Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Swiss-born French Philosopher, Novelist, Political Theorist

"A feeble body weakens the mind."

"An honest man nearly always thinks justly."

"Conscience is the voice of the soul."

"Do to others as you would have them do unto you, inspires all men with that other maxim of natural goodness, much less perfect indeed, but perhaps more useful: Do good to yourself with as little evil as possible to others."

"Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to save it."

"Education comes to us from nature, from men, or from things. The inner growth of our organs and faculties is the education of nature, the use we learn to make of this growth is the education of men, what we gain by our experience of our surroundings is the education of things. Thus we are each taught by three masters. If their teaching conflicts, the scholar is ill-educated and will never be at peace with himself; if their teaching agrees, he goes straight to his goal, he lives at peace with himself, he is well-educated."

"He who is most slow in making a promise is the most faithful in its performance."

"I am too fond of myself to hate anyone. It would constrict... my life, which I prefer to expand over the whole universe."

"Had I no other proof of the immortality of the soul than the oppression of the just and the triumph of the wicked in this world, this alone would prevent my having the least doubt of it. So shocking a discord amidst a general harmony of things would make me naturally look for a cause; I should say to myself we do not cease to exist with this life; everything reassumes its order after life."

"Gratitude is a duty which ought to be paid, but which none have a right to expect."

"It is only when we haggle with conscience that we have recourse to the subtleties of argument."

"Never exceed your rights, and they will soon become unlimited."

"Nothing is less in our power than the heart, and far from commanding we are forced to obey it."

"Old men grasp more at life than babies, and leave it with much worse grace than young people. It is because all their labours have been for this life, they perceive at last their trouble lost."

"Our first duties are to ourselves; our first feelings are centered on self; all our instincts are at first directed to our own preservation and our own welfare. Thus the first notion of justice springs not from what we owe to others, but from what is due to us."

"Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."

"Temperance and labor are the two best physicians; the one sharpens the appetite - the other prevents indulgence to excess."

"It is then certain that compassion is a natural feeling, which, by moderating the violence of love of self in each individual, contributes to the preservation of the whole species."

"Luxury, which cannot be prevented among men who are tenacious of their own convenience and of the respect paid them by others, soon completes the evil society had begun, and, under the pretense of giving bread to the poor, whom it should never have made such, impoverishes all the rest, and sooner or later depopulates the State."

"Luxury is a remedy much worse than the disease it sets up to cure; or rather it is in itself the greatness of all evils; for every State, great or small: for, in order to maintain all the servants and vagabonds it creates, it brings oppression and ruin on the citizen and the laborer; it is like those scorching winds, which, covering the trees and plants with their devouring insects, deprive useful animals of their subsistence and spread famine and death wherever they blow."

"Liberty is not to be found in any form of government, she is in the heart of the free man, he bears her with him everywhere."

"The fundamental principle of all morals, on the basis of which I have reasoned in all my writings... is that man is naturally good, loving justice and order; that there is absolutely no original perversity in the human heart, and that the first movements of nature are always right."

"The hatred of the wicked is only roused the more from the impossibility of finding any just grounds on which it rest; and the very consciousness of their own injustice is only a grievance the more against him who is the object of it."

"The less reasonable a cult is, the more men seek to establish it by force."

"The man who has lived the longest is not he who has spent the greatest number of years, but he who has had the greatest sensibility of life."

"The mind grows narrow in proportion as the soul grows corrupt."

"The savage lives within himself, while social man lives constantly outside himself, and only knows how to live in the opinion of others, so that he seems to receive the consciousness of his own existence merely from the judgment of others concerning him."

"The vain man hates his like, the exceptional man seeks out his."

"To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man, to surrender the rights of humanity and even its duties. For him who renounces everything no indemnity is possible. Such a renunciation is incompatible with man’s nature; to remove all liberty from his will is to remove all morality from his acts."

"To serve God is not to pass our lives on our knees in prayer; it is to discharge on earth those obligations which our duty requires."

"When fate is adverse, a wise man can always strive for happiness and sail against the wind to attain it."

"Whoever blushes is already guilty; true innocence is ashamed of nothing."

"Whoever refuses to obey the general will [of the people] shall be constrained to do so by the whole society; this means nothing else than that he shall be forced to be free."

"Yet it may be asked how a man can be at once free and forced to conform to wills which are not his own. How can the opposing minority be both free and subject to laws to which they have not consented? I answer that the question is badly formulated. The citizen consents to all the laws, even to those that are passed against his will, and even to those which punish him when he dares to break any one of them. The constant will of all the members of the state is the general will; it is through it that they are citizens and are free."

"When a law is proposed in the people’s assembly, what is asked of them is not precisely whether they approve of the proposition or reject it, but whether it is in conforming with the general will which is theirs; each by giving his vote gives his opinion on this question, and the counting of votes yields a declaration of the general will. When, therefore, the opinion contrary to my own prevails, this proves only that I have made a mistake, and that what I believed to be the general will was not so. If my particular opinion had prevailed against the general will, I should have done something other than what I had willed, and then I should not have been free. This presupposes, it is true, that all characteristics of the general will are still to be found in the majority; when these cease to be there, no matter what position men adopt, there is no longer any freedom."

"Astronomy was born of superstition; eloquence of ambition, hatred, falsehood, and flattery; geometry of avarice; physics of an idle curiosity; and even moral philosophy of human pride. Thus the arts and sciences owe their birth to our vices."

"Abstract truth is the eye of reason."

"Anticipation and hope are born twins."

"Everything made by man may be destroyed by man. There are no ineffaceable characters except those engraved by nature; and she makes neither princes, nor rich men, nor lords."

"Force made the first slaves, and their cowardice perpetuated the condition."

"Hold childhood in reverence and do not be in any hurry to judge it for good or ill. Give nature time to work before you take over her tasks, lest you interfere with her method."

"In a well-ordered city every man flies to the assemblies: under a bad government no one cares to stir a step to get to them, because no one is interested in what happens there, because it is foreseen that the general will not prevail, and lastly because domestic cares are all-absorbing. Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad ones bring about worse."

"Coercion created slavery, the cowardice of the slaves perpetuated it."

"Christianity preaches only servitude and dependence. Its spirit is so favorable to tyranny that it always profits by such a regime. True Christians are made to be slaves, and they know it and do not much mind: this short life counts for too little in their eyes."

"Every political society is composed of other smaller societies of different kinds, each of which has its interests and its rules of conduct: but those societies which everybody perceives, because they have an external and authorized form, are not the only ones that actually exist in the State... Unhappily personal interest is always found in inverse ratio to duty, and increases in proportion as the association grows narrower, and the engagement less sacred; which irrefragably proves that the most general will always the most just also, and that the voice of the people is in fact the voice of God."

"Conscience is the voice of the soul, the passions are the voice of the body. Is it astonishing that often these two languages contradict each other, and then to which must we listen? Too often reason deceives us; we have only to listen too much acquired the right of refusing to listen to it; but conscience never deceives us; it is the true guide of man; it is to man what instinct is to the body, which follows it, obeys nature, and never is afraid of going astray."

"It is a great mistake of many ardent students that they trust too much to their books, and do not draw from their own resources - forgetting that of all sophists our own reason is that which abuses us least."

"It is not just when a villainous act has been committed that it torments us; it is when we think of it afterward, for the remembrance of it last forever."

"Law being purely the declaration of the general will, it is clear that, in the exercise of the legislative power, the people cannot be represented; but in that of the executive power, which is only the force that is applied to giver the law effect, it both can and should be represented."

"Insatiable ambition, the thirst of raising their respective fortunes, not so much from real want as from the desire to surpass others, inspired all men with a vile propensity to injure one another, and with a secret jealousy, which is the more dangerous, as it puts on the mask of benevolence, to carry its point with greater security. In a word, there arose rivalry and competition on the one hand, and conflicting interests on the other, together with a secret desire on both of profiting at the expense of others. All these evils were the first effects of property, and the inseparable attendants of growing inequality."