ROUSSEAU (1712–78), French author. He was the son of a French refugee family at Geneva, and, though brought up a Calvinist, became a Catholic in 1728 through the influence of Mme de Warens, his benefactress and later his mistress, herself a convert from Protestant Pietism. She had a large share in his religious formation, combining Deistic beliefs, which excluded doctrines such as Hell and Original Sin, with a kind of Quietist sentimentalism. During the years spent with her (1731–40), Rousseau completed his sketchy education by omnivorous reading, including the works of R. Descartes, G. W. Leibniz, J. Locke, B. Pascal, and others.
In 1741 he went to Paris, where he met Thérèse Levasseur, a servant girl, by whom he had five children whom he placed in a foundlings’ hospital. Through D. Diderot he was introduced to the circle of the Encyclopaedists, for whom he wrote several contributions, all but one of them on musical subjects. In 1750 he published his Discours sur les sciences et les arts, a prize essay for Dijon Academy, in which he defended the thesis that technical progress and material goods corrupt human morals. In 1754 he returned to Geneva and once more became a Calvinist, and in the same year wrote his Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes. Inspired by H. Grotius, S. Pufendorf, and others, he treated the subject regardless of historical reality, and, on the gratuitous assumption that the primitive man was a free and happy being living in acc. with his instincts, without virtue or vice, alleged that human inequalities arose from the undue development of his social and proprietary instincts.
In 1756 Rousseau settled near Montmorency, where he wrote the works which made him world-famous. In Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), a passionate love story, he condemned a society which for the sake of convention divorced love from marriage, and put forward a defence of a natural religion based on an undogmatic personal interpretation of the Gospels which, he maintained, is necessary for morality. In Émile, ou de l’Éducation (1762) he developed a Utopian programme of an education far from the corrupting influence of society and in accordance with nature.
In the famous chapter entitled ‘La Profession de foi du vicaire savoyard’ he summed up his religious ideas. He advocated a Deism which, although similar to that of the Philosophes in affirming belief in the existence of God, the soul, and a future life, found its ultimate justification in the individual’s sense of a personal relationship with God through the conscience, of which He is the source and inspiration. Du contrat social (1762) set out his theory of the just state, resting on the general will of the people, the expression of which are the laws. This too, contained a chapter on religion, ‘De la religion civile’, in which ‘civic religion’ was distinguished from natural religion. The articles of this civic religion, which are fixed and enforced by the state, bear on the same subjects as natural religion, forbid all dogmatic intolerance, and admit only those religions which do not claim to possess the absolute truth. Émile, put on the Index in 1762, and Du contrat social were condemned in France and at Geneva, and Rousseau fled first to Neuchâtel, then to an island in the Canton of Berne, and, in 1766–7, he was the guest of D. Hume in England. But, suffering from persecution mania, he went back to France, where he married Thérèse Levasseur ‘before nature’ in 1768, and in 1772 completed his Confessions, with their curious mixture of vanity and self-accusation.
After his death Rousseau became one of the most powerful influences in Europe. In France his ideas were taken up by the Revolution, in Germany by the ‘Storm and Stress’ movement. His religious impact was the deeper as, unlike Voltaire, he offered man a substitute for revealed religion which was not only doctrinally simple and unelaborate in its moral prescriptions, but also addressed to his emotional as well as his intellectual needs. It has sometimes been asserted that he served Christianity by propagating its fundamental truths among his unbelieving contemporaries. A more just estimate might point out that, by eliminating the idea of original sin and replacing the need for grace by belief in the complete adequacy of reason, conscience, and free-will, he removed the foundations of sound religion and became a forerunner of humanistic liberalism.
Many edns. of his collected works, incl. that of V. D. MussetPathay (24 vols., Paris, 1823–6). Convenient edn. by B. Gagnebin, M. Raymond, and others (Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 5 vols., 1959–95), but this does not incl. correspondence. Religious Writings, ed. R. Grimsley (Oxford, 1970). Correspondance complète, ed. R. A. Leigh (vols. 1–14, Geneva, 1965–71; 15–24, Thorpe Mandeville, Banbury, 1972–5; 25–53, Oxford, 1976–97). Useful edns. of his Political Writings, with introd. and notes in Eng., by C. E. Vaughan (2 vols., Cambridge, 1915). Eng. trs. incl. that of The Social Contract by M. Cranston (Penguin Classics, 1968), and also, with The Discourses, by G. D. H. Cole (Everyman’s Library, 660 ); of Émile by B. Foxley (ibid. ); of his Confessions by A. Scholar, with introd. by P. Coleman (Oxford World’s Classics ). Studies incl. those of J. Morley (2 vols., London, 1873), J. H. Broome (ibid., 1963) and T. O’Hagan (Arguments of the Philosophers, 1999); also M. Cranston, Jean-Jacques: The Early Life and Work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712–1754 (1983); id., The Noble Savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1754–1762 (1991); id., The Solitary Self: Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Exile and Adversity (1997). A. Schinz, La Pensée de Jean-Jacques Rousseau (2 vols., Northampton, Mass., 1929). R. Derathé, Jean-Jacques Rousseau et la science politique de son temps (1950). S. Baud-Bovy and others, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Université Ouvrière et Faculté des Lettres de l’Université de Genève, Neuchâtel, 1962). Études sur le Contrat social de Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Actes des journées d’étude organisées à Dijon pour la commémoration du 200e anniversaire du Contrat social (Publications de l’Université de Dijon, 30; 1964). R. A. Leigh (ed.), Rousseau after Two Hundred Years: Proceedings of the Cambridge Bicentennial Colloquium (Cambridge, 1982). P. Riley (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau (2001). P. M. Masson, La Religion de J.-J. Rousseau (3 vols., 1916); R. Derathé, Le Rationalisme de J.-J. Rousseau (1948); J. F. Thomas, Le Pélagianisme de J.-J. Rousseau (1956); R. Grimsley, Rousseau and the Religious Quest (Oxford, 1968); P. Lefebvre, Les pouvoirs de la parole: L’Église et Rousseau (1762–1848) (1992). J. Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: La transparence et l’obstacle (1957; 2nd edn., 1971); R. Grimsley, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A Study in Selfawareness (Cardiff, 1961). H. Roddier, J.-J. Rousseau en Angleterre au XVIIIe siècle (Études de Littérature étrangère et comparée ). J.-A. E. McEachern, Bibliography of the Writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau to 1800 (Oxford, 1989 ff.). Annales de la Société Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Geneva, 1905 ff.).
This Webpage was created for a workshop held at Saint Andrew's Abbey, Valyermo, California in 1990