Twenty Quotes by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (With References)

Lennox Johnson Quotes Leave a Comment

This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These quotes are all genuine and details about the book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable. Without further ado, here are twenty philosophical quotes by Rousseau:


Whatever propensity one may have for vice, it is not easy for an education, with which love has mingled, to be entirely thrown away.

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Dedication, trans. G. D. H. Cole


All ran headlong to their chains, in hopes of securing their liberty; for they had just wit enough to perceive the advantages of political institutions, without experience enough to enable them to foresee the dangers. . . . Such was, or may well have been, the origin of society and law, which bound new fetters on the poor, and gave new powers to the rich; which irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, eternally fixed the law of property and inequality, converted clever usurpation into unalterable right, and, for the advantage of a few ambitious individuals, subjected all mankind to perpetual labour, slavery and wretchedness.

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, I, trans. G. D. H. Cole


Whatever moralists may hold, the human understanding is greatly indebted to the passions, which, it is universally allowed, are also much indebted to the understanding. It is by the activity of the passions that our reason is improved; for we desire knowledge only because we wish to enjoy; and it is impossible to conceive any reason why a person who has neither fears nor desires should give himself the trouble of reasoning.

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, I, trans. G. D. H. Cole


Give civilised man time to gather all his machines about him, and he will no doubt easily beat the savage; but if you would see a still more unequal contest, set them together naked and unarmed, and you will soon see the advantage of having all our forces constantly at our disposal, of being always prepared for every event, and of carrying one’s self, as it were, perpetually whole and entire about one.

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, I, trans. G. D. H. Cole


Each one began to consider the rest, and to wish to be considered in turn; and thus a value came to be attached to public esteem. Whoever sang or danced best, whoever was the handsomest, the strongest, the most dexterous, or the most eloquent, came to be of most consideration; and this was the first step towards inequality, and at the same time towards vice. From these first distinctions arose on the one side vanity and contempt and on the other shame and envy.

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, II, trans. G. D. H. Cole


The savage lives within himself, while social man lives constantly outside himself, and only knows how to live in the opinion of others, so that he seems to receive the consciousness of his own existence merely from the judgment of others concerning him.

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, II, trans. G. D. H. Cole


The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought to himself of saying “This is mine”, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders; how much misery and horror the human race would have been spared if someone had pulled up the stakes and filled the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: ‘Beware of listening to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to everyone and that the earth itself belongs to no one!’

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, II, trans. G. D. H. Cole


Social man lives constantly outside himself, and only knows how to live in the opinion of others, so that he seems to receive the consciousness of his own existence merely from the judgment of others concerning him . . . everything being reduced to appearances, there is but art and mummery in even honour, friendship, virtue, and often vice itself, of which we at length learn the secret of boasting; . . . in short, how, always asking others what we are, and never daring to ask ourselves, . . . we have nothing to show for ourselves but a frivolous and deceitful appearance, honour without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, II, trans. G. D. H. Cole


I conceive that there are two kinds of inequality among the human species; one, which I call natural or physical, because it is established by nature, and consists in a difference of age, health, bodily strength, and the qualities of the mind or of the soul: and another, which may be called moral or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of convention, and is established, or at least authorised by the consent of men. This latter consists of the different privileges, which some men enjoy to the prejudice of others; such as that of being more rich, more honoured, more powerful or even in a position to exact obedience.

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Intro., trans. G. D. H. Cole


The new-born infant cries, his early days are spent in crying. He is alternately petted and shaken by way of soothing him; sometimes he is threatened, sometimes beaten, to keep him quiet. We do what he wants or we make him do what we want, we submit to his whims or subject him to our own. There is no middle course; he must rule or obey.

Emile, I, trans. Barbara Foxley


All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education.

Emile, I, trans. Barbara Foxley


It is very strange that ever since people began to think about education they should have hit upon no other way of guiding children than emulation, jealousy, envy, vanity, greediness, base cowardice, all the most dangerous passions, passions ever ready to ferment, ever prepared to corrupt the soul even before the body is full-grown. With every piece of precocious instruction which you try to force into their minds you plant a vice in the depths of their hearts; foolish teachers think they are doing wonders when they are making their scholars wicked in order to teach them what goodness is, and then they tell us seriously, “Such is man.” Yes, such is man, as you have made him.

Emile, II, trans. Barbara Foxley


Oh, man! live your own life and you will no longer be wretched. Keep to your appointed place in the order of nature and nothing can tear you from it. Do not kick against the stern law of necessity. . . . Your freedom and your power extend as far and no further than your natural strength; anything more is but slavery, deceit, and trickery.

Emile, II, trans. Barbara Foxley


Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they.

The Social Contract, I, 2, trans. G. D. H. Cole


Since no man has a natural authority over his fellow, and force creates no right, we must conclude that conventions form the basis of all legitimate authority among men.

The Social Contract, I, 4, trans. G. D. H. Cole


To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man’s nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts.

The Social Contract, I, 4, trans. G. D. H. Cole


The passage from the state of nature to the civil state produces a very remarkable change in man, by substituting justice for instinct in his conduct, and giving his actions the morality they had formerly lacked. Then only, when the voice of duty takes the place of physical impulses and right of appetite, does man, who so far had considered only himself, find that he is forced to act on different principles, and to consult his reason before listening to his inclinations. Although, in this state, he deprives himself of some advantages which he got from nature, he gains in return others so great, his faculties are so stimulated and developed, his ideas so extended, his feelings so ennobled, and his whole soul so uplifted, that, did not the abuses of this new condition often degrade him below that which he left, he would be bound to bless continually the happy moment which took him from it for ever, and, instead of a stupid and unimaginative animal, made him an intelligent being and a man.

The Social Contract, I, 8, trans. G. D. H. Cole


If we take the term in the strict sense, there never has been a real democracy, and there never will be. It is against the natural order for the many to govern and the few to be governed.

The Social Contract, III, 4, trans. G. D. H. Cole


Were there a people of gods, their government would be democratic. So perfect a government is not for men.

The Social Contract, III, 4, trans. G. D. H. Cole


There is but one law which, from its nature, needs unanimous consent. This is the social compact; for civil association is the most voluntary of all acts. Every man being born free and his own master, no one, under any pretext whatsoever, can make any man subject without his consent. To decide that the son of a slave is born a slave is to decide that he is not born a man. If then there are opponents when the social compact is made, their opposition does not invalidate the contract, but merely prevents them from being included in it. They are foreigners among citizens. When the State is instituted, residence constitutes consent; to dwell within its territory is to submit to the Sovereign.

The Social Contract, IV, 2, trans. G. D. H. Cole


If you’d like to get more philosophy in your life, follow us on Facebook or Twitter or enter your email below to get a quote/passage from a classic work of philosophy delivered to your inbox each day. They include key passages from Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, and many more. Each passage is paired with a link to a beginner friendly article, video, or podcast, so you can easily learn more about that day’s idea. The goal is to make it easier for everyone to get a little bit more philosophy into their life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *