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Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778) — Geneva-born French philosopher of rights of the individual.  Let him know nothing because you have told him, but because he has learnt it for himself.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, philosopher of personal freedom.

Quotations of Rousseau sourced from – GoodReads, BrainyQuotes,

Quotations Jean-Jacques Rousseau

To do is to be.

What wisdom can you find greater than kindness.

Liberty may be gained, but can never be recovered.

To renounce freedom is to renounce one’s humanity, one’s rights as a man and equally one’s duties.

To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties.

I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery.

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.

Man is born free but today everywhere he is in chains.

Freedom is the power to choose our own chains.

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Those who think themselves the masters of others are indeed greater slaves than they.

An unbroken horse erects his mane, paws the ground and starts back impetuously at the sight of the bridle; while one which is properly trained suffers patiently even whip and spur: so savage man will not bend his neck to the yoke to which civilised man submits without a murmur, but prefers the most turbulent state of liberty to the most peaceful slavery. We cannot therefore, from the servility of nations already enslaved, judge of the natural disposition of mankind for or against slavery; we should go by the prodigious efforts of every free people to save itself from oppression. I know that the former are for ever holding forth in praise of the tranquillity they enjoy in their chains, and that they call a state of wretched servitude a state of peace: miserrimam servitutem pacem appellant. But when I observe the latter sacrificing pleasure, peace, wealth, power and life itself to the preservation of that one treasure, which is so disdained by those who have lost it; when I see free-born animals dash their brains out against the bars of their cage, from an innate impatience of captivity; when I behold numbers of naked savages, that despise European pleasures, braving hunger, fire, the sword and death, to preserve nothing but their independence, I feel that it is not for slaves to argue about liberty.

Princes always are always happy to see developing among their subjects the taste for agreeable arts and for superfluities which do not result in the export of money. For quite apart from the fact that with these they nourish that spiritual pettiness so appropriate for servitude, they know very well that all the needs which people give themselves are so many chains binding them. When Alexander wished to keep the Ichthyophagi dependent on him, he forced them to abandon fishing and to nourish themselves on foods common to other people. And no one has been able to subjugate the savages in America, who go around quite naked and live only from what their hunting provides. In fact, what yoke could be imposed on men who have no need of anything?

The former breathes only peace and liberty; he desires only to live and be free from labor; even the ataraxia of the Stoic falls far short of his profound indifference to every other object.

Liberty is like rich food and strong wine: the strong natures accustomed to them thrive and grow even stronger on them; but they deplete, inebriate and destroy the weak.

Sovereignty, for the same reason as makes it inalienable, cannot be represented; it lies essentially in the general will, and will does not admit of representation: it is either the same, or other; there is no intermediate possibility. The
deputies of the people, therefore, are not and cannot be its representatives: they are merely its stewards, and can carry through no definitive acts. Every law the people has not ratified in person is null and void — is in fact, not a law. The people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected,
slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the short moments of liberty it enjoys shows indeed that it deserves to lose them.

I have never thought, for my part, that man’s freedom consists in his being able to do whatever he wills, but that he should not, by any human power, be forced to do what is against his will.

What, then, is the government? An intermediary body established between the subjects and the sovereign for their mutual communication, a body charged with the execution of the laws and the maintenance of freedom, both civil and political.

Whenever the last trumpet shall sound, I will present myself before the
sovereign judge with this book in my hand, and loudly proclaim, thus have
I acted; these were my thoughts; such was I. With equal freedom and
veracity have I related what was laudable or wicked, I have concealed no
crimes, added no virtues; and if I have sometimes introduced superfluous
ornament, it was merely to occupy a void occasioned by defect of memory:
I may have supposed that certain, which I only knew to be probable, but
have never asserted as truth, a conscious falsehood. Such as I was, I
have declared myself; sometimes vile and despicable, at others, virtuous,
generous and sublime; even as thou hast read my inmost soul: Power
eternal! assemble round thy throne an innumerable throng of my
fellow-mortals, let them listen to my confessions, let them blush at my
depravity, let them tremble at my sufferings; let each in his turn expose
with equal sincerity the failings, the wanderings of his heart, and, if
he dare, aver, I was better than that man.

The more I study the works of men in their institutions, the more clearly I see that, in their efforts after independence, they become slaves, and that their very freedom is wasted in vain attempts to assure its continuance. That they may not be carried away by the flood of things, they form all sorts of attachments; then as soon as they wish to move forward they are surprised to find that everything drags them back. It seems to me that to set oneself free we need do nothing, we need only continue to desire freedom.

There is no subjection so perfect as that which keeps the appearance of freedom.

Every man having been born free and master of himself, no one else may under any pretext whatever subject him without his consent. To assert that the son of a slave is born a slave is to assert that he is not born a man.

Civilization is a hopeless race to discover remedies for the evils it produces.

The truth brings no man a fortune.

All my misfortunes come of having thought too well of my fellows

Ordinary readers, forgive my paradoxes: one must make them when one reflects; and whatever you may say, I would rather be a man of paradoxes than a man of prejudices.

The world of reality has its limits; the world of imagination is boundless.

In truth, laws are always useful to those with possessions and harmful to those who have nothing; from which it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only when all possess something and none has too much.

There is nothing better than the encouragement of a good friend.

The noblest work in education is to make a reasoning man, and we expect to train a young child by making him reason! This is beginning at the end; this is making an instrument of a result. If children understood how to reason they would not need to be educated.

Teach your scholar to observe the phenomena of nature; you will soon rouse his curiosity, but if you would have it grow, do not be in too great a hurry to satisfy this curiosity. Put the problems before him and let him solve them himself. Let him know nothing because you have told him, but because he has learnt it for himself. Let him not be taught science, let him discover it. If ever you substitute authority for reason he will cease to reason; he will be a mere plaything of other people’s thoughts.

We should not teach children the sciences; but give them a taste for them.

Among the many short cuts to science, we badly need someone to teach us the art of learning with difficulty.

Hold childhood in reverence, and do not be in any hurry to judge it for good or ill. Leave exceptional cases to show themselves, let their qualities be tested and confirmed, before special methods are adopted. Give nature time to work before you take over her business, lest you interfere with her dealings. You assert that you know the value of time and are afraid to waste it. You fail to perceive that it is a greater waste of time to use it ill than to do nothing, and that a child ill taught is further from virtue than a child who has learnt nothing at all. You are afraid to see him spending his early years doing nothing. What! is it nothing to be happy, nothing to run and jump all day? He will never be so busy again all his life long. Plato, in his Republic, which is considered so stern, teaches the children only through festivals, games, songs, and amusements. It seems as if he had accomplished his purpose when he had taught them to be happy; and Seneca, speaking of the Roman lads in olden days, says, “They were always on their feet, they were never taught anything which kept them sitting.” Were they any the worse for it in manhood? Do not be afraid, therefore, of this so-called idleness. What would you think of a man who refused to sleep lest he should waste part of his life? You would say, “He is mad; he is not enjoying his life, he is robbing himself of part of it; to avoid sleep he is hastening his death.” Remember that these two cases are alike, and that childhood is the sleep of reason.

Those whom nature destined to make her disciples have no need of teachers. Bacon, Descartes, Newton — these tutors of the human race had no need of tutors themselves, and what guides could have led them to those places where their vast genius carried them? Ordinary teachers could only have limited their understanding by confining it to their own narrow capabilities. With the first obstacles, they learned to exert themselves and made the effort to traverse the immense space they moved through. If it is necessary to permit some men to devote themselves to the study of the sciences and the arts, that should be only for those who feel in themselves the power to walk alone in those men’s footsteps and to move beyond them. It is the task of this small number of people to raise monuments to the glory of the human mind.

Mandeville has a clear awareness that, with all their mores, men would never have been anything but monsters, if nature had not given them pity to aid their reason; but he has not seen that from this quality alone flow all the social virtues that he wants to deny in men. In fact, what are generosity, mercy, and humanity, if not pity applied to the weak, to the guilty, or to the human species in general. Benevolence and even friendship are, properly understood, the products of a constant pity fixed on a particular object; for is desiring that someone not suffer anything but desiring that he be happy?

I have entered upon a performance which is without example, whose
accomplishment will have no imitator. I mean to present my
fellow-mortals with a man in all the integrity of nature; and this man
shall be myself.

The social pact, far from destroying natural equality, substitutes, on the contrary, a moral and lawful equality for whatever physical inequality that nature may have imposed on mankind; so that however unequal in strength and intelligence, men become equal by covenant and by right.

God (Nature, in my view) makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil. He fores one soil to yield the products of another, one tree to bear another’s fruit. He confuses and confounds time, place, and natural conditions. He mutilates his dog, his horse, and his slave. He destroys and defaces all things; he loves all that is deformed and monstrous; he will have nothing as nature made it, not even himself, who must learn his paces like a saddle-horse, and be shaped to his master’s taste like the trees in his garden.

Absolute silence leads to sadness. It is the image of death.

My illusions about the world caused me to think that in order to benefit by my reading I ought to possess all the knowledge the book presupposed. I was very far indeed from imagining that often the author did not possess it himself, but had extracted it from other books, as and when he needed it. This foolish conviction forced me to stop every moment, and to rush incessantly from one book to another; sometimes before coming to the tenth page of the one I was trying to read I should, by this extravagant method, have had to run through whole libraries. Nevertheless I stuck to it so persistently that I wasted infinite time, and my head became so confused that I could hardly see or take in anything.

In musing from morning until night without order or coherence, and in following in everything the caprice of a moment.

There is no evildoer who could not be made good for something.

I say to myself: “Who are you to measure infinite power?

Every artists wants to be applauded

To live is not to breathe but to act. It is to make use of our organs, our senses, our faculties, of all the parts of ourselves which give us the sentiment of our existence. The man who has lived the most is not he who has counted the most years but he who has most felt life.

I know my heart, and have studied mankind; I am not made like any one I
have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not
better, I at least claim originality,

The only moral lesson which is suited for a child–the most important lesson for every time of life–is this: ‘Never hurt anybody.

What good would it be to possess the whole universe if one were its only survivor?

A child who passes through many hands in turn, can never be well brought up. At every change he makes a secret comparison, which continually tends to lessen his respect for those who control him, and with it their authority over him. If once he thinks there are grown-up people with no more sense than children the authority of age is destroyed and his education is ruined.

Once you teach people to say what they do not understand, it is easy enough to get them to say anything you like.

…there is no real advance in human reason, for what we gain in one direction we lose in another; for all minds start from the same point, and as the time spent in learning what others have thought is so much time lost in learning to think for ourselves, we have more acquired knowledge and less vigor of mind. Our minds like our arms are accustomed to use tools for everything, and to do nothing for themselves.

Man’s first law is to watch over his own preservation; his first care he owes to himself; and as soon as he reaches the age of reason, he becomes the only judge of the best means to preserve himself; he becomes his own master.

Teach him to live rather than to avoid death: life is not breath,
but action, the use of our senses, our mind, our faculties, every
part of ourselves which makes us conscious of our being. Life
consists less in length of days than in the keen sense of living.

More than half of my life is past; I have left only the time I need for turning the rest of it to account and for effacing my errors by my virtues.

However great a man’s natural talent may be, the act of writing cannot be learned all at once.

My love for imaginary objects and my facility in lending myself to them ended by disillusioning me with everything around me, and determined that love of solitude which I have retained ever since that time.

For if men needed speech in order to learn to think, they had a still greater need for knowing how to think in order to discover the art of speaking.

The real world has its limits; the imaginary world is infinite. Unable to enlarge the one, let us restrict the other, for it is from the difference between the two alone that are born all the pains which make us truly unhappy.

Our wisdom is slavish prejudice, our customs consist in control,
constraint, compulsion. Civilised man is born and dies a slave.

I don’t know how this lively and dumb scene would have ended , or how long I might have remained immoveable in this ridiculous and delightful situation , had we not been interrupted.

The savage man,for want of wisdom and reason, always responds recklessly to the first promptings of human feeling

The ever-recurring law of necessity soon teaches a man to do what he does not like, so as to avert evils which he would dislike still more… this foresight, well or ill used, is the source of all the wisdom or the wretchedness of mankind.

How could I become wicked, when I had nothing but examples of gentleness before my eyes, and none around me but the best people in the world?

Hatred, as well as love, renders its votaries credulous.

Europe had fallen back into the barbarity of the first ages. People from this part of world, so enlightened today, lived a few centuries ago in a state worse than ignorance. Some sort of learned jargon much more despicable than ignorance had usurped the name of knowledge and set up an almost invincible obstacle in the way of its return. A revolution was necessary to bring men back to common sense, and it finally came from a quarter where one would least expect it. It was the stupid Muslim, the eternal blight on learning, who brought about its rebirth among us.

Since men cannot create new forces, but merely combine and control those which already exist, the only way in which they can preserve themselves is by uniting their separate powers in a combination strong enough to overcome any resistance, uniting them so that their powers are directed by a single motive and act in concert.

All our wisdom consists in servile prejudices. All our practices are only subjection, impediment, and constraint. Civil man is born, lives, and dies in slavery. At his birth he is sewed in swaddling clothes; at his death he is nailed in a coffin. So long as he keeps his human shape, he is enchained by our institutions.

I open the books on Right and on ethics; I listen to the professors and jurists; and, my mind full of their seductive doctrines, I admire the peace and justice established by the civil order; I bless the wisdom of our political institutions and, knowing myself a citizen, cease to lament I am a man. Thoroughly instructed as to my duties and my happiness, I close the book, step out of the lecture room, and look around me. I see wretched nations groaning beneath a yoke of iron. I see mankind ground down by a handful of oppressors, I see a famished mob, worn down by sufferings and famine, while the rich drink the blood and tears of their victims at their ease. I see on every side the strong armed with the terrible powers of the Law against the weak.

And all this is done quietly and without resistance. It is the peace of Ulysses and his comrades, imprisoned in the cave of the Cyclops and waiting their turn to be devoured. We must groan and be silent. Let us for ever draw a veil over sights so terrible. I lift my eyes and look to the horizon. I see fire and flame, the fields laid waste, the towns put to sack. Monsters! where are you dragging the hapless wretches? I hear a hideous noise. What a tumult and what cries! I draw near; before me lies a scene of murder, ten thousand slaughtered, the dead piled in heaps, the dying trampled under foot by horses, on every side the image of death and the throes of death. And that is the fruit of your peaceful institutions! Indignation and pity rise from the very bottom of my heart. Yes, heartless philosopher! come and read us your book on a field of battle!

Though it may be the peculiar happiness of Socrates and other geniuses of his stamp, to reason themselves into virtue, the human species would long ago have ceased to exist, had it depended entirely for its preservation on the reasonings of the individuals that compose it.

Girls should learn that so much finery is only put on to hide defects, and that the triumph of beauty is to shine by itself.

What do these statues signify, these paintings, these buildings? You mad people, what have you done? You, masters of nations, have you turned yourself into the slaves of the frivolous men you conquered? Are you now governed by rhetoricians? Was it to enrich architects, painters, sculptors, and comic actors that you soaked Greece and Asia with your blood? Are the spoils of Carthage trophies for a flute player? Romans, hurry up and tear down these amphitheatres, break up these marbles, burn these paintings, chase out these slaves who are subjugating you, whose fatal arts are corrupting you. … What then did Cineas see that was so majestic? O citizens! He saw a spectacle which your riches or your arts could never produce, the most beautiful sight which has ever appeared under heaven, an assembly of two hundred virtuous men, worthy of commanding in Rome and governing the earth.

In order not to find me in contradiction with myself, I should be allowed enough time to explain myself.

Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong.

Whoever blushes is already guilty; true innocence is ashamed of nothing.

Religious persecutors are not believers, they are rascals.

Take from the philosopher the pleasure of being heard and his desire for knowledge ceases.

To endure is the first thing that a child ought to learn, and that which he will have the most need to know.

No true believer could be intolerant or a persecutor. If I were a magistrate and the law carried the death penalty against atheists, I would begin by sending to the stake whoever denounced another.

I undertake the same project as Montaigne, but with an aim contrary to his own: for he wrote his Essays only for others, and I write my reveries only for myself.


One of the most difficult things to communicate to an adult, Rousseau tells us, is how to educate a child; Let him know nothing because you have told him, but because he has learnt it for himself. These days I encounter people who can tell me exactly some book learning about some obscure topics, and can defend what they know quite well, but it is a repeating of someone else’s knowledge. Second-hand knowledge is second-rate at best. The best knowledge is that which is personally discovered from testable interaction with their world. Then they can explain why and how things work as they do.

Rousseau shocked me with this statement: If once he thinks there are grown-up people with no more sense than children the authority of age is destroyed and his education is ruined. This is a personal story of one of my ruined life experiences. In the second grade my teacher was giving a spelling bee and going around the circle of my friends giving them challenging words, when she came to me, knowing my poor ability to spell, and gave me cat. All my friends laughed. I felt and looked chagrined, so she repeated it slowly “c – aa – t.” So I, feeling insulted, intentionally spelled it wrong, something absurd like, “K – au – ght.” All the kids were laughing hysterically and the bell rang dismissing class. The total lack of awareness that I had made a joke of the event challenged my belief in adults forever more. I have done similar stupid little games quite often ever since, which makes me even more aware of people who actually know what they are talking about as opposed to memorized conventions.

Teachers are not intending to chain their pupils’ minds, but that is the effect of modern education – to create good citizens, and by that they mean obedient people. To learn an understanding of society’s processes isn’t being even considered. When listening to the Pope’s Christmas Mass sermon the undertone is always to be good people, and by that he means obedient. Man is born free but today everywhere he is in chains. That is even more true today, and the chains are visible chain-link fences around schools. It supposedly to protect the kids, but the real effect is to contain them.

Rousseau’s line To do is to be is the essence of life, and to do something new and different and useful is the greatest challenge which everyone should be striving toward. But, that effort is driven out from the beginning to the end; it is given lip-service but when observed it is punished. Today that authoritative behavior may be seen in the form of “Transparency in Government,” but when the government is looked at too closely the looker is plagued with problems.

A man like Rousseau would probably have even more problems with the authorities today than he did in 18th-century France.