Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men by Rousseau (1730 words)

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Question

Do a primary source analysis of Rouseau's "Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men"

Questions answered:

a) Where and when was the document written?
b) From your secondary source: tell the reader something about the author's background. From aristocratic birth? Peasant birth? Middle-class urban? Does he/she stand to lose or gain from the proposed changes in the political/social system? For example, someone from non-noble birth clearly stands to gain from the abolition of special privileges. A Jew or Protestant in France clearly stands to gain from the introduction of religion freedom, etc...
b) At the time, what type of government/political system existed?
c) Was the author expressing dissatisfaction with that type of government? Or with a certain convention in society at the time (for example, that women should play a subordinate role in society and in the family?)
d) Were the ideas expressed entirely original or was she/he influenced by other thinkers or events? For example, were the framers of the French "Rights of Man and of Citizen" (1789) influenced by the American Declaration of Independence (1776)?
e) Did her/his piece of writing have an influence at the time? Did it inspire others?

Solution Preview

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Historical Analysis of “Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men” (1753) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau’s ideas are original, but no writer creates out of a vacuum. It is important to look at the historical milieu in which Rousseau belongs, in order to more fully flesh out his purpose, his influences, and the overall contribution of his work to intellectual history. The purpose of this paper, then, using the primary sources culled from the textbook, Rousseau’s text of the “Discourse” and references to The Social Contract, and the inestimable secondary source The Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment, is to draft a historical analysis of Rousseau’s Eighteenth Century background in order to posit reflections on his motivations, and why he wrote his revolutionary works.
First, it is important to provide general background. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1712. He is most famous for The Social Contract (1762), and during his career wrote across different genres and disciplines, including essays, novels, autobiography, and works of political philosophy (Kors 2003). Rousseau’s political thought is historically situated in the discussion of the period that surrounded differences and opinion on what is called today “Social Contract Theory.”...

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