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One of the most important writers of the Enlightenment was the philosopher and novelist Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778 The work of Rousseau has influenced a generation and beyond and it is argued that the main ideals of the French and American revolutions arose from his works for example The Discourse on Equality The main concept of Rousseaus thought is that of liberty and his belief that modern society forced humans to give up their independence making everyday life corrupt and unfree One of the central problems Rousseau confronted is best summed up in the first line of arguably his most important work The Social Contract Man is born free but everywhere in chains1 This quote is an expression of Rousseaus belief that humans are corrupted by modern day society Rousseau says that the state is unjust and corrupt and is dominated by the rich and the powerful While the poor only know oppression and unhappiness these aristocrats use it selfishly to further their own interests The modern state deprives human beings of their natural freedom and promotes self-centred individualism that undermines equality and concern for the common good22 According to Rousseau the modern state and the accumulation of human knowledge improved human understanding but corrupted the human species morally In his works A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality 1755 and A Discourse on the Arts and Sciences 1751 Rousseau questioned advances in knowledge and rejected the glorification of reason that was central to the outlook of the philosophers The philosophers he believed had given people better reasoning but had destroyed them morally The price paid for cultural and intellectual progress was the moral decline of the individual a condition that could no longer be endured3 Rousseau drew up sharp contrasting characteristics between the civilized and societal man and the natural and savage man natural man being the individual prior to the creation of civil society Rousseau believed that the natural man
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