Rousseau: 'Man Was Born Free but Is Everwhere in Chains'.Explain

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Unit 2 Study Skills – Essay Writing.

“Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains” Explain what Rousseau means by this with reference to Rousseau’s accounts of freedom in the state of nature and in a civil society.

Alexandra Strachan

Word Count: 1260

Jean Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712, although his works were written in French and he was deemed a French freethinker and philosopher heavily intellectually tied to the French Revolution. In 1762 he wrote ‘The Social Contract’ a ‘thought experiment’ concerning political philosophy. It opens with one of his most famous quotes: “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains” (Rousseau, 1968, p.49); this short essay is an attempt to interpret this epigram paying particular attention to Rousseau’s different accounts of freedom concerning mankind. It is important to understand how Rousseau saw man in his primitive form, and his concern towards societies becoming riddled with inequality due to exploitation and the formations of social classes, based on culture, wealth and possession. ‘The Social Contract’ was Rousseau’s outline of civil society that truly expressed the general will beneficial to all, returning man to equality and freedom. Rousseau defined man in a ‘state of nature’ as a “noble savage” (Rousseau, cited in Germino, 1972, p.188). He lived a solitary life concentrated on self-preservation. He was innately good, free and independent. General thought on right or wrong were believed, by Rousseau, to be constructed by society. Therefore man in a state of nature was free to ensure his natural liberty governed by his instincts, emotions and compassion, living in a natural state free from the societal constraints of language, reason or the need for power and possessions, above what was needed for self-preservation. He was his own master and it was only though convention that society was formed, not for man’s social needs. These original convention-based societies would be small...
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