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In The Social Contract, Rousseau tries to tackle the problem of inequality he identified in the Discourse on Inequality. Rousseau argues that “man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Rousseau argues that this is because in most societies, the sovereign ruler acts of his own will with both the law and the population beneath him. Rousseau’s solution is the concept of the general will. He proposes a sort of direct democracy in which the population assembles and approves or disapproves of various laws. When the general will of the people supports something, it has the force of law and the authority to require obedience of the people. When that is not the case, says Rousseau, it is not a law at all.
The Noet edition of this volume is fully indexed and tagged, allowing for near-instant search results. This volume links to the other books in your Noet library, allowing you to cross-reference with a click. Near-instant searches allow you to jump to important sections in Rousseau’s work.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was born in Geneva to a middle class Protestant family. In 1728, Rousseau moved to Annecy, in France. While there, Rousseau converted to Roman Catholicism at the encouragement of Louise de Warens. In recanting his Calvinism, Rousseau was also giving up his Genevan citizenship. Rousseau moved to Paris in 1742 and developed relationships with the Enlightenment philosophes Diderot and Condillac. Rousseau contributed an article on music to Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopedie. He left Paris for three years to serve at the French Embassy in Venice. When he returned to Paris, he met his future wife, Therese Levasseur, with whom he had five children (all of whom were left at the orphanage). Rousseau eventually left Paris, lived for a time in the French countryside, moved in with the Duke of Luxemburg, and eventually returned to Switzerland. At the invitation of David Hume, Rousseau went to England. After a falling out with Hume, Rousseau returned to France, where he spent the rest of his life. In addition to his works of philosophy, Rousseau wrote seven operas, an autobiography, and a work of fiction. He is credited as one of the first thinkers of the Romantic movement.