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Rousseau, Jean-Jacques (1712–1778)

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's legal and moral thought profoundly influenced leaders of the French Revolution. His account of consent as the basis of obligation inspired Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and, more recently, John Rawls (1921–2002), both of whom acknowledged his decisive importance.

Rousseau, born in Geneva, ran away from his apprenticeship to an engraver when he was fifteen. For the next quarter century, he wandered through Europe without any settled occupation. In 1750, having settled in Paris, he wrote Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, which brought him immediate fame. Over the next dozen years, he wrote numerous works, including an immensely popular opera and the best-selling novel of the century, Julie (1761). When Émile, or on Education was published in 1762, authorities issued a warrant for his ...

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