Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Early Life and Work

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For many centuries philosophy has been used as a platform of inquiry into some of the most puzzling questions about humanity and the environment. Western philosophy originated from ancient Greece, spreading to the rest of the world over the fullness of time. Early philosophers sought to answers about life puzzles through thinking and studying of nature. During these ancient times, people relied on authority, religion, superstitions and traditions to make judgments on matters that related to themselves and nature. The field has evolved over centuries into formal studies that focus on rational arguments in place of established premises. Many documented philosophers made exceptional contributions to the development and enlightenment of society through the study of the subject. The purpose of this is paper is to explore the life of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his contributions to the field of philosophy.

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Early life

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born on 28th June 1712 in the city-state of Geneva, Switzerland. He was a son to Isaac Rousseau and Suzanne Bernard. Rousseaus mother died when he was nine days old, and as a result, he was raised and educated by his father until the age of ten. After his father had been exiled from Geneva, Rousseau was put under the care of a pastor who enabled him to learn practical skills about engraving. At the age of sixteen, Rousseau left Geneva under the influence of Francoise-Louise de la Tour, Baronne de Warens, a Roman Catholic convert noblewoman (Cranston 13-17). Francoise-Louise de la Tour, Baronne de Warens arranged Rousseaus travel to Turin, where he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1728.While in Turin, Rousseau worked as a domestic servant in a noble household and later enrolled to train as a Catholic priest as well as advancing a career as a music copyist and teacher(Cranston 45-50). Subsequently, he moved to Lyon in 1740 to become a tutor. His time in Lyon allowed him to come into contact with famous individuals of the French Enlightenment. The contacts made Rousseau have a short stint as the secretary of French Ambassador to Venice but returned to Paris in 1744, where his philosophical career came to the limelight (("Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Philosophical standpoints and contributions of Rousseau


Rousseau emphasized on receiving education through experience, and the teacher should not be the only source of authority in conveying in knowledge and skills. His principal idea was that the educational development of the child should be structured in a way that enables the development to occur within the framework of autonomous discovery. He postulates that:

From the first moment of life, men ought to begin learning to deserve to live; and, as at the instant of birth we partake of the rights of citizenship, that instant ought to be the beginning of the exercise of our duty. If there are laws for the age of maturity, there ought to be laws for infancy, teaching obedience to others: and as the reason of each man is not left to be the sole arbiter of his duties, government ought the less indiscriminately to abandon to the intelligence and prejudices of fathers the education of their children, as that education is of still greater importance to the State than to the fathers: for, according to the course of nature, the death of the father often deprives him of the final fruits of education; but his country sooner or later perceives its effects. Families dissolve, but the State remains. (Rousseau 148-9)

Political philosophy

The dispositions of Rousseau political philosophy is contained in the several publications he made about the relationship between the citizens and the state. His idea of the general will explores the use of democratic principles to as a means of seeking the truth about the public interest and also explores the idea of illegitimacy a state if it fails to make decisions that safeguard the interests of the citizens. Rousseaus argument is that for a general will to hold, it must originate from all members of the state and its application should be equal to every citizen, irrespective of the ruled and the rulers. This postulation refers to the equal application of the law. Failure for the state to uphold equality makes the general will to collapse, rendering the state illegitimate (Rousseau n.d)

Representation and government

The political philosophy of Rousseau conflicts the idea of representation of the peoples interests in the state as was earlier postulated by Thomas Hobbes. In his work, The Social Contract, Rousseau rejects the view that peoples legislative will can be entrusted to some individuals. He is of the view that handing over ones general right of governing oneself to another person or form of authority is tantamount to slavery and that to recognize such an authority would amount to an abdication of moral responsibilities of exercising the general will. From his philosophical standpoint, allowing individuals to represent the sovereignty erodes the desire for self-rule and, therefore, constitutes moral decadence and loss of personal virtues. Rousseau is pessimist about such a relationship because he thinks that the representing group or body will end substituting the sovereign power with interest of the political elite ("Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Civil Religion and Tolerance

Rousseaus stance on civil religion rejects the idea that true Christianity plays a fundamental role in fostering patriotism and social solidarity in a burgeoning state. The mentioned premise recognizes pluralism in religion and advocates for tolerance among the members of other religious persuasions to make the state flourish. Such tolerance, he argues, would provide a favorable environment for the citizens to exercise their general will in ruling themselves. The view conforms to earlier philosophers that citizens must exercise free will in matters of beliefs and the interference from the state amounts to violation of the peoples spirit of social solidarity ("Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)


The contributions of Rousseau play an important role in the political discourse of many jurisdictions in the world. Also, his philosophical views influenced subsequent thinking of many scholars in the field of academics. His contributions left an indelible mark of legacy that will continue to draw interest to many scholars in the field for many generations.

Works Cited

Cranston, Maurice. Jean-jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1754. New York: W.W. Norton, 1983. Print.

"Jean Jacques Rousseau (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile: His Educational Theories Selected from Julie and Other Writings. Great Neck: Barron's Educational Series, Inc, 1964. Print.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile, Ou, De L'education. Francfort: publisher not identified, 1762. Print.

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