Define Jean-Jacques Rousseau as a scholar?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In almost every area of philosophy, the influence of Jean-Jacques Rouseau's profound insight can be found.  But, he is probably best known for his idea of the "noble savage" when in "the state of nature."  In other words, people are essentially good, but are corrupted and made unhappy by their experiences in society.  Rousseau perceived society as artificial and corrupt; he felt that the furthering of society and its corruptness is what causes the unhappiness of individuals that leads to evil deeds.

However, his work entitled The Social Contract, which describes man's relationship with society, contradicts somewhat his earlier ideas.  In it he stresses the concept of man's being a savage initially; in this brutish state, he only can become good as a result of the community of others because he can better confront threats when joined to other men in the collective human presence called "society."  The "Social Contract" is the contract agreed to by men to set the conditions for this collective presence, or membership.

One of the first writers to attack the ownership of private property, Rousseau is considered a forbearer of modern socialism.  He also challenged the rule of the majority; Rousseau contended that should be to secure freedom, equality, and justice for all despite the will of the majority.  In addition, he felt that politics and morality should never be seaparated.

Moreover, Rousseau's ideas had a profound impact upon modern educational theory.  Minimizing the importance of book learning, Rousseau emphasized the education of a child's emotions prior to that of reason, placing a special emphasis on learning by experience:

The training of children is a profession in which we must know how to waste time in order to save it.

There is no doubt that Rousseau had a tremendous influence in many areas of thought that have affected America's society and its educational system. Incidentally, his concepts have even been spoofed in a movie starring Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwartzenegger called Twins in which the two actors are born twins but one grows up in the streets of New York while the other is raised on a island paradise as the "noble savage" away from society's corruption. 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that Rousseau can get a great deal of credit for being quite a knowledgeable scholar. He was able to understand political theory of antiquity and was able to fathom how the differences between that context and the modern setting quite well.  At the same time, Rousseau was able to critically analyze the role of individual psychology in its function withing government.  He wrote plays, political discourse, and literature.  Outside of this, I believe that there needs to be more clarification as to what else the term of "scholar" should incorporate.  Rousseau might also be considered a scholar because so many preeminent scholars understand and analyze Rousseau, themselves.

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