Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Victoria Poynter


"Men are born free, yet everywhere are in chains."

"People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much, say little."

Analysis- Video

Jean- Jacques Rousseau was a French, 18th century political philosopher who read Locke and Hobbes and decided that he wanted to make his own theory. He was orphaned at the age of twelve because of his mother's death and his father's abandonment. He then lived with relatives and in foster homes until he ran away at the age of sixteen.

Rousseau thought society was greater than the individual. If someone was involved in the society then they would succeed. He followed Locke by believing that humans were rational and believed in a state of nature. He also believed that human beings would be rational and run society for the greater good if a state of nature existed.

Rousseau often criticized Hobbes for his idea that humans were naturally greedy people and that Hobbes' idea could not be rationally used in the state of nature.

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Key Components & Understanding

Rousseau believed that people are good by nature and that all of mankind were born free, but the "chains" of society denied them their natural birthright to physical freedom. His theory is still relevant today. A man who is born innocent is corrupted by society, because civil society was founded by the corrupt. He also thought that people should care for others more than themselves, rather than being selfish.


He intended to address his philosophical arguments using conventional methods. He instead went for an essentially negative paradoxical answer which brought him recognition by his peers and the public.

Social Contract

He thought that human beings should not have to lose any of their power to make decisions, or any sovereignty, when they created the state. He devised a radically different social contract, saying that everyone in society needs to give up all of their freedoms and rights to each other, and in giving up all their rights and freedoms to each other, they receive all of those rights and freedoms right back.

(ex: I have three apples and I have friends with me. I give them each an apple, but they each have three apples, and they share their apples with me. In the end, I've given away all of my apples, but I still have the same number of apples as I did in the beginning. The result is this... I have a contract and we all exchanged goods and services, but I've given up no freedom or rights.) In essence, this is how the state is created... Citizens establish a logical system of trade, exchange and barter. Everyone gives up everything to everyone else.


People still obsess over his philosophy. He solved and created more problems and questions that have been debated over though the 19th and the 20th centuries. His book, Émile, still puts forward unanswered questions today. Rousseau influenced the idea of The Declaration of Independence as well as public schools.