The year is 1878 – the 100th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest philosopher-thinkers of the “Age of Enlightenment”, and of all time: Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778).
To mark the occasion, a fellow native of Geneva, Switzerland; a professor of aesthetics and philosophy, poet and literary critic and famous in his own right for his monument to romantic introspection: Journal Intime (Intimate Journal) would put into words a discourse on the life and work of JJR. That man was Henri Frederic Amiel (1821 –1881).
In 1922, the 1878 discourse given in French forty-five years earlier would be translated into English by Van Wyck Brooks and published as a book. With keen insight, Amiel examines JJR’s life’s work with a discriminating magnifying glass that only a fellow aesthete and philosopher/thinker could. Perhaps it was a devine coincidence that the two men would be born in the same place, though at different times.
Though JJR is of Swiss origin, he spent most of his adult life in France thus he is often regarded as a French, rather than a Swiss, philosopher. JJR’s first major philosophical work was the winner of an essay contest in Dijon in 1750. Entitled: Discourse on the Sciences and Art, it would be his next work - completed in 1754: Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, that firmly established JJR as one of the most important and influential people living and working during the 18th century European “Enlightenment”.
Here is an excerpt from that great work:
“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said ‘This is mine’, and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the founder of Civil Society. From how many crimes , wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: ‘Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”
Both published in 1862, The Emile was his comprehensive work on the philosophy of education and The Social Contract was his major work on political philosophy. JJR’s later life was marked by exile from France to his homeland and an on-going effort to justify his life’s work which found him in constant conflict with both friends and enemies.
His influence on other great thinkers of the era in which he lived greatly influenced the late 18th century’s Romantic Naturalism movement an his political ideals would be embraced a century later by the leaders of the French Revolution.
Now, this important, hard-to-find book in print is available as a high-quality eBook.
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