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Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Adam Smith

BRLSI 8th July 2015
Dr Chris Brooke, Historian, Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), University of Cambridge
Notes by William Gaskell

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712 and moved soon to Paris after his mother died when he was very young and was then educated with books. Eventually he was a secretary to the Ambassador of France in Venice in 1743-1744.
He was famously friends with the French philosopher Diderot. He then wrote and published a famous essay that became popular and started many further conversations by correspondence with people writing to him to respond to his essay and him then spending much of his time responding to those letters.
His idea stated in The Social Contract that values were the causes of people becoming very bad deriving from the Biblical theology of the Original Sin. After publishing this essay he was then forced in to exile in 1762 in England.

Adam Smith

Adam Smith was born in 1723 in Kircaldy, Scotland. He died in 1790 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
He wrote the seminal piece The Wealth of Nations in 1776 after a European tour as a tutor of an aristocrat.
Whilst in Paris he spoke to some “physiocrats”, philosophers who were the leading economic thinkers of the day.

Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733)

He came to England with William of Orange when William took the English throne as husband of Queen Mary.
Argued if people became too honest economy and society will collapse.
·         Economic theory: We Need Vice!

“The Selfish Hypothesis”

Smith and Rousseau argued that humans are more complicated than pure selfishness. Being human involves keeping up appearances so appearances are important in gaining benefits from economic endeavours.

Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755)

Thought that monarchy and aristocracy are reliant on each other – I think perhaps because of the Palace of Versailles culture in the Kingdom of France at the time.
He wrote the subtitle of the Social Contract in Emile where he neglects to talk about principles of political right which is what Rousseau talks about in that essay.

Smith and Rousseau never actually met but we think that there works are both still relevant today because of the stereotypes outlined in their theories.


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