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  • Writer's pictureJean-Jacques Rousseau

First Discourse on Arts and Science

Title Details:

Author: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Place of Publication: Paris

Date Published: 1750

Number of Editions: 46


Discourse on the Arts and Sciences - Jean Jacques Rousseau
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Title Description

"Discourse on the Arts and Sciences," also known as "First Discourse," was a significant philosophical work that writer and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau submitted to the Academy of Dijon in 1750. In this discourse, Rousseau explores the effects of arts and sciences on human morality, virtue, and happiness in unconventional ways.


Going against conventional Enlightenment theory, Rousseau argues that the development of the arts and sciences leads to a decline in human morality and freedom, thus not making it civilizing. He argues that civilization, with its focus on material accumulation, corrupts human nature. He suggests that these pursuits create artificial needs, inequality, and social divisions, ultimately leading to moral decay and the loss of human authenticity. Throughout the work, he calls back to several societies to prove this point and points to the most simplistic ones to model.

Rousseau contrasts the simplicity and virtue of primitive societies such as the Spartans, with the corrupting influence of civilization like that of the Romans. He argues that in a natural state, humans are inherently good and guided by their natural instincts. However, the focus on material accumulation and the pursuit of knowledge separates individuals from their natural state, fostering competition, envy, and moral decay. Overall, Rousseau argues that true happiness lies in returning to a simpler way of life and being closer to nature.

The "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences" was Rousseau's first major work and gained him significant recognition in Paris and abroad. It established him as a prominent writer to be engaged with and set the stage for his later influential works, such as "The Social Contract" and Emile.


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