Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau a Genevan philosopher of 18th century who influenced the Enlightenment era of Europe and French revolution. Was he a revolutionary philosopher or a man that just wanted to became well known and successful? In this paper, I will refute Rousseau’s argument against Natural State being ideal for humanity by showing that it is based on hypocrisy and deception.

He deeply criticized modern, at that time, world and politics and in one of his notable works, “Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men” or simply “Second Discourse”, he described the ‘State of Nature’, which is in his opinion the ideal phase that people were in. Now, what is in Rousseau’s opinion the ideal state?

State of nature is the imaginary concept of the being of people on Earth before they started to develop. So, for Rousseau the State of Nature is the ideal period. There was love of the family, respect for the nature and awe of beauty of the universe. People were curious of other living and non-living creatures. Later they got hold of the music itself and developed some kind of a taste of it and entertained themselves. But was it really the ideal state? Is Rousseau adequately describing the picture? What he says is that people were free to do anything they wished. They actually were free with no laws and no rules. But together with not having laws and rules, people did not have the sense of morality and rationality, yet. They were narrow minded, uneducated, and basically stupid. The stupider the person is the happier he can be, right?

At this stage, people have this feeling called self-love (amour de soi) which is the self-preservation instinct. That is what made them survive because it is what satisfies our biological needs like food or sleep. Together with self-love they had the feeling of compassion (pitie). This is a feeling that makes people to help and relieve others from suffering.

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Humans have this inner thirst to progress and develop. And from the natural state it took several steps and centuries to develop and achieve some characteristics like morality, rationality and consciousness. But together with these people obtained other characteristics like jealousy and greed. They started to compare one-selves to others, who was handsomer or stronger. Because of physical strength some people could work more, and thus, gain more. People with more property were obviously richer and this way hierarchy was established in the community. This led to vice and sin. As a result of these developments we lost that naturel freedom that we had in state of nature. Was it worth it?

Are morality, rationality and consciousness bad? Are not these abilities that make human, basically, a human? If not these changes, which can be described as a progress, what is the reason of our lives? Would it even be called a life? What is life if we do not actually live and experience its bests and worsts? Rousseau in “Second Discourse” states: “Savage man and civilized man differ so much in their inmost heart and inclinations that what constitutes the supreme happiness of the one would reduce the other to despair. The first breathes nothing but repose and freedom, he wants only to live and remain idle, and even the Stoic's ataraxia does not approximate his profound indifference to everything else.”

He refers to humans who lived in the State of Nature as savages. They were motivated to do something only by the self-love. Their only goal was to survive and do nothing more. He himself describes them as lazy beings. Is this life then? Do not we want to progress and actually live. To grow, not physically but, to evolve, to enlighten our minds and see improvements from year to year, or day to day. Why is it preferable for Rousseau to see savages only as just a reproductive system? Then he continues about ‘modern’ being: “By contrast, the Citizen, forever active, sweats and scurries, constantly in search of ever more strenuous occupations: he works to the death, even rushes toward it in order to be in a position to live, or renounces life in order to acquire immortality. He courts the great whom he hates, and the rich whom he despises; he spares nothing to attain the honor of serving them; he vaingloriously boasts of his baseness and of their protection and, proud of his slavery, he speaks contemptuously of those who have not the honor of sharing it.”

This is a very harsh description of what actually is going on. But at time, there was a problematic political and economic situation in France. People had to work a lot and very hard to earn enough to eat, which is also a self-love. They did it to survive the hunger. Savages had to work too, in order to not die of hunger. And regards the slavery, one can say that we always were and always will be slaves of something. Slaves of other human beings because of hierarchy, slaves of some vice or sins. We can be oppressed by something not only physically, but mentally too. And that is the way life goes. Was it better to be just a living organism that only knows how to reproduce himself? Maybe. Is it hard to progress and evolve? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.

Looking at Jan-Jacque’s biography one can see that he tried a lot of different professions before he started writing on philosophical matter, but could not suite any of them. He changed his religion several times in order to stay in Geneva, Italy or France. He studied to become a priest but changed his mind at the end. At some point he decided to become a musician and stole someone’s identity to be praised as a great composer. And this is not the only dark deed he made. The other time he falsely accused servant of stealing. And this list goes on. Is not it weird how he accuses people of being selfish and slaves of success, while he is the example of those things? This is not the single case when he acts biased.

One of the notable works of Rousseau is the book “Emilie” or “On Education” where he describes the right way how to raise a child and how to educate him/her. He states that when the child is born, he or she is not yet influenced by the modern world, thus is sill in the State of Nature. The book is divided into several parts, in which he in detail describes how to raise and educate a person at different stages of his or her life. He did not trust the state schools or state educational systems because they were corrupted and wrote that a kid should be carefully raised by a tutor who is not corrupted by the state. While writing these, he himself had five children and put each of them into care social institution (or orphanage) – to be raised by corrupted state. This makes no sense. If Jan-Jacque is so much against state corruption, why does he make this decision? His whole life is full of hypocrisy.

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