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Jean Jacque Rousseau

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Jean Jacque Rousseau
Jean Jacque Rousseau was a legendary enigmatic philosopher born in Geneva on the 28th
of June 1712. His mother had died during his birth, and he was brought up by his father, who
later left him to take care of himself in 1722 (Cranston 13). Rousseau, therefore, had no formal
education except for his personal readings on Plutarch Lives and some Calvinist sermons
collections during the early years of his life. In spite of his lack of formal education and
challenging life, Rousseau grew to become a great philosopher, composer and writer and was
among the most famous and celebrated personalities in the 18th century.
Rousseau’s work in philosophy was quite striking. Unlike the utopian thinkers, his
philosophy was a combination of realistic and idealistic elements that consistently appeared to
open the possibility of bettering the world. Through his theory of natural human development,
Rousseau proposed that uncorrupted morals can prevail the state of nature and that nothing could
compare to the gentleness of man in his primitive state. This stage, which he often regarded as
the savages, was according to him the best stage in human development. He held that when
man’s instinct and emotion was not distorted by the unnatural conditions of civilization, man was
at his best, and it was an avenue to a good life.
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Rousseau also believed that humans underwent different physiological and physical
stages before they finally matured. In Emile, he divided the human development into five stages.
They included the infancy stage, the age of nature, pre-adolescence stage, puberty, and adulthood
(Ornstein, Levine, Gutek & Vocke 92). According to Rousseau, the infancy stage starts from the
time of birth and ends with the weaning of the child. During this stage, the child should be given
more real liberty but less power so that the child has develops the habit of doing things by him
and demand less from others. The stage of nature requires that the child receives no moral
instruction or verbal learning. During this stage according to Rousseau, the child is meant to
develop his or her physical qualities and involves the cultivation of the child’s five senses in
turn. Rousseau describes the third stage as the noble savage. During this stage, there is a more
rapid increase in the child's strength than his needs and the urge to activity takes a mental form.
The reasoning for the child is well developed by the fourth stage and by this time, he can handle
the adolescence emotions as well as the moral issues and religion effectively. The child may still
want to hold back the societal pressures which he is subjected to, but most importantly, the child
needs gradual entry into the community life during this stage. The last stage, adulthood, entails
the preparation of an individual against the society’s corrupting influences. Rousseau believes
that the individual is now ready to learn about aspects of love and marital duties and is now
ready to return o the society (Ornstein, Levine, Gutek & Vocke 92-93).
His influence in political philosophy is viewed as an important contribution to politics.
He advocated for freedom and to protect it; Rousseau suggested that political institutions be
constructed to allow peaceful coexistence of free and equal citizens in the society. In his political
theory, he held on to the view that institutions of law could also enhance effectiveness in the
division of labor as well as private property as the society advanced. He proposed the social
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contract which could facilitate the joining of individuals into a civil society to preserve
themselves as free people (Rousseau, & Cole 20)
Unlike other philosophers who were mostly radicalized and never embraced religion,
Rousseau was a believer of religion, and he affirmed its necessity. Initially, he was a Roman
Catholic convert during his early life, but he later returned to Calvinism, during a period that he
went through moral reform, though he never swayed from religion after that (Strong 125).
Though some of his assertions like the social contract attracted criticism from both Calvinist
Geneva and Catholic Paris, Rousseau always maintained his stand on religion, an attribute that
stood out in him as a philosopher.
Rousseau prominently influenced many people, among which included individuals who
contributed to the revolution in France and the shaping of the United States of America.
Robespierre and Saint-Just, who obliged to do completely away with superfluities and corruption
during the reign of Terror, were inspired by Rousseau (Grace, & Kelly 230). They also borrowed
the idea of rectifying deficiencies in individuals by upholding the common good from
Rousseau’s school of thought. The founding fathers of the United States of America like Thomas
Jefferson shared Rousseau’s beliefs as the idea of all men being equal; additionally, some
concepts in the American constitution like the general welfare has similarities with Rousseau’s
general will. This highlights the importance and influence Rousseau had on America.
Rousseau, however, faced some criticism about his work. Among his critics was Hannah
Arendt, who is regarded one of his strongest critics. She blamed Rousseau for his notion of
sovereignty that advocated for the establishment of a single and unified will that was based on
the suppression of opinion instead of the public passion, which contributed to the excesses of the
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French revolution. He was also criticized for his association with nationalism by Arthur Melzer,
who pointed out that Rousseau’s theories, contained the seeds of nationalism. Additionally, he
was criticized for advocating for nationalism which gave to rise to the totalitarian regimes in the
mid 20th century. In spite of these criticisms, Rousseau is considered as a legendary philosopher
because of his contributions and influence on matters concerning religion, politics, philosophy as
well as his contributions as a music composer, writer, and theorist.
During his final years, Rousseau was still tireless in his work, and he composed one of
his finest works in 1777, “Reveries of a Solitary Walker” (Damrosch 481). His physical prowess
also impressed Hume, who highly rated him and at some point, he admitted that Rousseau was
one of the most robust men that he had ever met, which highlights not only his strength but also
his contribution to various aspects of life. One thing for sure was that his health was on a decline
and in his final years, he was diagnosed with a urinary disease. In 1776, he was also knocked
down by a nobleman’s dog when he was walking through a narrow street in Paris (Damrosch
485). After this incident, Rousseau suffered a concussion as well as a neurological damage.
Since then, his health started to decline, and he began to experience seizures since then. On July
2, 1778, Rousseau died of cerebral bleeding which had resulted in apoplectic stroke as he was
about to teach music to Girardin's daughter, with whose family he had taken a hearty meal with,
the previous night. His death came as a shock to many and some theories were formulated about
his death including the notion that he had committed suicide and some gossips that he was insane
when he died. It is however believed that his accidental falls including the incident involving the
Great Dane had contributed to the stroke (Damrosch 489).
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Works Cited
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, and G D. H. Cole. On the Social Contract. New York: Dover
Publications, 2003. Print.
Strong, Tracy B. Jean Jacques Rousseau: The Politics of the Ordinary. Lanham, Md: Rowman
& Littlefield Publishers, 2002. Print.
Damrosch, Leopold. Jean-jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co,
2007. Print.
Grace, Eve, and Christopher Kelly. The Challenge of Rousseau. , 2013. Print.
Ornstein, Allan, et al. Foundations of education. Nelson Education, 2015.
Cranston, Maurice. Jean-jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-
1754. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. Print.

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