Rousseau was born in Geneva, the son of a watchmaker. His mother died shortly after his birth, and his aunt and uncle raised him.
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Diderot later commissioned Rousseau to write articles on music for Diderot"s Encyclopedia. In 1749, Rousseau won first prize in a contest, held by the Academy of Dijon, on the question: "Has the progress of the sciences and arts contributed to the corruption or to the improvement of human conduct? " In 1765 he was expelled from Bern and accepted the invitation of David Hume to live at his house in England; there he began to write the first part of his Confessions, but after a year he quarreled violently with Hume, whom he believed to be in league with Diderot and Grimm, and returned to France in 1767.
After wandering through the provinces, he finally settled in Paris, where he lived in a garret and copied music. The French authorities left him undisturbed, while curious foreigners flocked to see the famous man and be insulted by him. At the same time he went from salon to salon, reading his Confessions aloud. In his last years he began Reveries du promeneur solitaire, descriptions of nature and his thoughts about it, which was unfinished at the time of his death. Shortly before his death Rousseau moved to the house of a protector at Ermenonville, near Paris, where he died.
In 1794 his remains were transferred to the Pantheon in Paris. Few people in the Enlightenment Period equaled Rousseau"s influence on politics, literature and education. Rousseau"s thoughts begin with the fact the he believed we are good by nature but when put in society we begin become more disorganized. According to Rousseau, humanity"s only flaw was social behavior as he stated in his book "The Social Contract. " "But human nature does not go backward, and we never return to the times of innocence and equality, when we have once departed from them. " (The Social Contract, Book I, Ch. )
Going along with his idea of social order was Rousseau"s aim at freedom. He believed that the purpose of law and government was to expose the people"s wishes for the ideal government. Rousseau"s theory was, since the people decided if a ruler is fair or not, it was up to the society if the government was able to grant the people their liberty and well being. Basically, the government was only as strong as the people worked for it to be. If society didn"t like the tactics used by the ruler, the government would not gain control. Rousseau"s ideas on education are still used today.
Rousseau outlined in his book, Emile, that education shouldn"t be viewed as trying to get a child to understand everything, but to draw out what was already in the child. Education was to be monitored and controlled very carefully and in the end, the process should result in the natural development of a child"s potential. Rousseau"s writings were always personal, describing his deeply keep secrets and thoughts. During the Enlightenment Period, Rousseau"s writings were incredibly popular. His book, Heloise, was one of the most popular and his book Confessions is still widely read today.
His knowledge of musical theory was amazing because it was self-taught. Although his work did not have an effect on Enlightenment music, his compositions live on today. Rousseau"s influence on the Enlightenment was just as great as many of the more well know philosophs. Rousseau expanded on John Locke"s theory that a society has the right to question the authority of an unjust ruler. Rousseau highly influenced German and English romanticism, a movement in the 18th century that was marked by an emphasis on emotion and imagination. His thoughts about the rule of the government had a profound impact on French revolutionary thought.
During the Enlightenment, people were beginning to become more independent and question authority. Society was starting to move away from conventional thinking and Rousseau social contract was the beginning to this revolution. Rousseau"s social contract was an addition to Thomas Hobbes"s social contract. Rousseau"s version stated that the contract was an agreement between free individuals to create a society and a government while Hobbes believed the ideal relationship was between a society and its government. Rousseau contributed greatly to the movement in Western Europe for individual freedom and against the absolutism of church and state.
Rousseau"s ideas were a stepping-stone onto which the American colonists followed. Using Rousseau"s ideas on individual freedom, the colonists declared their independence from Great Britain and formed their own colonies. Rousseau"s ideas on education not only reflected the movements of his time, his ideas started a new movement. His thinking has not only influenced our ideas on education, they have formed the basis for what we believe in. Rousseau believed every child had the potential to become great, but it just a matter of releasing their knowledge.
Teachers today use Rousseau"s thinking of allowing the free development of human potential to guide students through life. His ideas on education were new and different at the time. With these ideas, Rousseau added to the spirit of his time by creating new standards on education and learning. Rousseau"s thoughts can be summed up in a quote from his book, "The Social Contract," (Book 2, Ch. 2) "Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains. Let us then admit that force does not create right, and that we are obliged to obey only legitimate powers. In that case, my original thought recurs, live free as equal individuals in a state of nature
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