28 Sep

He was born in 1712 in Geneva. His mother died a few days after his birth and he was raised by his father, a clockmaker, who cared for learning and had Rousseau read classical Greek and Roman literature. His father was forced to leave Geneva while Rousseau was still young. Apprenticed to an engraver, Rousseau eventually left Geneva in 1728, fleeing to Annecy. There at the age of sixteen he met Françoise-Louise de Warens, a woman who would become his benefactor and mistress. Over the  next ten years, he earned money as a lackey, engraver, and music teacher. Mme. de Warens sent him during this period to Turin, where he renounced his Calvinism and converted to Roman Catholicism. 

Rousseau moved to Paris in 1742 to pursue a career as a musician and composer. In Paris, he soon be friended Diderot, who would go on to fame as an editor of the Encyclopedie. Diderot commissioned Rousseau to write most of the articles for the Encyclopedie on musical subjects, as well as an article on political economy. Rousseau's time in Paris was interrupted from 1743 to1744, when he served as Secretary to the French ambassador in Venice. 

Rousseau's rise to fame came with the appearance of his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, named the winning entry in an essay competition by the Academy of Dijon in 1750. In a famous letter, he describes how, on a journey to Vincennes to visit Diderot, he had an extraordinary vision upon reading the  notice of the essay competition: "All at once I felt myself dazzled by a thousand sparkling lights; crowds of vivid ideas thronged into my head with a force and confusion that threw me into unspeakable agitation; I felt my head whirling in a giddiness like that of intoxication." He claimed that this vision marked a fundamental turning point in his life, and foreshadowed to him the basic principles he would unfold in his First and Second Discourse and his Emile, which he called his three "principal writings." Rousseau died suddenly on July 2, 1778.

Introduction :

Rousseau's published work and book are as follows:

  1.  "A Discourse on the Moral Effects of the Arts and Sciences." Published in 1750.
  2. Discourse on Inequality.
  3. The Social contract.

In these books he defended and demanded justice and popular sovereignty.


Rousseau defended the concept of equality, justice and popular sovereignty in his social contract theory. Social contract theory is based on following points:

  1. Rousseau's views about human nature.
  2. Rousseau's assumptions of state of nature.
  3. Rousseau's views on social contract.
  4. Rousseau's concept of sovereignty.

Rousseau's views about Human Nature :

He depicted the nature of man in his book entitled "Discourse on the origin of Inequality". According to him 

(a) Man is essentially good and he is good as long as he follows his natural instincts. Rousseau thought that there are two natural instincts that make up man's nature. One is the instinct of self-love or self-preservation. Second is the instinct of sympathy or mutual help. 

(b) Belief in the goodness of "Natural man" and the corruption of "social man". He said man by nature is not bad and corrupt. It is physical environment that makes man corrupt and bad. The goodness and badness of man depends upon the environment in which he lives. Bad social arrangements of society, unjust laws, despotic government all these create evil. So, in order to make a man moral and good the general will and the common interest should be the important features of every state. 

Rousseau's concept of state of nature :

Rousseau deals with the state of nature in order to explain the origin of the state. His entire political philosophy is based on his concept of state of nature. Rousseau's state of nature had following features:

1. A pre-political stage :

State of Nature was a pre-political stage, not pre-social stage.

2. Primitive man was free :

Primitive man was free, healthy, honest and happy. He had no ties and obligations. He could not be good or bad. He was guided by the sentiments of self-interest. He was concerned only with the satisfaction of physical needs.

3. Equal, Independent and Contented :

Primitive man was living in peace and harmony. No ties and obligations; hence, he was s happy. There was no property,no industries, not arts and science. Thus, according to Rousseau state of nature was the stage of liberty and equality. In that stage man was independent and contented.

4. Social institutions gradually evolved :

Man changed his previous way of living and began to live in settled groups. Social institutions gradually evolved. Rise of institution of private property created a distinction between the rich and poor. The development of science, civilization and the origin of property made men self-centered. It was a cause of inequality. It broke down the happy natural condition mankind and made it necessary to establish a civil society.

Rousseau's views on Social Contract :

(a) According to Rousseau, social contract means the process by which the state of nature comes to an end and political society is formed. Thus, Rousseau has given the meaning of contract. The contract is made and public body is established, i.e. the state.

(b) Significance of contract- Rousseau said only by agreement and consent authority is justified and liberty retained. Rousseau described the contract in the following words-"Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme directionof the General Will. Each member became an indivisible part of the whole and creates a moral and collective body.

(c) Surrender to the community- In the contract individuals surrender to the community as a whole. The community consists of all. The power of the community is absolute. Community will work for the common benefit.

(d) No one enjoys any special privileges - In the contract no one is a loser. Everyone is a gainer. A civil society is established in which the citizens are both free and equal.

(e) Right to private life not affected- Public life of the people will come under the authority of the state. Personal life does not come under the authority of the public body. The state will have nothing to do with the private life of an individual, unless they run counter to the common interests. 


(a) General will sovereign :

Under the supreme direction of the General Will, everyone becomes a part of the individual whole willingly and naturally for his own best advantage. It is the membership of the civil society that lifts the human being from the level of the brutes. Thus, Rousseau's theory of General Will is connected with the concept of popular sovereignty. 

Rousseau developed the theory of social contract as a weapon against absolutism.

(b) Identified absolute sovereignty of the state with the general will of people :

He reconciled absolutism with the liberal doctrine. Sovereignty must reside only in the community as a whole. It cannot be divided.
(c) Sovereignty must be indivisible :

 Sovereignty cannot be divided. It must reside only in the community as a whole. To divide sovereignty is to destroy it. Sovereignty belongs to the whole community which is collective body.

(d) Sovereignty cannot be represented :

People (community) cannot surrender their sovereign power to an individual or a group of individuals. Sovereignty which is vested in the people must be exercised by people themselves. By insisting on this Rousseau is thinking about direct democracy.

(e) Best form of government is aristocracy :

Aristocracy means rule of few wise people, who are elected. Rousseau shows his dislikeness for parliamentary government. He said the legislature which enacts laws does not represent it the real will of people. People are free only during election time. Once the elections ae over, the people are enslaved by their representatives.


Introduction :

Rousseau developed the theory of General Will for establishing popular sovereignty. Popular sovereignty is the corner- stone of democratic system of government. Soon after the time of Rousseau this theory led the democrats on to the revolutionary path against absolutism.


Rousseau, while explaining the concept of General Will states that every individual has two types of wills

 (1) Actual Will, and (2) Real Will.

1. Actual Will

The actual will of the individual is his impulsive and irrational will. Individual actions become unreasonable and senseless when they are done under the impact of "Actual Will. It is narrow and selfish will. It compels the individual to think about his own interest. It is emotional and therefore changeable. It is not based on reason.

2. Real Will

It is rational, selfless will of the individual. It aims at general interest of the society, Real will more of the common good than the good of the individual. Thus, the "Real Will" of the individual promotes harmony between the individual and society.

3. General Will

An average individual has an actual and a real will. The General Will is the synthesis of the "Real Will" of the community and represents the consciousness, regarding the common good.


  1. Indivisible: It is common will of the whole community. The General Will is the rational will of the community. It comes from all and applies to all. There is Unity in this will therefore it is indivisible. If the General Will is divided, it will become particular and sectional. Thus, division of General Will implies its destruction.
  2. Right Will : It aims at the general good. It rises above all selfishness. It always thinks welfare of the community.
  3. Best for all: Obedience to this will is supreme freedom and fulfilment because it is one's own best will. The best will cannot create a contradiction between individuals and society. General Will is the expression of the inner will, the right consciousness. 
  4. Inalienable: Rousseau locates sovereignty at the General Will. Hence, sovereignty of the state and General Will are inalienable. Its decisions, in the form of laws are binding on all individuals.
  5.  Not changeable: It is constant and permanent. It springs from the genius of the whole people, i.e. community. It will based on the rule of law and equality before law.
  6. Unpresentable: Rousseau did not believe in the government by the repress entatives of the people. He believed in direct democracy. So General Will of the people cannot be represented by any government or any institution, but by the community as a whole. 

Rousseau developed the theory of General Will for establishing popular sovereignty. The most important element in the contract theory of Rousseau is the sovereign community, i.e. the state. Such sovereign community or state has its own unity, identity and will. This will of the whole community is called the General Will.

Rousseau used the concept of the General Will for reconciling liberty of the individual with the authority of the state. He showed that the individuals living in the state of nature surrendered their all power to the community as a whole because they were directed by the General Will to do so. He also held that when a citizen obeys a law he obeys his own will, hence he is free. 

Rousseau showed that the social contract did not create a government. It created the state. It is done under the direction of the General Will of all people. Once state is created individual obey himself and remain free as in the state of Nature. 


The theory of General Will has been subject to various criticisms some of which are stated below

1. This theory is based on the presumption of Social Contract. Society and state are not made by contract but are an evolution. Thus the very premises on which the theory of General Will is constructed are faulty.

2. It is paradoxical to find out the General Will. Rousseau conceived a small city-state where all the adults could participate in making the General Will. Today it is not possible to have such city-states or village communities: in fact. it was not possible even during his own time.

3. It is held by Rousseau that 'General Will' always wills common good and is therefore moral and absolute. This is a fallacious presumption.

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