Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Philosopher

The Beginning

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in the city-state Geneva in 1712, the son of Isaac Rousseau and Suzanne Bernard. Rousseau's mom died nine days after his birth, which meant that Rousseau was raised and educated by purely his father until he was 10.


Rousseau's father was exiled from Geneva, so he was put into the care of a local Pastor, and began his apprentenceship towards becoming an engraver. Rousseau left the city when he was sixteen and befriended a Roman Catholic convert noblewoman, Francoise-Louise de la Tour, Baronne de Warens. She set up for Rousseau to go to Turin, where he converted to Roman Catholicism on April 1728.

Rousseau and the Lady Friend

Rousseau then spent time training to become a Catholic priest before going on another short trip as musician, and teacher. In 1731 he returned to Mme de Warens at Chambéry and later fell in love with her and then her household manager. Rousseau stayed with Mme de Warens through the rest of the 1730s and moved to Lyon in 1740 to become a tutor.

Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts

Rousseau first got spread attention with his essay Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts (Discourse on the Sciences and Arts), where he stated the bad effects of modern civilization. Rousseau said the pursuit of the arts and sciences won't lead us to advance, and the result in that is increase of alienation in our society.


Rousseau believed in our "savagery", he thought the study of arts and sciences had brought mankind away from its roots in a more natural setting, and that the continuation of these studies would only continue to push our race further from where we "should be".

Rousseau's take on Children

Even though Rousseau wrote about the education of children, he never took care of any children himself. After losing his mother at birth and having his father leave him at the age of ten, Rousseau didn't think he'd make a good parent. Rousseau and his longtime companion Therese Levasseur had 5 kids but abandoned them all to an orphanage.

Intentions in Paris

When Rousseau first moved to Paris in 1742 it was to study music, and for a long time of his life, he actually made a living writing and teaching music to the people of Paris. He even developed and published his own musical notation.

Rousseau's Writing Career

Rousseau chose to start writing after he saw an essay contest offered on a topic he knew, the effect of the arts and sciences on the morals of mankind. “All at once" Rousseau said, “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 and won the contest, then when he was 38 started his career in writing.

The Social Contract

Rousseau was worried with the relationship between the state and the people. He saw that the state has huge amounts of power over individuals, that it can command them, pressure them, and determine the sort of life they are to live, and also that individuals make demands on each other, even if they can't back them up.

Rousseau's Meaning of the Contract

Rousseau attacked the basics of Enlightenment thought, a philosophy that was strongly believed in in eighteenth century Europe. Enlightenment thinkers thought to free philosophy and religion from the previous thoughts from before. They used reason and science as the base for all belief and decisions. In contrast, Rousseau maintained that human understanding is not the sole reason of life, it was to find a right and just leader to a society.