and especially of Emile , have indicated that a more nuanced view is possible Den , Neuhouser This project of containing and harnessing amour propre finds expression in both The Social Contract and Emile. In some works, such as the Second Discourse , Rousseau presents amour propre as a passion that is quite distinct from amour de soi. In others, including Emile , he presents it as a form that amour de soi takes in a social environment.

The latter is consistent with his view in Emile that all the passions are outgrowths or developments of amour de soi. Although amour propre has its origins in sexual competition and comparison within small societies, it does not achieve its full toxicity until it is combined with a growth in material interdependence among human beings. In the Discourse on Inequality , Rousseau traces the growth of agriculture and metallurgy and the first establishment of private property, together with the emergence of inequality between those who own land and those who do not.

In an unequal society, human beings who need both the social good of recognition and such material goods as food, warmth, etc. Subordinates need superiors in order to have access to the means of life; superiors need subordinates to work for them and also to give them the recognition they crave.

In such a structure there is a clear incentive for people to misrepresent their true beliefs and desires in order to attain their ends. Thus, even those who receive the apparent love and adulation of their inferiors cannot thereby find satisfaction for their amour propre. Once people have achieved consciousness of themselves as social beings, morality also becomes possible and this relies on the further faculty of conscience.

It is, to that extent, akin to a moral sentiment such as Humean sympathy. But as something that is merely instinctual it lacks, for Rousseau, a genuinely moral quality. Genuine morality, on the other hand, consists in the application of reason to human affairs and conduct.

This requires the mental faculty that is the source of genuinely moral motivation, namely conscience. Conscience impels us to the love of justice and morality in a quasi-aesthetic manner. However, in a world dominated by inflamed amour propre , the normal pattern is not for a morality of reason to supplement or supplant our natural proto-moral sympathies. For recent discussion of Rousseau on conscience and reason, see Neidleman, , ch.

So, for example, theatre audiences derive enjoyment from the eliciting of their natural compassion by a tragic scene on the stage; then, convinced of their natural goodness, they are freed to act viciously outside the theater.

Philosophy, too, can serve as a resource for self-deception. However, many of his other works, both major and minor, contain passages that amplify or illuminate the political ideas in those works. This idea finds its most detailed treatment in The Social Contract. In The Social Contract , Rousseau sets out to answer what he takes to be the fundamental question of politics, the reconciliation of the freedom of the individual with the authority of the state.

This reconciliation is necessary because human society has evolved to a point where individuals can no longer supply their needs through their own unaided efforts, but rather must depend on the co-operation of others. The process whereby human needs expand and interdependence deepens is set out in the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality.

In the Second Discourse , this establishment amounts to the reinforcement of unequal and exploitative social relations that are now backed by law and state power. In an echo of Locke and an anticipation of Marx, Rousseau argues that this state would, in effect, be a class state, guided by the common interest of the rich and propertied and imposing unfreedom and subordination on the poor and weak.

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Jean Jacques Rousseau () "Citizen Rousseau of Geneva", writer, musician and political theorist, penned the well-known Social Contract in While his .

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the most influential thinkers during the Enlightenment in eighteenth century Europe. His first major philosophical work, A Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, was the winning response to an essay contest conducted by the Academy of Dijon in

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The three works collected in The Major Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau represent an important contribution to eighteenth-century political theory that has exerted an extensive influence on generations of thinkers, beginning with the leaders of the French Revolution and continuing to the present day. The new translations on offer. Jean-Jacques Rousseau ( - ) was a French philosopher and writer of the Age of Enlightenment. His Political Philosophy, particularly his formulation of social contract theory (or Contractarianism), strongly influenced the French Revolution and the development of Liberal, Conservative and Socialist theory.

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Jean Jacques Rousseau was born on June 28, in Geneva, Switzerland. Nine days later, his mother, Suzanne Bernard Rousseau, died due to complications from childbirth. His father, Isaac Rousseau, was a watchmaker who often left for extended periods of time to pursue his trade. In , Rousseau's. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Swiss-born philosopher, writer, and political theorist who inspired the leaders of the French Revolution and Romanticism.