Jean Jacques Rousseau is one of the most important and influential thinkers of the Enlightenment period and, indeed, of the whole history of philosophy. His political theory heavily influenced the French Revolution, development of socialist theory and the growth of nationalism.
Clearly and thematically structured and covering all of Rousseau’s key works, “Starting with Rousseau” leads the reader through a thorough overview of the development of his thought, resulting in a more thorough understanding of the roots of his philosophical concerns. Offering coverage of the full range of Rousseau’s ideas, the book firmly sets his work in the context of the Enlightenment, and explores his contributions to social theory, theories of human nature, philosophy of education, political philosophy and autobiography.
The concern that dominates Rousseau’s work is to find a way of preserving human freedom in a world where human beings are increasingly dependent on one another for the satisfaction of their needs. This concern has two dimensions, material and psychological, of which the latter has greater importance.
In the modern world, human beings come to derive their very sense of self from the opinion of others, a fact which Rousseau sees as corrosive of freedom and destructive of individual authenticity. In his mature work, he principally explores two routes to achieving and protecting freedom, the first is a political one aimed at constructing political institutions that allow for the co-existence of free and equal citizens in a community where they themselves are sovereign; the second is a project for child development and education that fosters autonomy and avoids the development of the most destructive forms of self-interest.
The book introduces the major thinkers and events that proved influential in the development of Rousseau’s thought.
James J. Delaney is an assistant professor of philosophy at Niagara University in western New York.