Picture of RousseauJean Jacques Rousseau

Swiss-French Philosopher and Political Theorist


A member of DIDEROT's circle, he was one of the great figures of the French ENLIGHTENMENT and probably the most significant of those who shaped 19th-cent. ROMANTICISM, influencing such figures as KANT, GOETHE, ROBESPIERRE, TOLSTOY, and the French revolutionists. Rousseau's most celebrated theory was that of the "natural man." In his Discourse on the Inequalities of Men (1754) and Social Contract (1762) he maintained that human beings were essentially good and equal in the state of nature but were corrupted by the introduction of property, agriculture, science, and commerce. People entered into a SOCIAL CONTRACT among themselves, establishing governments and educational systems to correct the inequalities brought about by the rise of civilization. ƒmile (1762), a didactic novel, expounds Rousseau's theory that education is not the imparting of knowledge but the drawing out of what is already in the child. From the 1760s Rousseau was tormented by persecution mania, and he lived his later years in seclusion. His Confessions (1781) created a new, intensely personal style of autobiography.

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