Comparison of Rousseau & Thoreau

Table comparing Rousseau and Thoreau on biographical details and their views on the state of nature and civil disobedience.

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  • Created on: 17-10-10 13:41
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Rousseau Notes Thoreau Notes Comparison
1817-62 Near the time of the 1712-1778 Build-up to the Similar: Both lived in
French Revolution American Civil times of political change
(1789-99) War (1861-5) and unrest.
Genevan Born in Geneva, died in American Born & died in Different: Different
France. Lived much of Concord, nationalities. Rousseau
his life in Paris. Massachusetts. spent much time in cities,
Lived in the Thoreau withdrew from
woods for 2 years. society.
Mother died shortly after his birth. Raised by uncle & aunt. Son of a pencil maker. Older brother & sister, Different: Thoreau lead a
Left Geneva at 16. Married in 1768. one younger sister. Never married. much more settled life
than Rousseau, though
Rousseau married and
Thoreau never did.
Little educated, varied Talented musician Studied at Harvard: Spent most of his Different: Rousseau's
employment: servant, secretary, rhetoric, classics, adult life working education and employment
tutor, seminary. In his 20s, studied philosophy, mathematics, in his father's was sporadic and varied,
philosophy, mathematics, and and science. pencil factory. Thoreau's was traditional
music. and settled.
Political philosophy
· Sovereignty resides in all Did not write · Anti-slavery · Jailed for one Different: Rousseau had an
members of society as a specifically on the · Supported principled night in 1846 for idea of an ideal
collective. It is expressed through subject of civil revolt and non-violent not paying poll government and focused
the general will. disobedience. resistance tax due to his on how this could be
· The government's function is to General will: 2 · Supported opposition to brought about so that there
enforce the sovereign will of the definitions: conscientious objection to Mexican- would be no need for any

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· What the citizens of unjust laws, which should American war civil disobedience or
dominate the general will the state have decided be immediately and slavery. protest. He believed that
together transgressed · Involved in the people have power but this
· Transcendent · Allowing unjust abolitionist should be woven into the
incarnation of the practices is tantamount to movement: societal structure rather
citizens' common collaborating with evil participated in than exercised
interest, separate from · 'There will never be a the Underground individually.…read more


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