Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) Ideas and Philosophy

About Rousseau (1712–1778)

  1. Rousseau was a French-Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer who lived from 1712 to 1778. His ideas were far more radical and penetrative when compared with other philosophers such as Montesquieu and Voltaire.
  2. Rousseau sensed the pulse of common masses far better than his contemporary intellectuals. His ideas closely connected to ground realities and his targeted audience was the illiterate common masses.
  3. Through his writings and speeches, Rousseau propagated the ideas of enlightenment among the people and strove hard to liberate the people from the clutches of a despotic state.

Significance and impact of Rousseau philosophy

  1. The speeches and writings of Rousseau created a radical Revolution awakening among the masses in France. His emotional appeal captured the imagination of illiterate common masses.
  2. The “Theory of Social contract” put forward by Rousseau gave hope to liberty of the people suffering under monarchical despotism in France
  3. Rousseau targeted the vast majority of common masses living at the lowest strata in French society. It emotionally bypasses the filters of logic and reasons. His direct appeal to the heart triggered the masses into revolutionary action. This awakening created by the ideas of Rousseau was responsible for the circumstances leading to the outbreak of the French revolution in 1789.
Note: John Hopes was the first to use the word social contract and then John Locke further explain the term social contract. 

Comparative analysis of ideas and approaches of Rousseau and other contemporary philosophers

  1. While most other philosophers associated with enlightenment emphasized the independence of man, whereas Rousseau focused on the power of community.
  2. Individualism was one of the most important philosophies associated with enlightenment. Philosophers like John Locke and Voltaire strongly supported it. They were in favor of expanding the scope of individual liberty to the maximum possible extent. An individual was considered supreme. It was emphasized that institutions like society, state, and church were for the benefit of individuals, not vice versa.
  3. Rousseau was against the philosophy of individualism. He believed that community was all-powerful. Individual interests were considered subordinate to the common interest of people. Community was considered responsible to safeguard the common interest of all.
  4. While most other philosophers associated with enlightenment relied on logic and reasons to spread the light of new ideas among the people and deliberate them from the clutches of state and religion, Rousseau used emotional appeal.
  5. Rousseau was aware of the fact that more than 90% population of France was that of uneducated common masses. Logic and reasons were beyond the understanding of these uneducated people. To awaken them, Rousseau uses emotional appeal which is clearly visible in his discourse “Origin of inequality” and “the Theory of social contract“. The ideas and arguments put forward by him did not have any scientific and rational basis. There was no concrete evidence of social contract anywhere in the world.
  6. That is why it is commented that “Voltaire harnesses the horses of reason, Rousseau unchains the Tiger of emotion.” The emotional approach used by Rousseau was far more effective than the logical approach adopted by other philosophers. That is why Napoleon commented that “if there had been no Rousseau, there would have been no revolution in France.”

Some of the important questions related to Rousseau

  1. What were the essential components of Rousseau’s philosophy?
  2. Rousseau’s philosophy contains seeds of socialism, democracy, and absolutism. Comment.
  3. A man was born free but everywhere he is in chains. Comment critically.
  4. The philosophers like Voltaire harnessed the horses of reasons, Rousseau Unchained the Tiger of emotion. Comment

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