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Rousseau, Jean Jacques (1712–1778)

Subject Religion

People Rousseau, Jean-Jacques

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631198963.2005.x


French political philosopher and essayist. He became a Roman Catholic in 1728, but converted to Calvinism in 1754. He was a member of the circle of Encyclopaedists, which included Voltaire and Denis Diderot; he also wrote several operas and had an extensive knowledge of Italian music, which he utilized in articles for the Encyclopaedia. In 1749 Rousseau won an essay prize at the Academy of Dijon with his essay Discourse on the Arts and Sciences , arguing that the arts had corrupting effects on humanity. He lived in Montmorency in France, and for several periods in Geneva, before travelling to England to stay with David Hume in 1766. Later that year, believing that he was being persecuted, he returned to France, where he died in 1778. Among his works are Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes (1754), Entile (1762), The Social Contract (1762) and, posthumously, his Confessions (1781). Rousseau believed (in contrast to Thomas Hobbes) that human individuals in their natural state, as ‘noble savages’, were good, equal and free. This freedom and equality, he argued, had been corrupted by institutions. This view is reflected particularly in Emile , where he argued for a creative and natural education for children which was uncorrupted by society. However, this romantic approach is not evident in The Social Contract. Here Rousseau advocates ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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