Jean Jacque Rousseau was a legendary enigmatic philosopher born in Geneva on the 28th of June 1712. His mother had died during his birth, and he was brought up by his father, who later left him to take care of himself in 1722 (Cranston 13). Rousseau, therefore, had no formal education except for his personal readings on Plutarch Lives and some Calvinist sermons collections during the early years of his life. In spite of his lack of formal education and challenging life, Rousseau grew to become a great philosopher, composer and writer and was among the most famous and celebrated personalities in the 18th century.
Rousseaus work in philosophy was quite striking. Unlike the utopian thinkers, his philosophy was a combination of realistic and idealistic elements that consistently appeared to open the possibility of bettering the world. Through his theory of natural human development, Rousseau proposed that uncorrupted morals can prevail the state of nature and that nothing could compare to the gentleness of man in his primitive state. This stage, which he often regarded as the savages, was according to him the best stage in human development. He held that when mans instinct and emotion was not distorted by the unnatural conditions of civilization, man was at his best, and it was an avenue to a good life.
Rousseau also believed that humans underwent different physiological and physical stages before they finally matured. In Emile, he divided the human development into five stages. They included the infancy stage, the age of nature, pre-adolescence stage, puberty, and adulthood (Ornstein, Levine, Gutek & Vocke 92). According to Rousseau, the infancy stage starts from the time of birth and ends with the weaning of the child. During this stage, the child should be given more real liberty but less power so that the child has develops the habit of doing things by him and demand less from others. The stage of nature requires that the child receives no moral instruction or verbal learning. During this stage according to Rousseau, the child is meant to develop his or her physical qualities and involves the cultivation of the childs five senses in turn. Rousseau describes the third stage as the noble savage. During this stage, there is a more rapid increase in the child's strength than his needs and the urge to activity takes a mental form. The reasoning for the child is well developed by the fourth stage and by this time, he can handle the adolescence emotions as well as the moral issues and religion effectively. The child may still want to hold back the societal pressures which he is subjected to, but most importantly, the child needs gradual entry into the community life during this stage. The last stage, adulthood, entails the preparation of an individual against the societys corrupting influences. Rousseau believes that the individual is now ready to learn about aspects of love and marital duties and is now ready to return o the society (Ornstein, Levine, Gutek & Vocke 92-93).
His influence in political philosophy is viewed as an important contribution to politics. He advocated for freedom and to protect it; Rousseau suggested that political institutions be constructed to allow peaceful coexistence of free and equal citizens in the society. In his political theory, he held on to the view that institutions of law could also enhance effectiveness in the division of labor as well as private property as the society advanced. He proposed the social contract which could facilitate the joining of individuals into a civil society to preserve themselves as free people (Rousseau, & Cole 20)
Unlike other philosophers who were mostly radicalized and never embraced religion, Rousseau was a believer of religion, and he affirmed its necessity. Initially, he was a Roman Catholic convert during his early life, but he later returned to Calvinism, during a period that he went through moral reform, though he never swayed from religion after that (Strong 125). Though some of his assertions like the social contract attracted criticism from both Calvinist Geneva and Catholic Paris, Rousseau always maintained his stand on religion, an attribute that stood out in him as a philosopher.
Rousseau prominently influenced many people, among which included individuals who contributed to the revolution in France and the shaping of the United States of America. Robespierre and Saint-Just, who obliged to do completely away with superfluities and corruption during the reign of Terror, were inspired by Rousseau (Grace, & Kelly 230). They also borrowed the idea of rectifying deficiencies in individuals by upholding the common good from Rousseaus school of thought. The founding fathers of the United States of America like Thomas Jefferson shared Rousseaus beliefs as the idea of all men being equal; additionally, some concepts in the American constitution like the general welfare has similarities with Rousseaus general will. This highlights the importance and influence Rousseau had on America.
Rousseau, however, faced some criticism about his work. Among his critics was Hannah Arendt, who is regarded one of his strongest critics. She blamed Rousseau for his notion of sovereignty that advocated for the establishment of a single and unified will that was based on the suppression of opinion instead of the public passion, which contributed to the excesses of the French revolution. He was also criticized for his association with nationalism by Arthur Melzer, who pointed out that Rousseaus theories, contained the seeds of nationalism. Additionally, he was criticized for advocating for nationalism which gave to rise to the totalitarian regimes in the mid 20th century. In spite of these criticisms, Rousseau is considered as a legendary philosopher because of his contributions and influence on matters concerning religion, politics, philosophy as well as his contributions as a music composer, writer, and theorist.
During his final years, Rousseau was still tireless in his work, and he composed one of his finest works in 1777, Reveries of a Solitary Walker (Damrosch 481). His physical prowess also impressed Hume, who highly rated him and at some point, he admitted that Rousseau was one of the most robust men that he had ever met, which highlights not only his strength but also his contribution to various aspects of life. One thing for sure was that his health was on a decline and in his final years, he was diagnosed with a urinary disease. In 1776, he was also knocked down by a noblemans dog when he was walking through a narrow street in Paris (Damrosch 485). After this incident, Rousseau suffered a concussion as well as a neurological damage. Since then, his health started to decline, and he began to experience seizures since then. On July 2, 1778, Rousseau died of cerebral bleeding which had resulted in apoplectic stroke as he was about to teach music to Girardin's daughter, with whose family he had taken a hearty meal with, the previous night. His death came as a shock to many and some theories were formulated about his death including the notion that he had committed suicide and some gossips that he was insane when he died. It is however believed that his accidental falls including the incident involving the Great Dane had contributed to the stroke (Damrosch 489).
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Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, and G D. H. Cole. On the Social Contract. New York: Dover Publications, 2003. Print.
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Strong, Tracy B. Jean Jacques Rousseau: The Politics of the Ordinary. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002. Print.
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Damrosch, Leopold. Jean-jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2007. Print.
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Grace, Eve, and Christopher Kelly. The Challenge of Rousseau. , 2013. Print. Bottom of Form
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Ornstein, Allan, et al. Foundations of education. Nelson Education, 2015.Top of Form
Cranston, Maurice. Jean-jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1754. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991. Print.
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