The Social Contract (1762)

The Social Contract was written and published in 1762 with the title On the Social Contract; or, Principles of Political Right (Du contrat social; ou, Principes du droit politique). With the famous phrase, “man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” Rousseau asserts that modern states repress the physical freedom that is our birthright. Rousseau’s principal aim in The Social Contract is to determine how freedom may be possible in civil society. After its publication, Rousseau had to flee France and the book was quickly banned. However, it was what he wrote about religion rather than the book’s main thrust about freedom and liberty that had landed the philosopher in hot water with the French authorities.

Èmile, or On Education (1762)

Rousseau’s Èmile, or On Education is a kind of half treatise, half novel that tells the life story of a fictional man named Èmile. In it, Rousseau traces the course of Èmile’s development and the education he receives, an education designed to create in him all the virtues of Rousseau’s idealized “natural man,” uncorrupted by modern society. According to Rousseau, the natural goodness of a man can be nurtured and maintained only according to this highly prescriptive model of education, and Rousseau states that his aim in Èmile is to outline that model—a model that differed sharply from all accepted forms of the time.

Èmile, or On Education is discussed in a one-section Summary & Analysis of ghe SparkNotes guide Selected Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Confessions (1782)

Rousseau states that his Confession is an attempt to present a self-portrait that is “in every way true to nature” and that hides nothing. Confessions sought to bare the entire life of its author subject, detailing all his imperfections, virtues, individual neuroses, and formative childhood experiences as a means of explaining and justifying the views and personality of his adult self. Rousseau’s emphasis on the effects of childhood experiences on adulthood, especially in relation to the development of sexuality, foreshadows the revolutionary psychological work of Sigmund Freud. Confessions is also the work considered most responsible for Rousseau’s frequent accreditation as the father of the romantic movement, for the degree to which he emphasizes the importance of subjective, individual, and sensory experience of the world.

Rousseau’s Confessions is discussed in a one-section Summary & Analysis of ghe SparkNotes guide Selected Works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.