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Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). Social Contract & Discourses. 1913.

A Discourse Which Won the Prize at the Academy of Dijon in 1750, on This Question Proposed by the Academy: Has the Restoration of the Arts and Sciences Had a Purifying Effect Upon Morals?


  • Barbarus hic ego sum, qui non intelligor illis.—OVID.

  • THE FOLLOWING pages contain a discussion of one of the most sublime and interesting of all moral questions. It is not concerned, however, with those metaphysical subtleties, which of late have found their way into every department of literature, and from which even our academic curricula are not always free. We have now to do with one of those truths on which the happiness of mankind depends.

    I foresee that I shall not readily be forgiven for having taken up the position I have adopted. Setting myself up against all that is nowadays most admired, I can expect no less than a universal outcry against me: nor is the approbation of a few sensible men enough to make me count on that of the public. But I have taken my stand, and I shall be at no pains to please either intellectuals or men of the world. There are in all ages men born to be in bondage to the opinions of the society in which they live. There are not a few, who to-day play the free-thinker and the philosopher, who would, if they had lived in the time of the League, have been no more than fanatics. No author, who has a mind to outlive his own age, should write for such readers.

    A word more and I have done. As I did not expect the honour conferred on me, I had, since sending in my Discourse, so altered and enlarged it as almost to make it a new work; but in the circumstances I have felt bound to publish it just as it was when it received the prize. I have only added a few notes, and left two alterations which are easily recognisable, of which the Academy possibly might not have approved. The respect, gratitude and even justice I owe to that body seemed to me to demand this acknowledgment.