Recommended Translation: ‘First Discourse,’ in Rousseau: The Discourses and other early political writings, ed. and trans. by Victor Gourevitch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1-28.
In 1750, Rousseau’s First Discourse, or the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, won an essay contest held by the Academy of Dijon on the topic of, “Whether the restoration of the sciences and arts tended to purify morals?” Rousseau argued that progress in the arts and sciences corrupted moral virtues and laid the groundwork for arguments he would later develop more deeply about society’s degrading effect on humanity. Though Rousseau’s essay was not universally accepted, it was nonetheless widely read and established him as an important Enlightenment thinker.