Jean Jacques Rousseau: Discourse on the arts & Sciences

Jean Jacques Rousseau: Discourse on the arts & Sciences


Jean Jacques Rousseau was a writer, composer, and Francophone Genevan philosopher in the 18th century. He focused on political philosophy in attempts to influence and enlighten France and Europe and develop modern political and educational thoughts. He authored various books in attempts to set up and promote political societies and civilization respectively. Rousseau’s writings were influenced greatly by his personal views about the sense of modernity. He believed there is a strong negative freedom that pervades human interactions and societies (Wootton, & Cress, 2011). For example, he praised ignorance and simplicity in discussing the nature of human political interactions. He believed political societies should not be established if they are bound to infringe peoples’ essential rights. As a result, he attempted to determine if sciences and arts could improve morality in societies by avoiding corruption and unethical practices. He, however, also referred to the towering geniuses including Rene Descartes and Francis Bacon who actively brought about the modern natural scientific method (Cress, 2011). Thus, the report will discuss how Rousseau could support two opposing aspects in relation to freedom and modernity.

Rousseau on Freedom and Modernity

Rousseau’s modernity school of thought made him an idealist. His approach to the nature and manner of men and political philosophy made him focus on peoples’ actions and how they influence civil societies. Rousseau’s state of nature discussed fundamental aspects of human nature. For example, he explained that human beings wandered around the woods and valleys for several days and complete solitude. The explanation was his attempt to emphasize that freedom and self-independence of human beings influenced modernity as people are at their best when they are not being constrained (Wootton, & Cress, 2011). He, however, also noted that negative freedom is crucial to modernity, as human beings do not perform all functions of survival alone. They experience opposition and criticism despite being self-independent as the constraints are part of human beings’ natural habitat. Thus, he asserted that human beings ought to be completely free of dependence from others. Consequently, they can be entirely free of their wills. They, however, ought to depend on the fellow human beings to continue surviving in their natural habitat. Rousseau claimed that people ought to be voluntarily submissive by being captives of their desires without their civil rights being infringed in contemporary modernity (Roland, 2016).

Human beings, according to Rousseau emerged from oblivion of their own efforts. He also noted that Europe was falling back into barbarity as they were living in states worse than ignorance. Thus, revolution was important, as it had to help people come back to their senses. Sciences and arts of writing were identified as natural sequences enabling people to feel as social beings that can be inspired with works worthy of their mutual approbation. He also stated that the mind and body have different needs as foundations and pleasures of the society (Roland, 2016). Conversely, laws and governing bodies ought to take care of the well-being of people while ensuring they are safe and empowered within the originality of liberty. He also claims that original liberty for which they were born also encourages people to love slavery. For example, they identify their needs, raise thrones, and ensure sciences and arts strengthen them. They also ensure earthly powers protect and nurture them. Thus, he discussed civil societies as a group of people satisfied to be associated with slavery that makes them easy to establish relations and associates. He also stated that arts and sciences influence peoples’ manners, passions, languages, and habits. For example, he stated that cloths and ornaments empower people by concealing their deformities. Thus, he claimed that human beings thrive by engaging in natural fundamental efforts to better their lives to enhance security (Johnston, 2014).

Rousseau, therefore, was keen to promote reasoning through contemporary arts and sciences. He criticized societies and believed human nature is a product of human and civil society. As a result, every individual should have a nature outside political and civil societies while embracing negative and positive moral freedoms. He argued that there is a difference between moral freedom and the rights awarded to people. He also argued that human beings are naturally social animals who can construct their ideal societies based on ignorant personal moralistic opinions and freedoms. Thus, his concept of man’s nature was that people fully embrace negative freedom. For example, they can act as they please. However, they strive and ensure their actions are not invading other human beings’ civil rights and freedom. He, therefore, was obsessed with the notion that human beings in ideal nature should wander for days without maintaining any interactions and manage to remain self-sufficient (Wootton, & Cress, 2011).

He also discussed how human beings ought to be fierce and independent. He believed people should survive in the state of nature without bowing and being broken by trials and tribulations they are likely to experience in their habitat. He, therefore, was an extreme reservist of peoples’ rights prompting him to set up a legislative body imminently impossible for other governing bodies. Rousseau emphasized that the legislative body, run by a single individual or entire civil society, had to preserve other peoples’ rights (Benjamin, & Christian, 2011). As a result, he introduced the general will in attempts to suggest he was positing the sense of legislation in a society all human beings are equal in relation to their civil duties or in creation of laws. His notion was summarized as creation of a system with heavy focus on consensus cooperation and building. Consequently, the system can protect peoples’ natural rights. Thus, he sought to create a society that takes very limited amount of peoples’ rights (Rousseau, 2010).

The Moralistic Freedom as a Measure of Distinction

Rousseau’s opinions on how human beings ought to interact were based on his approach in determining functions of political societies and peoples’ fundamental nature. It was, however, clear that he tolerates civil society as it he believed it was better than a habitat subjecting people to the will of others. Thus, Rousseau regarded civil society as an ideal state. His notion on modernity viewed negative freedom as a guarantee of peoples’ freedoms as his viewpoint on human nature was based on the belief that rights should be neither impeded nor limited. In authoring the Second Discourse, he emphasized that negative freedom is vital by describing human beings as creatures that are most free if others do not impede their actions and thoughts. Thus, he stated that human beings could be weak for not being in the state of nature enabling them to do all they need to thrive. He, therefore, emphasized on the importance of education as it helps people to deal with the nature of humanity. For example, discipline systems in civil societies ought to motivate and support the residents to act according to their own nature while internal and external conflicts shape peoples’ own nature (Wootton, & Cress, 2011).

Rousseau believed societies are corrupted and weakened by constrains limiting human beings’ rights, laws, freedoms, and customs embracing community. Thus, he did not explain why human beings in sublime states of nature should witness and experience problems of the society. This is because he More so, he asserted that human beings lack the ability to be self-sufficient as the nature of society enables them to lack the will to live as best as they should and as provided by nature. He, therefore, also criticized the society by describing it as the root of cunning tricks, ignorance, and evil deployed by people (Rousseau, 2010). Thus, he easily created a society but instilled diverse concepts of civil and moral freedom. He did not keep man free within the loving confines of the state of nature due to the element of negative freedom supporting ignorance in the society. Rousseau’s sovereignty was established in a manner it protects peoples’ rights and freedoms in relation to legislation despite submitting themselves to executive branches of the government. The sovereign functions, however, had to be because every human being is equally important, as individuals should not claim authority over their fellow citizens (Wootton, & Cress, 2011).

Rousseau believed the nature of man is to embrace society and live with other human beings. These two aspects should therefore be central to peoples’ psyche, as man cannot live alone without maintaining contact with his own species. In relation to modernity, Rousseau asserted it encourages every human being to attain personal freedom. For example, people should feel free to form associations with others. They should also strive to ensure the relations evolve into full-blown civilization. Rousseau, therefore, suggested that human beings should find their way into society while acknowledging the community also causes direct and indirect social consequences (Andrews, 2017).

Rousseau also claimed that state of nature allows inequalities to prevail. The human mind has the strength and power to establish permanent and legitimate properties and laws enhancing morality and physical inequality. Thus, he believed society should not bring people down, as they ought to be free in the negative sense in civil and political communities. Rousseau distributes aspects of moral and political freedoms, philosophy and equalities to establish a formula showing acts of associations involve reciprocation. For example, he asserts that public and private individuals are members of sovereign states. Maxim civil law, however, ensures neither the private nor the public individual is obliged to fulfil each other’s needs, as they are equally sovereign. They, however, can commit to each other with respect to things that do not infringe their individual sovereign rights (Rousseau, 2010).

In conclusion, Rousseau sought to encourage people to agree with arts and sciences nourishing their physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. He also identified aspects that can ensure civil societies maintain legislative, moral, and physical consciences among generations. He was also keen to discuss how human race can agree to beneficially teach enlightenment of civil societies when embracing individuals’ freedoms and rights. Thus, human knowledge, preservation of morals and purity is a simple way of protecting civil freedoms and societies. However, ignorance encourages people to pursue fortunes and glory while being insensitive to the civil liberties and rights.



Andrews, M. C. (2017). Rousseau’s Social Contract: With an Introduction. Washington, Online Library of Liberty.

Benjamin, M., & Christian, W. (2011). Rousseau’s Social Contract: An Introduction. A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science.

Cress, A. D. (2011). Jean-Jacques Rousseau Basic Political Writings. Indianapolis, Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Company Inc.

Johnston, I. (2014). Discourse on the Arts and Sciences- Jean Jacques Rousseau. South Australia, The University of Adelaide Library.

Roland, J. (2016). The Social Contract: Or Principles of Political Right. The Constitution Society.

Rousseau, J. J. (2010). The Basic Political Writings (Second Edition). Hackett Publishing

Wootton, D., & Cress, D. (2011). Rousseau: The Basic Political Writings. Hackett Publishing Company Inc.