Jean-Jacques Rousseau Biography

Jean-Jacques Rousseau Biography

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the most influential of the Enlightenment philosophers. Born in Geneva in 1712, he spent much of his adult life in Paris, where he became involved with the philosophes of the Enlightenment and began to write his own philosophical works. Rousseau is best known for The Social Contract in which he states that society and government are really a “contract” between men. Thus no government truly has a right to rule without the agreement of those who are ruled. This was a revolutionary thought in an age when kings claimed they ruled by divine right. Rousseau’s writings were quoted by French revolutionaries and greatly influenced the thought of Karl Marx.

Facts and Trivia

  • Rousseau believed in the “noble savage.” He did not think the study of the arts and sciences had been good for mankind because they took us away from our more natural settings.
  • Rousseau also made lasting contributions to educational theory, which he presented in his novel Emile. The book demonstrates three stages of learning and posits that the goal of education should be righteous living.
  • Even though Rousseau wrote about the education of children, he never raised any of his own. Having lost his mother at birth and having been abandoned by his father at the age of ten, Rousseau did not believe he would make a good parent. He and his longtime companion, Therese Levasseur, had five children but abandoned them all to an orphanage.
  • When Rousseau first moved to Paris it was to study music, and for much of his life he actually made his living writing and teaching music. He even developed and published his own style of musical notation.
  • Rousseau decided to write after he saw an essay contest offered on a topic he knew well: the effect of the arts and sciences on the morals of mankind. “All at once,” Rousseau recounted, “I felt myself dazzled by a thousand sparkling lights; crowds of vivid ideas thronged into my head with a force and confusion that threw me into unspeakable agitation; I felt my head whirling in a giddiness like that of intoxication.” Rousseau wrote his essay, won the contest and, at the age of 38, began his writing career in earnest.
Additional Content
  • Biography (History of the World: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
  • Biography (Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)
  • Biography (Survey of World Philosophers)
  • Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)
  • Biography (Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)
  • Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
  • Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
  • Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

(The entire section is 7970 words.)