Jean-Jacques Rousseau Biography: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was an Enlightenment philosopher who influenced both our Founding Fathers and the French Revolution. His ideas about politics and philosophy were influenced by his native city of Geneva and are still important today.

Rousseau's Early Life

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (his last name is pronounced roo-sew) was a famous philosopher who wrote books about inequality, education, and political problems.

Rousseau was born in 1712 in the city of Geneva, Switzerland, and lived there until he was 16. Even though he moved away as an adult, Rousseau never forgot Geneva. In fact, he later described it as a perfect city and thought that other cities and countries should imitate the government of Geneva.


Famous Books and Ideas

Rousseau left Geneva when he was 16 and traveled to France. When he was 30, Rousseau moved to the city of Paris and joined a group of other young men who liked to write and talk about philosophy. Philosophy is the study of big ideas about truth and reality. People who study philosophy are trying to answer questions like, ''how can we tell right from wrong?'' and ''what's the meaning of life?''

Rousseau on Why People Do Bad Things

While he lived in Paris, Rousseau wrote down some of his important ideas about philosophy. Rousseau believed that people are naturally good and that our problems come from living together in groups. For example, sometimes people try to impress a group of friends by doing dangerous things that could really hurt them, even though they'd never do something that dangerous if they were alone. In 1750, Rousseau explained this idea in a book called Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.

Rousseau on Why People Are Rich/Poor

Three years later, Rousseau wrote one of his most famous books, the Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men. In this book, Rousseau tried to explain why people are unequal. For example, why are some people rich while other people are poor? Rousseau thought that this was also a problem that came from living in groups.

Rousseau on His Hometown

Rousseau dedicated the Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality to his hometown of Geneva and praised the city's government and laws as a perfect model for other places to imitate. This shows how much his political ideas were influenced by growing up in Geneva.

Later Life, Death and Legacy

Rousseau left Paris when he was 44 years old. He lived with some of his friends in France and wrote The Social Contract, which explained how he thought people should live. In the book, Rousseau focused on the idea of freedom, and tried to show how people could be free if they also depended on other people around them.

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