Jean Jacques Rousseau was a French philosopher, a representative of the French Enlightenment. He also was known as an educator and writer. He was born in the family of the watch-maker, raised by his father (his mother died when he was a little). He was sent to study engraving, but did not want to pursue this career, so at 16 he quit Geneva. For some time he was a vagabond, a traveling musician, a servant, family teacher, and notes copier. He did not receive a systematic education, but was able to study philosophy by himself. He wrote papers on musical aesthetics, composed operas, musical comedies and romances.
In 1741 Rousseau came to Paris where he met D. Didro, than D’Alamber, and P. Golbach. Invited by Didro he took part in making “Encyclopedia, or Dictionary of the sciences, arts, and crafts” in 1751-1780 where he oversaw the music section. In 1750 he published his work that attracted public attention to his persona. It was titled “Discourses on the Sciences and Arts”, where he proved that the development of the arts and sciences does not improve morals, but on the other hand, degrades them. Then saw the light “Discourses on the Inequalities Among Men” (1755) and “Julie: or, The New Eloise” (1761), where he condemned social inequality.
His book “Emile: or, On Education” (1764) was doomed to fire for religious liberal thinking, and the himself was pursued by the authorities. Rousseau was forced to move to Switzerland, where he lived in Geneva and Bern, but even here the political repression did not stop. During this time the gap between the reformers and Rousseau widens.
From 1766 until 1767 Rousseau sought refuge in England where he was invited by D. Hume but, after with time he found the differences in their philosophy unbearable and he parted for France. From 1770 he stayed in Paris. During the time he wrote memoirs and led a solitary life, earning by notes-copying.
Rousseau’s worldview was based on agnosticism: he excluded the possibility of rational understanding of the essence of matter and consciousness because mind always leads to confusion. What is real is our sensual perception of the world. To exist for human being is to feel. At the basis of everything is inherent sense of right, the concrete emotions are its echo.
Person has mortal body and immortal soul. Rousseau was a proponent of deism: if god is incomprehensible on the logical level, this is still possible as a fact of the personal sensual experience. His religious worldview he described in “Emile” Rousseau is one of the theorists of concept of “social contract” according to which the society’s appearance is interpreted as the act of delegation of individual rights to the political body.
He established new literary tradition of sentimentalism and brought back to life the literary tradition of confessions. He gave developed phenomenological explanation of detachment: in the “The Reveries of the Solitary Walker” he gave very accurate account of psychology of loneliness. He has attracted public attention to the problem of psychology of emotion and had a profound effect on the existentialist philosophy and psychology.
Rousseau gave his understanding of art. Art was understood by him to an aristocratic art, first of all. He thought that it leads to degradation of society’s morals, but if it remains true to nature, it could represent life in all its authentic beauty and can give a push to the resurrection of morality. In his analysis he opposed the moral hedonism of the “cultured” nations to the “simple and clear” morals of nations on the patriarchal levels of development (hence his slogan “Back to nature!”).
In his views on teaching he opposed official pedagogy that served feudal culture. His ideology developed from the notion that all children come sinless to this world, but the society, where corruption and inequality rule, subdues their best aspirations. Because of this, children’s education must be conducted away from society, in the wild nature. Interaction with nature is needed to evoke their sleeping moral senses, first of all kindness. Rousseau recommended that the child seeks the theoretical knowledge from the objective facts of reality.
For Rousseau there is a radical dichotomy between true law and actual law. Actual law, which he describes in the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, simply protects the status quo. True law, as described in The Social Contract, is just law, and what ensures its being just is that it is made by the people in its collective capacity as sovereign and obeyed by the same people in their individual capacities as subjects. Rousseau is confident that such laws could not be unjust because it is inconceivable that any people would make unjust laws for itself.
Rousseau was troubled by the fact that the majority of a people does not necessarily represent its most intelligent citizens. He agreed with Plato that most people are stupid. Thus the general will, while always morally sound, is sometimes mistaken. Rousseau suggests the people need a lawgiver-a great mind like Solon or Lycurgus or Calvin-to draw up a constitution and system of laws. He even suggests that such lawgivers need to claim divine inspiration in order to persuade the dim-witted multitude to accept and endorse the laws it is offered.
In the remaining 10 years of his life Rousseau produced primarily autobiographical writings, mostly intended to justify himself against the accusations of his adversaries.