Jean-Jacques Rousseau – An evaluation on Confessions

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau - An evaluation on Confessions

Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it

Jean-Jacques Rousseau - An evaluation on Confessions

Rousseau wrote “Confessions” in order to eliminate the bad impressions and thoughts that others had formed about him, the negative emotions that had formed in their minds. He calls on the reader to be judge and witness; he tries to justify his rebellion by insisting on walking the path he knows is right for him.

“Do not rush to judge me, dear reader! Read first, then judge!”

Rousseau was born in Genoa in 1712. His mother passed away a few days after his birth. He grew up without a mother and his father abandoned him when he was ten years old. He was taken care of by a woman close to his father. After his formal education ended at the age of twelve, he worked as an apprentice to a carver for five years, but after a while he ran away and left Genoa. In 1731, he arrived in France and, with the help of Baroness Warens, stayed at her residence in Charmettes, where he tried to fill the gaps in his education. His relations with Madame Warens had a positive impact on his development.

Rousseau was a writer, thinker, philosopher, political and musical theorist. He is the most important romantic thinker of the Enlightenment thought who authored important works in the history of humanity from Discourse on the Sciences and Arts to Emile, from The Origin of Inequality Among Men to Confessions. In 1749, he also wrote the “Music” section of the Encyclopedia. Rousseau’s greatest work, in my opinion, is “The Social Contract”, which is still taught in the philosophy departments of universities today. “Men are born free, but everywhere they are in chains. So and so thinks he is the master of others, but this does not prevent him from being a slave more than others.”

Rousseau, the extraordinary voice of the French Enlightenment, displays an anti-Enlightenment attitude with these views, which emphasize emotions rather than reason, which argue that human beings, who are free and good in nature, are enslaved, “shackled” and morally degenerated under the influence of sciences and arts, and at this point he differs from his contemporaries. Rousseau, who wanted to get to the bottom of the sources of this relationship that caused human nature to lose its innocence, stated that the problem of politics and governance was at the root of this problem before private property, and that “All evils, in the last analysis, are not due to our nature, but rather to the fact that we are badly governed”.

Rousseau’s aim was to “take men as they are, and laws as they can be, and to investigate whether a reliable and just rule of government can be found in the social order.” He ascribes to individuals a legal equality before the law, eliminating the material inequality arising from their nature and providing them with the opportunity to secure their inherent rights. With this contract, Rousseau tried to lay the foundations of a just and right society. With his ideas of equality and freedom,

Rousseau is one of the most important thinkers of the Enlightenment period. In fact, he was a thinker beyond his time who emphasized emotion as opposed to the attitude of his time that emphasized reason. In the social example he proposed, he argued that human beings are free in the state of nature, and that only with the social contract, human beings will be equal and free as in the state of nature. However, he stated that this virtue is lost when people are included in society and the most important reason for this is the sense of competition in human beings, the behavior aimed at comparing themselves with others, and that the source of these attitudes is the inequality caused by private property.

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Rousseau had a deep respect for Bacon, Descartes and Newton in order to carry science and philosophy forward in a language that the public could understand, and he recognized these thinkers as the great teachers of humanity.

He died in 1978 in France. His work “Confessions” was published posthumously in 1782.

At the beginning of his Confessions, he exhibited behaviors that often contradicted the “good, generous, noble” qualities he used for himself. Speaking of enlightened thoughts and the necessity for people to improve themselves, Rousseau loves Thérèse, a servant, an uneducated woman, but does not marry her, and they live together for many years. Abandoning the five children of their union to an orphanage is perhaps the most extreme behavior of this incompatibility.

Abandoned by his father, Rousseau also abandoned his own children. He explains why he did this action as follows: “It seemed horrible to me to leave them at the mercy of an uneducated family who could not even raise them as well as they themselves had been raised. Let those who know the vices of the wicked brothers of Thérèse, the woman I loved, decide whether I was right not to leave my children to receive the kind of upbringing she received.” He said that there was no harm in giving them to a home, that it was the best way for them and that he even wanted to be raised and cared for like them. Although his well-off friends wanted to take the children, he opposed them.

His reasoning was that if he gave them to them, when they grew up, they would see their parents as enemies and hold a grudge. He thought that it was better than everything that they would never know their parents. Rousseau even goes a little further and says, “I have never been a heartless man or an unfeeling father”. I leave the interpretation to you here!

By the way, I would like to briefly mention Rousseau’s Emile (A Boy Growing Up), in which he mainly deals with the subject of education. The novel is based on the idea of how a boy named Emile, whom the author imaginatively created, should be raised and educated from his infancy to adulthood. As for the role of parents in the education of the child, here Rousseau completely emphasizes the woman and holds her responsible. “It is the woman who envelops and surrounds the child as a mother and the husband as a wife,” he says.

Rousseau, who believes that a happy child should grow up in a happy family environment, says the following sentence: “Marriage with someone with whom you will be happy is the only protection against bad morals.” He advocates that parents should set a good example for children and holds them primarily responsible for their becoming good or bad individuals: “The existence of an undisciplined, poorly raised child is the result of the indifference/incompetence of adults rather than the child.”

Isn’t it absurd that Rousseau left his children in an orphanage and then wrote a book on how to educate children?

Rousseau refused to be subjugated throughout his life. He reacts against everything that limits his freedom. When that area of his is touched, he leaves it. This is the reason why he cannot hold on anywhere and why he is a wanderer. Nothing is as important to him as freedom. He wants to be himself, to be free in his life, in his feelings, in his thoughts. When he decides to speak out in defense of an idea he finds justified, no concern for wealth, position or security can ever silence him. Perhaps the unique aspect of Rousseau’s philosophy is the definition of the human being not as an intelligent being, as has been accepted since Aristotle, but as a free and capable being. According to Rousseau, the distinguishing feature of man is not his intelligence but his freedom.

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Rousseau, who always believed that freedom for man was not so much doing what he wanted as not doing what he did not want, was one of the reasons why his contemporaries regarded him as the lowest of the low.

Rousseau refuses to accept the fate of his birth and hits the road. His only thought is to live free and happy. He decides his own fate, even at the cost of excluding himself from society. “Determined to spend the little time I had left to live in independence and poverty, I used all the powers of my soul to break the chains of society and courageously do whatever seemed good to me, paying no heed to the judgment of men,” he says.

Rousseau leaves his home and everything behind and settles in a quiet village where no one knows him. There he hides his identity and lives away from society. He does not take his books and pens out of the trunks and does not want to write or read, he just wants to be alone with nature. He even borrows a pen to reply to letters he receives, and returns them immediately after writing. Instead of filling his room with paper and books, he fills it with flowers and herbs. He devotes himself exclusively to nature and herbology. Taking walks in nature gives him incredible peace and happiness. He stays in this village for many years. He realizes that he is over sixty-five, that he is getting old, that his memory is not as strong as it used to be, but he doesn’t understand how time passes. As a result of these emotional journeys, a very emotional work emerges. This work is “Dreams of a Lonely Traveler”. Like the commander who was dismissed during the Vespasidnus period and spent his last days in the countryside, “I spent seventy years on earth; I lived seven of them,” Rousseau says sadly.

He stated that people thought it was too much for him to live on an island he did not even recognize, but no one could prevent him from being consoled by sweet dreams. “I am alone because I find solace, hope and silence only in myself, and I don’t want to deal with anyone but myself,” he says. He writes how much people hurt him and did not understand him, and that he suffered because of them. He lives in fear of being crushed under the burden of his sorrows. He wants to be invisible like God. “If I had the ring of Gyges,” he says, “I would be freed from bowing down to men. Knowing that all my wishes would come true, I would wish this: “To see everyone content… It is only the happiness of all men that will give me lasting contentment.” If human beings had such a ring of invisibility, would they really use this power for good like Rousseau? Or is it, as Plato says, that “people can commit crimes when they know they will not be seen or noticed”? “In that case,” Glaucon concludes, “no one can be so valiant as to adhere to righteousness and not take the property of others!

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Rousseau writes frankly in his Confessions: “When the trumpet of judgment sounds, I shall stand before the supreme judge with this book in my hand and exclaim: “Here is what I have done, here is what I have thought, and here is what I am: I have not concealed any evil that I have done, nor have I spoken of any good that I have not done. I have tried to appear as I am, and I have revealed with all my sincerity the times when I was wretched and miserable, and the times when I was noble and benevolent. I have revealed myself as you know me to be, O eternal Being! Gather your servants around me so that they may listen to my confessions. Gather them together so that they may groan at my sorrows and be ashamed of their ugliness. And let them come one by one to your throne and confess with the same sincerity and honesty in their hearts. Then let one of them say, if he dares, ‘I was better than this man’.”

Rousseau’s response to those who criticize and judge him is as follows: “I am what I am, no matter how people want to see me.”

Rousseau stated that in writing the “Confessions” he had touched all of life, and that, as a man who was tired of the pleasures he had tried the emptiness of, he wrote this book without any documents, relying only on his own memory, sometimes adding a charm to the truth that was not his own; but he did not substitute a lie for the truth in order to cover up his faults or to appear virtuous.

This rebellious, sentimental man regretted that in his old age he had not been able to enjoy all the pleasures his heart longed to taste: “Fate owes me something that it has not given me before. If the consciousness of my intrinsic value is to remain forever dysfunctional, what is the use of having brought me into the world with fine senses and unique talents. By making me conscious of this injustice, it is as if repayment is pouring down my cheeks.”

According to Rousseau, “To exist is to do penance.” Although he is never condemned, he is never acquitted and this continues until he breathes his last. In order not to be exposed to people’s malicious thoughts, he distances himself from them and always runs away. Stubbornly denying that he is not the sum total of what others say and think about him, he is forced to collect and always unify himself. It is always a laborious task for him to put together the scattered fragments of his being. He tries to defend his existence forever. Even though he escapes from people and takes refuge in nature, this time he is disturbed by his memories. He cannot meet with himself, he cannot close the wounds of his heart. With a deep sigh, he says, “This world is not for the good”.

Hayati Esen

In 2005, he published his first book "Why Sufism". Then in 2012, he published essays on theology, politics and art in various magazines and newspapers. In 2014, he founded the website fikrikadim. The website is published in Turkish and English. In 2023, he wrote a post-truth novel called "Pis Roman". He still publishes his articles on fikrikadim.

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