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Jean Jacques Rousseau

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Themes, Arguments, and Ideas
The Two

As Rousseau discusses in the Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract , the state of nature is the hypothetical, prehistoric place and time where human beings live uncorrupted by society. The most important characteristic of the state of nature is that people have complete physical freedom and are at liberty to do essentially as they wish. That said, the state of nature also carries the drawback that human beings have not yet discovered rationality or morality.

In different works, Rousseau alternately emphasizes the benefits and shortfalls of the state of nature, but by and large he reveres it for the physical freedom it grants people, allowing them to be unencumbered by the coercive influence of the state and society.

Rousseau includes an analysis of human need as one element in his comparison of modern society and the state of nature. In the state of nature, human needs are strictly limited to those things that ensure survival and reproduction, including food, sleep, and sex.

By contrast, as cooperation and division of labor develop in modern society, the needs of men multiply to include many nonessential things, such as friends, entertainment, and luxury goods.

As time goes by and these sorts of needs increasingly become a part of everyday life, they become necessities. Although many of these needs are initially pleasurable and even good for human beings, men in modern society eventually become slaves to these superfluous needs, and the whole of society is bound together and shaped by their pursuit.

By authentic , Rousseau essentially means how closely the life of modern man reflects the positive attributes of his natural self. Not surprisingly, Rousseau feels that people in modern society generally live quite inauthentic lives. In the state of nature, man is free to simply attend to his own natural needs and has few occasions to interact with other people.

The entire system of artificial needs that governs the life of civil society makes authenticity or truth in the dealings of people with one another almost impossible. Even more damningly, the fact that modern people organize their lives around artificial needs means that they are inauthentic and untrue to themselves as well.

Given this fact, the modern society that has sprung forth from this act can be nothing but inauthentic to the core. For Rousseau, the questions of why and how human beings are naturally equal and unequal, if they are unequal at all, are fundamental to his larger philosophical enquiry. His conclusions and larger line of reasoning in this argument are laid out in the Discourse on Inequality , but the basic thrust of his argument is that human inequality as we know it does not exist in the state of nature.

In fact, the only kind of natural inequality, according to Rousseau, is the physical inequality that exists among men in the state of nature who may be more or less able to provide for themselves according to their physical attributes.

Accordingly, all the inequalities we recognize in modern society are characterized by the existence of different classes or the domination and exploitation of some people by others. Rousseau terms these kinds of inequalities moral inequalities , and he devotes much of his political philosophy to identifying the ways in which a just government can seek to overturn them.

Rousseau would give his own account of the state of nature in the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men , which will be examined below. Also influential were the ideals of classical republicanism, which Rousseau took to be illustrative of virtues.

These virtues allow people to escape vanity and an emphasis on superficial values that he thought to be so prevalent in modern society. This is a major theme of the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts. This is the work that originally won Rousseau fame and recognition.

For the Enlightenment project was based on the idea that progress in fields like the arts and sciences do indeed contribute to the purification of morals on individual, social, and political levels. The First Discourse begins with a brief introduction addressing the academy to which the work was submitted. In addition to this introduction, the First Discourse is comprised of two main parts. The first part is largely an historical survey. Using specific examples, Rousseau shows how societies in which the arts and sciences flourished more often than not saw the decline of morality and virtue.

He notes that it was after philosophy and the arts flourished that ancient Egypt fell. Similarly, ancient Greece was once founded on notions of heroic virtue, but after the arts and sciences progressed, it became a society based on luxury and leisure.

The one exception to this, according to Rousseau, was Sparta, which he praises for pushing the artists and scientists from its walls. Sparta is in stark contrast to Athens, which was the heart of good taste, elegance, and philosophy. Interestingly, Rousseau here discusses Socrates, as one of the few wise Athenians who recognized the corruption that the arts and sciences were bringing about.

In his address to the court, Socrates says that the artists and philosophers of his day claim to have knowledge of piety, goodness, and virtue, yet they do not really understand anything. The second part of the First Discourse is an examination of the arts and sciences themselves, and the dangers they bring. First, Rousseau claims that the arts and sciences are born from our vices: The attack on sciences continues as Rousseau articulates how they fail to contribute anything positive to morality.

They take time from the activities that are truly important, such as love of country, friends, and the unfortunate. Philosophical and scientific knowledge of subjects such as the relationship of the mind to the body, the orbit of the planets, and physical laws that govern particles fail to genuinely provide any guidance for making people more virtuous citizens.

Rather, Rousseau argues that they create a false sense of need for luxury, so that science becomes simply a means for making our lives easier and more pleasurable, but not morally better. The arts are the subject of similar attacks in the second part of the First Discourse. Artists, Rousseau says, wish first and foremost to be applauded.

Their work comes from a sense of wanting to be praised as superior to others. Society begins to emphasize specialized talents rather than virtues such as courage, generosity, and temperance. This leads to yet another danger: And yet, after all of these attacks, the First Discourse ends with the praise of some very wise thinkers, among them, Bacon, Descartes, and Newton.

These men were carried by their vast genius and were able to avoid corruption. However, Rousseau says, they are exceptions; and the great majority of people ought to focus their energies on improving their characters, rather than advancing the ideals of the Enlightenment in the arts and sciences.

The Second Discourse , like the first, was a response to a question put forth by the academy of Dijon: It exceeded the desired length, it was four times the length of the first, and made very bold philosophical claims; unlike the First Discourse , it did not win the prize.

However, as Rousseau was now a well-known and respected author, he was able to have it published independently. This is primarily because Rousseau, like Hobbes, attacks the classical notion of human beings as naturally social. In the Confessions , Rousseau writes that he himself sees the Second Discourse as far superior to the first.

The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality is divided into four main parts: Like them, Rousseau understands society to be an invention, and he attempts to explain the nature of human beings by stripping them of all of the accidental qualities brought about by socialization. Thus, understanding human nature amounts to understanding what humans are like in a pure state of nature. This is in stark contrast to the classical view, most notably that of Aristotle, which claims that the state of civil society is the natural human state.

Like Hobbes and Locke, however, it is doubtful that Rousseau meant his readers to understand the pure state of nature that he describes in the Second Discourse as a literal historical account. In its opening, he says that it must be denied that men were ever in the pure state of nature, citing revelation as a source which tells us that God directly endowed the first man with understanding a capacity that he will later say is completely undeveloped in natural man.

However, it seems in other parts of the Second Discourse that Rousseau is positing an actual historical account. Some of the stages in the progression from nature to civil society, Rousseau will argue, are empirically observable in so-called primitive tribes.

Hobbes describes each human in the state of nature as being in a constant state of war against all others; hence life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Instead, they have taken civilized human beings and simply removed laws, government, and technology. For humans to be in a constant state of war with one another, they would need to have complex thought processes involving notions of property, calculations about the future, immediate recognition of all other humans as potential threats, and possibly even minimal language skills.

These faculties, according to Rousseau, are not natural, but rather, they develop historically. In contrast to Hobbes, Rousseau describes natural man as isolated, timid, peaceful, mute, and without the foresight to worry about what the future will bring.

Purely natural human beings are fundamentally different from the egoistic Hobbesian view in another sense as well. Rousseau acknowledges that self-preservation is one principle of motivation for human actions, but unlike Hobbes, it is not the only principle. If it were, Rousseau claims that humans would be nothing more than monsters. Therefore, Rousseau concludes that self-preservation, or more generally self-interest, is only one of two principles of the human soul.

However, Rousseau says that unlike all other creatures, humans are free agents. They have reason, although in the state of nature it is not yet developed. But it is this faculty that makes the long transition from the state of nature to the state of civilized society possible.

He claims that if one examines any other species over the course of a thousand years, they will not have advanced significantly. Humans can develop when circumstances arise that trigger the use of reason. Furthermore, he is not advocating a return to the state of nature, though some commentators, even his contemporaries such as Voltaire, have attributed such a view to him.

Human beings in the state of nature are amoral creatures, neither virtuous nor vicious. After humans leave the state of nature, they can enjoy a higher form of goodness, moral goodness, which Rousseau articulates most explicitly in the Social Contract.

Although they are not stated explicitly, Rousseau sees this development as occurring in a series of stages. From the pure state of nature, humans begin to organize into temporary groups for the purposes of specific tasks like hunting an animal. Very basic language in the form of grunts and gestures comes to be used in these groups.

However, the groups last only as long as the task takes to be completed, and then they dissolve as quickly as they came together. The next stage involves more permanent social relationships including the traditional family, from which arises conjugal and paternal love. Basic conceptions of property and feelings of pride and competition develop in this stage as well.

However, at this stage they are not developed to the point that they cause the pain and inequality that they do in present day society. If humans could have remained in this state, they would have been happy for the most part, primarily because the various tasks that they engaged in could all be done by each individual.

The next stage in the historical development occurs when the arts of agriculture and metallurgy are discovered.

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.

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The Political writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, edited from the original MCS and authentic editions with introduction and notes by downwfileh23.gqn, Blackwell, Oxford, (In French but the introduction and notes are in English).

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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 controversial writings contributed to the Romantic Movement and allegedly inspired the French .

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau (—) 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 . The book brings together superb new translations by renowned Rousseau scholar John T. Scott of three of Rousseau’s works: the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men, and On the Social Contract.

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who lived from to , was one of the most influential philosopher's during the Enlightenment in 18th-century Europe. His treatises and novels inspired the leaders of the French Revolution, the Romantic generation, and many other famous philosophers. 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.