Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Born in Geneva to a Swiss watchmaker, Rousseau's education began early under his father, reading Plutarch when he was only ten years old. Originally Rousseau was training to become an engraver. However at the age of sixteen he abandoned the trade and began a series of wanderings and adventures which he later described in the first six books of his Confessions. Hungry and homeless he eventually took refuge with a Catholic priest who introduced him to Madame de Warens, a woman known for her good works.
Converting to Catholicism, Rousseau began his formal education studying music, science, Latin and philosophy. He supported himself as a tutor and began writing a book on "political institutions". Rousseau eventually gained fame in 1749 for an essay he wrote: "Has the progress of the arts and sciences contributed more to the corruption of purification of morals?". He followed this in 1755 with the Discourse on Origin of Political Inequality, followed by Emile, on Education in 1758 and the Social Contract published in 1762.
Provocative works like these gave Rousseau literary street cred and financial rewards, but also earned the enmity of a great number of people. He was condemned by the French Parliament for Emile and caused him to flee to Prussia. Controversy followed him there and he was forced into exile in Berne, then fleeing again to England upon the request of David Hume. Later quarrelling with Hume, Rousseau fled back to France in 1767 where he was told he would be unmolested. He then spent the next nine years working on his autobiography and pursuing his former occupation of copying music.
Rousseau's ideas on education and political philosophy still reverberate to this day. In regards to principles of governance, The Social Contract and the Discourse on Origin of Political Inequality are still presented to students of political science as major works of historical and philosophical importance. His main treatise is that equality and liberty are central to a successful popular sovereignty.