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Understanding Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Rousseau The Social Contract Summary

There are only a few books that have made a significant change in political society. There are even fewer books that inspired a revolution. But in 1789, 11 years after his death, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract did just that. The Social Contract became the Bible of the French Revolution. From Rousseau’s opening words “Man is born free but is everywhere in chains” to his call for a government “by the people,” he risked his life and reputation by challenging the existing political order to return to the terms of the social contract and restore civil liberty.

What is Rousseau’s social contract?  Understanding Jean-Jacques Rousseau by Professor Laurence Houlgate is a study guide or companion for "smart" philosophy and political science students who want to get a better understanding of Rousseau's The Social Contract than they can get from study guides that provide only outlines and flashcards. This book assumes that students want to learn how to think critically about the ideas and theories presented by Rousseau. It does this by breaking down each chapter into segments with running commentaries by the author. The commentaries clarify Rousseau's most difficult passages while giving students lessons in critical thinking and philosophical method.

Each chapter segment is followed by questions for thought and discussion. These questions not only help students prepare for examinations but also provide topics for term papers.

Part I of the book has a preface and a short biography of Rousseau. Part II is the main part of the book, providing a step-by-step interpretation and commentary for each chapter in the Social Contract. Part III compares and contrasts Rousseau's ideas and theories with those of Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan) and John Locke (Second Treatise of Government).

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