Mads Qvortrup
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The politics of the soul
The life and times of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
in The political philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

This chapter presents an overview of Rousseau's life and times. More than any other writer Rousseau's philosophy has been associated with his life. There is something to be said for this interpretation. Without an understanding of his life it is difficult to appreciate why he wrote the works he wrote, and what he sought to accomplish. Yet his biographers have often presented an incomplete account of his life, one based only on his own autobiographical writings. The chapter challenges this tendency by using Rousseau's letters and eyewitness accounts by comtempories as well as his autobiographical writings to paint a more nuanced picture of the Swiss philosopher. It also presents the range of Rousseau's genius, which included operas, plays, novels, as well as political, economic, botanical, and theological writings. Rousseau's work is related to the geniuses who were inspired by his writings, such as Goethe, Kant, and John F. Kennedy.

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