Jean-Jacques Rousseau Biography

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778). A writer and philosopher of Swiss origin, recognized as one of the greatest representatives of the Enlightenment, although paradoxically his controversial ideas gradually separated him from the greatest enlightened thinkers. It is also considered a precursor to Romanticism.


His political ideas influenced the French Revolution, as well as the independence movements of Latin America, led by Simón Bolívar, who always had Rousseau’s work as the ultimate political guide, which is why he is also listed as one of the most influential thinkers in history.

Early years

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born on 28 June in Geneva Switzerland, the only child of The marriage of Isaac Rousseau and his wife Suzanne Bernard, both of Calvinist religion. Jean-Jacques lost his mother at nine days old, at which point he was cared for most of the time with his paternal uncles.

In 1722, he became completely in charge of his uncle Samuel’s brother, because his father was forced to leave the country, due to a judicial indictment. That same year, he was sent with his cousin as a pupil of Calvinist Lembercier.

At the age of thirteen, in 1725, he began as an apprentice watchmaker, although he did not complete his teaching. Later, he also began learning as a master engraver, which he also did not finish. In 1728, at the age of sixteen, he departed for good from his city.

Some time after not having a fixed place of residence, he settled for a time in Annecy, under the care of Madame de Warens, a woman thirteen years older, who became his lover, while he entertained him in his upbringing and encouraged his passion for music.

Later, he moved to Lyon, where he worked as a teacher, and had the opportunity to meet great enlightened thinkers such as Diderot, Marivaux and Fontenelle. At that time he would also practice journalism.

Life in Paris

In 1745, she returned to Paris, where she began a concubinate relationship with Thérése Levasseur, a seamstress of humble background, who could not read or write. From the union were born five sons, who were delivered one by one, by Thérése, under the influence of Rousseau, in the hospice.

In his memoirs, Confessions would declare that the reasons that pushed him were of an educational type, as he believed that the hospice could not be worse than growing up within an uneducated family like Thérése’s.

During his stay in France, Rousseau had the opportunity to maintain contact with great philosophers such as Rameau, D’Alembert, Didedot whom he already knew, and even Voltaire. From 1750 ondays his name became popular in Parisian society and in Parisian encyclopedist circles, following his response to the French Academy, where he argued that the arts only entail a cultural decline.

Gradually, however, his controversial ideas, set out in his prolific literary work – which counted at least twenty-seven books – as well as the character of his friends, distanced him from this group of enlightened thinkers.

Literary work

In 1761 he published his work Julia, or the New Eloisa, in which he raised his stance on the art of gardening, while exposing his position on the impossibility of contemplation that man has denatured himself, and how this denaturation does so to seek a natural space, being able to build just “artificial” spaces.

In 1762, he edited his Emilio, or of the New Education, in which he again exhibited controversial positions towards education.

In this work he makes great contributions to pedagogy, placing man as a good being by nature, who needs to be raised through motivation, freedom and practice, emphasizing the particular interests of the child, while dismissing the strict discipline that was practiced at the time.

That same year, 1762, he published his most historically recognized work, and considered as one of the most important books of the Enlightenment: The Social Contract, in which he exposes his political positions, posing that the ideal government is the one where power resides in the People.

Rousseau does not establish whether this should be a monarchy or an aristocracy, it simply points out that whatever form of Government it must obey the voice of the people. It also indicates that common force will make laws and decisions, emanating from that community of will, positive for all equally.

Final stage

His books and ideas made him worthy of immediate public rejection, as well as opposition from the Church and the Government, even becoming banished from France. He went to Switzerland, where he was greeted by Lord Keith. However, in 1765, he fled again, after a mob stoned his house.

He moved with his concubine Thérése to Ingleterra, where he lived until 1767, when he returned to France using a false name. In 1768 he was finally married to Thérése. Two years later he received authorization from France to return legally, as long as he did not republish a letter.

Rousseau accepted, dedicating himself to publicly reading his memoirs, which he collected in a book published Confessions, until in 1772, he was also forbidden, due to the express request of Madame d’Epinay, after she heard what Rousseau read about her loving relationship with her, who at the same time dated Grimm.

This and the verbal attacks that had been raised by thinkers like Voltaire on him, ended up keeping him away from public life.

He retired to his home where he continued to write, although in life he could never enjoy the fame of his work, which nonetheless some time later inspired Romanticism, becoming one of the most important in history. On July 2, 1778, he died of cardiac arrest at his residence in Ermenonville.

Image source: swissinfo.ch

Jean-Jacques Rousseau Biography
Source: Education  
July 31, 2019


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