Philosopherby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
The Enlightenment period had several great thinkers and philosophers, one of them being Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was born in Geneva to a watchmaker and a minister’s daughter. His mother, Suzanne Bernard Rousseau, died only days after his birth leaving him to his father who not only failed to educate him but also abandoned him when Rousseau was just ten years old. Relatives of Rousseau’s mother took over care of Rousseau but at age sixteen he ran away from an apprenticeship to travel. During this time he became acquainted with a Madame de Warens with whom he lived for approximately nine years.
In 1742 Rousseau moved to Paris to present and hopefully make a good deal of money off of a new kind of musical notation. In this attempt Rousseau failed miserably. He began secretarial work and copying music after this failure. During this time, he met Therese La Vesseur who bore him five children, although they were not married until much later in their lives. These five children he later consigned to a foundling home, despite the fact that Rousseau defended the rights of small children and spoke often of the importance of education. This hypocritical act is one thing that makes the life of Rousseau so contradictory. In his book Emile, Rousseau writes that “We are born weak, we need strength; helpless we need aid; foolish we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man's estate, is the gift of education.” (1) In spite of this belief that each person is in need of strength, aid, reason and so forth, he failed to even take care of his own children, much less give them the education he spoke so well of.
Rousseau believed that man was born innately good but that it was society that corrupted man. He argued that man was made unhappy by experiences that he had in society because society was distorted, corrupt, and false. In Rousseau’s The Social Contract, which he wrote in 1762, Rousseau explains this concept of man being naturally good but corrupted by society. The social contract is an accord which all men enter into by common agreement. In this book the idea is presented that the state would give protection to the members of this contract and in return the state gets the pleasure and opportunity to govern the members. Freedom is easily preserved in this sort of contract because when entering the contract all the members give up as well as gain the same rights as each other. Rousseau writes that: “Since each gives himself up entirely, the condition is equal for all.” (2) In The Social Contract Rousseau also states that for society to run well there is need for a Legislator. This Legislator writes the constitution of the state but he himself does not enforce it. The people enforce it themselves because they are able to see the good in it even they may not be able to recognize that good without there being a constitution of the state.
One of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s greatest works is his Confessions. His Confessions was written nine years after The Social Contract and is Rousseau’s autobiography. In this account of his life, Rousseau is quick to celebrate man’s sinfulness and he considers his own sinfulness to be what makes him human. He does not hesitate to give explicit accounts of his sinful acts and in fact speaks highly of them. The Confessions ends with a declaration to his readers that dares them to judge him and his morals, habits and pleasures. “Anyone…who examines with his own eyes my nature…and can think me a dishonorable man, is himself a man who ought to be choked,” (3) writes Rousseau. Through this is seen a perverse attitude, hailing sin as something to be thought highly of and not something to be sorry for. All of these sins and wrongdoings Rousseau seems to see as something essential in his life and he celebrates them in his Confessions.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau died in 1778 when he was sixty six years old. He spent his life pursuing literary achievements, fame and fortune. Rousseau lived a life filled with paranoia and fear of secret enemies. He had several brushes with the government. His book Emile was banned in both Switzerland and France for being sacrilegious and Rousseau was exiled. Living a life without God and without good morals, Rousseau often became afraid of resentment, afraid of persecution and often concerned that his friends were plotting against him. This attitude cost Rousseau many friendships and resulted in a nervous and suspicious mistrust of most people. When he died, Rousseau was clearly insane and it is not surprising, considering the way he chose to live his life. Rousseau believed man to be innately good and only sinful because of the corruption of society but he failed to realize that it is man’s own sinfulness and unwillingness to realize his faults that is the true cause of unhappiness in life. God provides a way for us to be truly happy, apart from perverseness and hypocrisy. It is man’s choice to take a hold of that and Rousseau, although he had a great, philosophizing mind, was not able to realize the need for God in a corrupt and perverse world.
2. The Well-Educated Mind-Susan Wise Bauer
3. The Well-Educated Mind-Susan Wise Bauer