7 junio, 2024

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: who he was, biography, philosophy and contributions

Who was Jean-Jacques Rousseau?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) was a French-speaking Swiss writer, philosopher, botanist, naturalist and musician, who questioned the social and political structures of his time. His contributions in the field of philosophy, politics and education have been considered key in the social and historical development of modern societies today.

Considered one of the most important and influential thinkers of the 18th century, he gained fame and renown after the publication, in 1750, of his first work Discourse on the Arts and Scienceswith which he was awarded a prize by the prestigious French Academy of Dijon.

The objective of this first writing was to point out openly how the progress of the sciences and the arts had been in charge of corrupting society, its ethics and morals.

his second speech On the origins of inequalitypublished in 1755, generated great controversy after going against the ideas of the famous thinker Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679).

He indicated that the human being is good by nature, however, it is civil society with its different institutions that corrupts him, leading him towards opulence, violence and the possession of excessive luxuries.

Rousseau is considered among the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment. His social and political ideas served as inspiration for the French Revolution. Because of his literary style, he was ahead of romanticism, and because of his concepts in the field of education, he is considered the father of modern pedagogy.

It had a great impact on the way of life of the people of the time; taught to raise children differently, opened people’s eyes to the beauty of nature, made freedom an object of universal aspiration, and encouraged the expression of emotions in friendship and love instead of moderation educated.

He was the author of numerous works, including the social contractan unavoidable reflection to understand the subsequent events of our modern and contemporary history.

Biography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

birth and childhood

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva on June 28, 1712. He was raised mainly by his father, a humble watchmaker, with whom he read Greek and Roman literature from an early age. His only sibling ran away from home when he was still a child, and his mother died a few days after he was born.


When Rousseau was 10 years old, his father, who was a hunter, had a legal dispute with a landowner for having stepped on his land. To avoid problems he moved to Nyon, Bern, with Suzanne, Rousseau’s aunt. She remarried and since then Jean-Jacques hasn’t heard much from him.

Rousseau stayed with your maternal uncle, who sent him and his son Abraham Bernard to a village on the outskirts of Geneva, where they learned mathematics and drawing.

At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to a notary and later to an engraver (he used different printing techniques). The latter struck him, and Rosseau fled to Geneva on March 14, 1728, but the city gates were locked for a curfew.

He then took refuge in nearby Savoy with a Roman Catholic priest, who introduced him to Françoise-Louise de Warens, a 29-year-old noblewoman of Protestant origin, separated from her husband and childless. She lived for several years under her tutelage, and she converted to Catholicism, although she later renounced him and Calvinism.


As a teenager, Rousseau worked for a time as a servant, secretary, and tutor, traveling through Italy (Savoy and Piedmont) and France. From time to time he lived with De Warrens, who attempted to initiate him into a profession and provided him with formal music tuition. At one time he attended a seminary with the possibility of becoming a priest.

When Rousseau turned 20, De Warrens considered him her lover. She and her social circle of highly educated members of the clergy introduced him to the world of ideas and letters.

At this time Rousseau dedicated himself to studying music, mathematics and philosophy. At the age of 25 he received an inheritance from his mother and a part of it he gave to De Warrens. At 27 he accepted a job as a tutor in Lyon.

In 1742 he traveled to Paris to present to the Académie des Sciences a new system of musical notation that he thought would make him rich. However, the Academy thought it was impractical and rejected it.

From 1743 to 1744 he held a position of honor as secretary to the Count of Montaigu, French ambassador in Venice, a stage that awakened in him a love for opera.

return to paris

He returned to Paris, without much money, and became the lover of Thérèse Levasseur, a seamstress who took care of his mother and brothers. At the beginning of their relationship they did not live together, although Rousseau later took Thérèse and her mother to live with him as his servants. according to their confessionsthey had up to 5 children, although there is no confirmation.

Rousseau asked Thérèse to deliver them to a children’s hospital, as he did not trust the education that Thérèse’s family could provide them, as he wrote in his confessions. When Jean-Jaques later became famous for his theories on education, Voltaire (1694-1778) and Edmund Burke (1729-1797) used his neglect of children as criticisms of his theories.

Rousseau’s ideas were the result of his dialogues with writers and philosophers such as Denis Diderot (1713-1784), with whom he became a great friend in Paris. He wrote that while walking through Vincennes, a city near Paris, he had the revelation that the arts and sciences were responsible for the degeneration of the human being, who is basically good by nature.

In Paris he also continued his interest in music. He wrote the words and music for the opera «The Village Soothsayer», performed for King Louis XV in 1752. He was so impressed that he offered Rousseau a lifetime pension, which he refused.

Return to Geneva (1754)

In 1754, converted to Calvinism, Rousseau once again obtained the citizenship of the Republic of Geneva.

In 1755 he completed his second great work, the second speech.

In 1757 he had an affair with the 25-year-old Sophie d’Houdetot, although it did not last long.

At this time he wrote three of his main works:

1761 – Julia or the New Heloisea romantic novel inspired by his unrequited love and which achieved great success in Paris.

1762 – the social contract, work that basically deals with the equality and freedom of human beings in a society that is both just and humane. This book was one of those that influenced the French Revolution for its political ideals.

1762 – Emilio or of the education, a pedagogical novel, a whole philosophical treatise about human nature. According to Rousseau himself, it was the best and most important of his works.

The revolutionary character of this book earned him immediate condemnation. It was banned and burned in Paris and Geneva. However, it quickly became one of the most widely read books in Europe.

Transfer to Motiers

The publication of Of Education outraged the French parliament, which issued an arrest warrant for Rousseau, who fled to Switzerland. The authorities of this country did not sympathize with him either and it was when he received an invitation from Voltaire, although Rousseau did not answer.

After the Swiss authorities informed him that he could no longer live in Bern, the philosopher d’Alembert advised him to move to the Principality of Neuchâtel, ruled by King Frederick of Prussia, who gave him help to relocate.

Rousseau lived in Môtiers for more than two years (1762-1765), reading and writing. However, the local authorities became aware of his ideas and writings and also did not agree to allow him to reside there.

He then moved to a small Swiss island, the island of San Pedro. Although the Canton of Berne had assured him that he could live there without fear of arrest, on October 17, 1765, the Senate of Berne ordered him to leave the island within 15 days.

On October 29 of that year he moved to Strasbourg and later accepted the invitation of the philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) to move to England.

He took refuge in England (1766-1767)

After a brief stay in France, Rousseau took refuge in England, where he was welcomed by David Hume, but they soon fell out.


On May 22, 1767, Rousseau returned to France despite a warrant for his arrest.

In January 1769 he and Thérèse went to live on a farm near Grenoble, where he practiced botany and completed his work. confessions. In April 1770 they moved to Lyon and later to Paris, where they arrived on June 24.

In 1788 René de Girardin invited him to live in his castle at Ermenonville, where he moved with Thérèse and taught botany to René’s son.


Rousseau died of a thrombosis on July 2, 1778 in Ermenonville, France, unaware that only 11 years later the ideas of his Social contractwould serve to proclaim the revolution of freedom.

In 1782 his work was published posthumously. Reveries of the lonely walker. It is his last testament where Rousseau captures the wonders that nature gives us.

Rousseau’s philosophy

Natural state

One of the main precepts that Jean-Jacques Rousseau presents is that human beings are kind by nature, they are not evil, and it is society that corrupts them. In 1754 he wrote:

The first man who, having balled up a piece of land, said “this is mine”, and found that people were naive enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes could anyone have saved humanity, pulling the stakes, or filling the ditch, and crying to his companions: beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all of us, and the earth to no one.

He called this state of being ‘natural man’ or ‘state of nature’ and corresponds to the moment prior to the conception of societies. He described this man as that human being in the deepest essence of him, even without reason and without predispositions, who responds to compassion (he is limited by pity) and self-love (he seeks self-preservation).

He is a transparent being, without ulterior motives, with a lot of innocence and without knowledge of the concept of morality, who lives full of happiness and is willing to coexist peacefully with everything that surrounds him.

For Rousseau, the natural man has no disposition to act in an evil way, he is independent and free to make his own choices; that is, he presents both physical freedom and in the field of consciousness.

Rousseau affirmed that the state of human development associated with what he called «savages» (where his concept of «noble savage» would come from), was the best or most optimal, between the extreme of brute animals and the other extreme of the decadent civilization. .

Social state

In addition to the natural man, Rousseau indicated that there is a historical man, which corresponds to that human being who lives and…

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