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Jean-Jacques Rousseau


Jean-JacquesRousseau is one of the philosophers one would not ignore because hisideas shaped a lot of the modern civilization known today. First, itis imperative to understand the background of Rousseau’s work andthe ideas he propagated. Rousseau, the enlightenment philosopher,began his work in an essay contest that was carried out by theAcademy of Dijon in 1750. He wrote an essay with the title ADiscourse on the Sciences and Arts(Davis 801).Inthe essay, Rousseau contended that as the advancement of the arts andsciences has a negative effect on virtue and morality. The essayhelped Rousseau claim his place in the community of philosophers andshaped the enlightenment period. Beyond his first work in thecompetition, identified himself as aphilosopher concerned with virtue and morality and the future ofhumanity right from an individual level to the highest level of humanassociation such as government institutions. Rousseau was a greatphilosopher and a contributor to numerous theories and the FrenchRevolution. He postulated significant and innovative ideas on thehuman nature and the phases of human development. In addition, hisoutlining of the authentic political edict within the platform oforthodox republicanism has thrust him within the realms of thegreatest philosophers. In this regards, Rousseau is a celebratedthinker and rightly so, particularly as evidenced by the numerousquotes he developed that continue to shape modern thinking.

Rousseauand the rational of nature

Thereare many quotes from that have influenced manyscholars, but a few examples will get this discussion intoperspective. One of the most known quote he developed is, “Man isborn free and everywhere he is in chains. Those who think themselvesthe masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they” (Davis797). The quote is a reaction by Rousseau on the pervasiveimperialism and autocracy that was characteristic of the 17thand 18thcenturies. Repressive monarchies were common throughout Europe andthis was the same period when Europeans established empiresthroughout Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It is worth noting thatRousseau was among philosophers that agitated for the comprehensivefreedoms enjoyed by contemporary democracies. viewed human beings as free agents that are subject to their owninstincts and they are also responsible for the society they deem fitfor them and the future generations (Fabienne 1). Through Rousseau,the idea of democracy and relationship between government and thepeople was articulated and understood. In fact, it would be plausibleto state that the modern concept of a social contract between thepeople and the government coupled with other ideas such as theseparation of powers between arms of government and theaccountability of government officials and other public leaders areideas that grew from the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau. In hissocial contract context, Rousseau asserts that the rational of naturewas a primeval situation without morality or law. The development ofthe society coupled with private property and the division of laborallowed humans to establish institutions of law, but because of thedecadent nature of the society, man is always disposed to rivalry,which threatens his liberty and survival.

Jean-JacquesRousseau did a lot of work to contribute philosophical discourse, butthe most notable works are his discourse and his propagation of thesocial contract theory. Other than “The Discourses on the Sciencesand Arts,”Rousseaualso wrote two major discourses. The second was the “Discourse onthe Origin of Inequality,”andthe third was the “Discourse on Political Economy”(Celeste1).

Associationof the works of Socrates, Hobbes, and Locke to Rousseau

Jean-JacquesRousseau is famous for his works that demystified the relationshipbetween the government and the people. His views, however, are intandem with other philosophers that also viewed the relationshipbetween government and subjects as based on a social contract that isterminable in the event that it is grossly breached. Socrates had ahuge influence on Rousseau through his submissions in Crito(famouslyreferred to as the platonic dialogue) (Fabienne 1). Socrates arguedthat he remains obliged to honor and abide by the laws of Athensbecause they have made it possible for him to live in the city justlike his parents did. The laws of Athens during Socrates’ timecompelled all fathers to take good care of children and take them toschool. The laws, therefore, gave some guarantee of a good future forthe children of Athens. Socrates used the premise of the government’srequirement of parental obligation to assert his position that he hasa moral obligation to oblige to the penalties imposed on those whoviolated the law.

ThroughSocrates’ views, Rousseau was able to craft the idea of socialcontract the same way other philosophers such as John Locke andThomas Hobbes viewed the relationship between the government and thegoverned (Davis 798). They all contend that citizens in theirindividual capacities surrender some of their rights to governmentsthat have the capability to protect their rights through laws thatare recognized by all. It is the social contract between the citizensof Athens and its government that Socrates was able to earn his placein society and secure his future. As such, he was as obliged to honorthe contract by obeying laws the same way the government is obligedto provide basic services to citizens.

ThomasHobbes had similar philosophical views about the social contract.Hobbes existed during the time of the English Civil War (from 1642 to1648) (Ake 468). The conflict was between those who favored thehegemony of a monarchical government and those who favored aquasi-democratic institution through where the people are representedby members of parliament with the mandate to legislate laws ratherthan use the decrees of the throne as the legitimate law of the land.Hobbes viewed human beings as self-interested and rational, but theymust have an arbiter that protects their collective interests. Hobbeswrites, ‘Scouts, and Spies, to range abroad, and find the way tothe things desired” (Ake 467). In Hobbes view, human beings arerational, which is basically instrumental in the way they go abouttheir individual and collective business. The self-interest andrationality make it almost inevitable for human beings to submittheir individual authority to a political authority that protectstheir rights through law enforcement, which is the social contractthat talks about in his philosophicalperspectives (Ake 469). John Locke is also a significant philosopherthat contributed to the theory of social contract. Locke approachedthe subject through the perspective of “the state of nature”.Locke viewed the state of nature as inherently hostile to humanbeings and the only way they escape it is through allowing anabsolute authority to oversee the affairs of the society. Lockerefers to a single authority of government as “one body politicunder one government”.

Rousseaualso supported the idea of the social contract using the concept ofthe general will. The general will, according to Rousseau, has adirect relationship with sovereignty. There must be some members ofthe society that hold sovereign power on behalf of rest, but it mustbe legitimate (Ake 470). The legitimacy of power is derived from thegeneral goodwill of the people that emanates from their individualacceptance through democratic processes. ,therefore, coined the idea that the general will forms the basictenet of the social contract. General will means that citizens arenaturally inclined towards making decisions that are good for thesociety whether or not they belong to some specific group of peoplewithin the entire society (Fabienne 1).


Rousseauis a great and celebrated thinker who has influenced numerousscholars. In fact, Schiller has likened Rousseau and drawn variouscomparisons to Socrates because of his cultivated mind (Davis 799).His emphasis on civilization, individualism, and the degeneratenature of the society, as well as, his great contribution to theFrench Revolution illustrates Rousseau attainments in the field ofthinking. In conclusion, Rousseau advanced the philosophy of virtueand morality as the basis of a social contract between the people andthe authority that governs them. Many students of philosophy willattest having come across many philosophical or brainy quotes from-an indication that his work was basicallyanalytical and cognizant of the future that the entire humanityshould take. From the onset of his work in philosophy, Rousseau waslargely concerned with virtue and morality as the main tenets ofsocietal relations. Rousseau’s contributions to the philosophicalthinking of the renaissance period remain relevant even in a moderngovernment-citizen relationship. They, indeed, shaped moderndemocracy and government structure in the most fundamental ways.


Ake,Claude. &quotSocial Contract Theory and the Problem ofPoliticization: The Case of Hobbes.&quot TheWestern Political Quarterly23.3 (1970): 463-470.

Davis,David Brion. &quotReflections on Abolitionism and IdeologicalHegemony.&quot&nbspTheAmerican Historical Review&nbsp92.4(1987): 797-812.

Friend,Celeste. &quotSocial Contract Theory | Internet Encyclopedia ofPhilosophy&quot. Web. Iep.Utm.Edu,

Peter,Fabienne. &quotPolitical legitimacy.&quot (2010). Web.http://stanford.library.sydney.edu.au/entries/legitimacy/