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Rousseau Essay, Research Paper

Beverly D. Joe

Glenn F. Chicoine


July 27, 1999


Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1712. His mother died one week after his birth and his father, a Geneva watchmaker, was exiled from Geneva due to an ill-judged dual. Jean-Jacque was brought up with his cousin until the time came for him to be apprenticed to an engraver. He thought this vocation to be intolerable and moved to Turin, France where he became acquainted with some philosophers of the French Enlightenment. Rousseau finally found his true calling, which was a writer and a man of letters. Rousseau found relationships with people to be difficult, and he described himself as a man whose life could best be understood by his feelings. In Confessions, Rousseau reveals his inner thoughts on all situations of his life including the alienation of his children, the conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism, his resentment towards Francois Marie Arouet De Voltaire and his fleeing from France.

First, around 1750, Rousseau tries to justify the placing of his five children in an orphanage. He considers the fate of his children and his relationship with their mother. He feels that if he rears them they will become workers and peasants instead of adventurers and fortune hunters. He wants them to become educated far away from his father?s fate. Later, he wishes that he could have raised and nurtured his children instead of the orphanage. He states that he is not too proud to do what is best for his children.

Second, Rousseau leaves Geneva in 1754 for France, he converts from Protestantism to Catholicism; the religion of his newly adopted country. He later visits Geneva and surrenders entirely to patriotic zeal and, ashamed of being excluded from his rights as a citizen decides to publicly return to Protestantism. He considered that everything to do with form and discipline in each country belonged to the province of the law; therefore, if the law was Protestantism, then all citizens should convert to Protestantism.

He believes that a citizen should accept his country?s religion. Rousseau studied the Bible for several years believing that the Gospel was the same for all Christians, differing only in areas that men did not understand or could not explain. He despised foolish interpretations given to the words of Jesus Christ by persons quite unworthy of understanding them.

Third, Jean-Jacques Rousseau describes his frustration and resentment towards Francois Marie Arouet De Voltaire and his poem on the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon. Voltaire writes in a very satiric tone and emphasizes tangible items while Rousseau writes of God, feelings, and nature. Voltaire?s writings made fun of wars, patriotism, religion and human nature. Rousseau felt very strongly with regards to loving his country, religion, goodness of man and human nature. Rousseau accuses Voltaire of believing in the devil because his god is a malicious being who, according to Voltaire?s belief, only takes pleasure in doing harm. Voltaire believes that whatever happens, happened because God did not intercede.

Last, Rousseau had two writings: Social Contract and Emile, which spoke against government. Rousseau knew that there was a warrant for his arrest in France and was about to be prosecuted when he decided to flee to Geneva; however, the French ministry had more power in Geneva than in France and the controversy would find him there too. Neither would leave him in peace and both would eventually persecute him. He decided to go to England and take refuge with David Hume, a philosopher of that time. The relationship between the two slowly became embittered. Rousseau imagined that he was the victim of a conspiracy in which Hume was the villain. Hume was finally provoked into reacting angrily against Rousseau?s accusations.

Rousseau?s relationships with people were difficult and often short standing. In ?Reactions to Rousseau?, it was apparent that many other philosophers and writers, i.e., Voltaire, disagreed with Rousseau?s ideas. In Confessions, Rousseau reveals his inner thoughts on all situations of his life including the alienation of his children, the conversion from Catholicism to Protestantism, his resentment towards Francois Marie Arouet De Voltaire and his fleeing from France and Geneva.

1.) Ritter, Allan and Bondanella, Julia. Rousseau?s Political Writings, 1st

Edition. New York, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1988.

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