<history of philosphy, biography> as a brilliant and self-educated (but undisciplined and unconventional) thinker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) spent most of his life being driven by controversy back and forth between Paris and his native Geneva. His autobiographical Les Confessions (Confessions) (1783) offer a thorough (if somewhat self-serving) account of his turbulent life. Rousseau first attracted wide-spread attention with his prize-winning essay Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts (Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts) (1750), in which he decried the harmful effects of modern civilization. He continued to explore this theme throughout his career, proposing in Šmile, ou l'education (1762) a method of education that would minimize the damage by noticing, encouraging, and following the natural proclivities of the student instead of striving to eliminate them. Rousseau began to apply these principles to political issues specifically in his Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inÈgalitÈ parmi les hommes (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality) (1755), which maintains that every variety of injustice found in human society is an artificial result of the control exercised by defective political and intellectual influences over the healthy natural impulses of otherwise noble savages. The alternative he proposed in Du contrat social (On the Social Contract) (1762) is a civil society voluntarily formed by its citizens and wholly governed by reference to the general will (Fr. volont gÈnÈrale) expressed in their unanimous consent to authority. Rousseau also wrote Discourse on Political Economy (1755), Constitutional Program for Corsica (1765), and Considerations on the Government of Poland (1772). Although the authorities made every effort to suppress Rousseau's writings, the ideas they expressed, along with those of Locke, were of great influence during the French Revolution. - For a very different interpretation of that historical event, you might wish to look at Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Recommended Reading: Primary sources: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oeuvres complËtes, ed. by B. Gagnebin and M. Raymond (PlÈiade, 1959-); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, tr. by Maurice Cranston (Penguin, 1987); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Discourses and Other Early Political Thought, ed. by Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge, 1997); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Confessions, ed. by Patrick Coleman and Angela Scholar (Oxford, 2000); Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or on Education, tr. by Allan Bloom (Basic, 1979). Secondary sources: Robert Wokler, Rousseau (Oxford, 1995); Elizabeth Rose Wingrove, Rousseau's Republican Romance (Princeton, 2000). Additional on-line information about Rousseau includes: Nicholas Dent's article in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. An introduction to Rousseau's political thought by Frederick Watkins. Also see: the social contract, philosophy of education, French philosophy, the general will, master and slave, and political philosophy. The thorough collection of resources at EpistemeLinks.com. A brief article in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The article in the Columbia Encyclopedia at Bartleby.com. An article on The Social Contract in The Catholic Encyclopedia. Snippets from Rousseau (French and English) in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Bj–rn Christensson's brief guide to Internet resources. A brief entry in The Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001.
[A Dictionary of Philosopphical Terms and Names]
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