Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712 - 1778

“Rousseau, who considered himself the first theoretician of democracy, regarded the compatibility of democracy, or of free government in general, with science not as a fact which is manifest to everyone but rather as a serious problem.”

– Leo Strauss, “On the Intention of Rousseau” 

 

 

Biography

No other philosopher’s biography is perhaps so well-known as that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who made his own life the subject of a number of his writings, including his great autobiographical work, the Confessions. He was born in 1712 in Geneva. His mother died a few days after his birth, and he was raised by his father, a clockmaker, who cared for learning and had Rousseau read classical Greek and Roman literature. [Read More]

Introduction

Rousseau argues that the popularization of philosophy by enlightenment thinkers is in fact its vulgarization–animated not by the pure love of wisdom but by the desire for social honors and prestige. Modern society, so far from lifting Europeans from their former servitude in feudal Europe, in fact fosters new forms of dependence and servitude. The manners of polite society, Rousseau admonishes, are but a counterfeit of virtue with which one masks one’s selfishness for the sake of one’s vanity. [Read More]

Featured Video

Rousseau is often thought to be a founder of modern “democratic theory.” Steven Smith of Yale discusses.