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Rousseau

Rousseau research papers show that Rousseau, like any writer, is contextualized in his time. Therefore, it would not be entirely appropriate to apply modern psychological interpretations to Rousseau’s depiction of human nature. It does little good to judge him in terms of modern advances, for example, by women in the twentieth century.  He was a man of his time and he wrote from where he stood in that time.  RousseauG.D.H. Cole, translator of Rousseau’s The Social Contract and Discourses appeals to his readers to keep two things in mind. First, Rousseau wrote in the eighteenth century, and mostly in France.  The French monarchy did not appreciate outspoken criticism, and Rousseau had to be very careful in what he said.

Secondly, Rousseau’s theories are to be studied in a wider historical environment. Cole maintains that critics, had they studied him in an historical spirit, would have seen that Rousseau’s importance lies in the new use he makes of old ideas, in the transition he makes from old to new in the general conception of politics.

The first half of the Discourse on Inequality is taken up with an imaginary description of the state of nature, in which man is shown with ideas limited within the narrowest range, with little need of other human beings, and little care beyond provision for the necessities of the moment. Rousseau did not believe that this particular state of nature as he described ever existed; rather it is a concept that will help him develop his arguments. By contrasting natural man with civilized man, Rousseau intended to take a stand not for either side, but for the space in between the two, where people could have the comforts and some of the safety of the civilized world and still experience the simplicity and the goodness of nature. Granted that the extremes are just that, finding a place in the middle is not necessarily the optimal space.

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