Rousseau, Jean-Jacques

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques
   writer, philosopher
   One of the greatest figures of the enlightenment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, switzerland, to a Protestant family of French origin. Raised by relatives after the death of his mother and educated by his father, he acquired a taste for romantic writings as well as the works of the Roman writer Plutarch. After three years of an unhappy apprenticeship to an engraver, at age 16 he ran away to Chambéry and became secretary and companion to Mme Louise de Warens, a wealthy woman who had a profound influence on his life and writings. In Paris (1742-49), Rousseau earned his living as a music teacher and copyist and became a close friend of denis diderot, with whom he collaborated on the Encyclopédie. Rousseau's literary fame came with his controversial theses, Discours sur les sciences et les arts (1750) and Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes (1755), which has had considerable influence on modern political thought. Following the arguments he had already set forth, Rousseau criticized the trappings of civilization and condemned luxuries and the theater, a school for bad morals, as he put it in his Lettre à d'Alembert sur les spectacles (1758), which alienated him from the philosophes, who had already opposed his break with Diderot and Mme d'ÉPiNAY. Befriended by M and Mme de Luxembourg, Rousseau completed Julie ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761), an epistolary novel that extols the benefits of a return to the state of nature while pointing out the aspects of human happiness. This work enjoyed an immense success. Then, always eager to put forth his political ideas tied to his theories on education, Rousseau published his Contrat social at the same time as Émile (1762), a pedagogic work in which he presented a new educational view, emphasizing experiences over repression to produce a well-balanced and freethinking child. Because of his controversial ideas, Rousseau left France and began work (1765-70) on his autobiographical Confessions (posthumous, 1782 and 1789). His autobiographical works reveal his complex personality and further explain his views on society, politics, and education. Hostile also to dogmatic faith, Rousseau put faith instead in spiritual views, as he stated in Profession de foi du vicaire Savoyard (1758-62), an apology for the love of nature and for a natural religion. Rousseau's themes are controversial because, while he made a great contribution to the modern movement for individual freedom and against absolutism in church and state, his idea of the state as the embodiment of the abstract will of the people and his arguments for political and religious conformity are often regarded as sources of totalitarian ideology (see revolution of 1789). His theories on education led to more psychologically oriented methods of pedagogy, influencing the German Friedrich Frobel, Johann Pestalozzi of switzerland, Maria Montessori in italy, and other educators. His various writings introduced a new style of extreme emotional expression that profoundly influenced romanticism, of which Rousseau was a forerunner. And he affected the development of psychological literature and psychoanalytic theory and the philosophy of existentialism through his emphasis on free will and rejection of original sin. Rousseau, in his spirit and ideas, stands at the midpoint between rationalistic Enlightenment thought and the subjectivism of the early 19th century.

France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present . 1884.

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