Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


An Honest Heart and a Knowing Head: A Study of the Moral, Political, and Educational Thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson Public Deposited

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  • The picture of democracy we get from both Thomas Jefferson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau is one that is characterized by potentiality or possibility: the development of democracy and the cultivation of virtuous, republican citizens are processes of perpetual becoming, or perpetual improvement and progress towards an ideal form of freedom. My primary objective is to demonstrate an affinity in principle between the moral, political, and educational thought of Thomas Jefferson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. While similarity is demonstrable, I do not claim that Jeffersonian republicanism and Rousseauian republicanism are merely ideological or theoretical carbon copies; each is, in fact, distinct in its own right and the two are, at times, seemingly disparate, if not incompatible. Nevertheless, I suggest that the core of the Jeffersonian vision of republican government--perhaps best defined nearly four decades after Jefferson's death by Abraham Lincoln as a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people"--sits comfortably alongside Rousseau's theory. In fact, we might say that Jefferson's theory is something of an indirect adaptation of Rousseau's overly romanticized vision of a pastoral sort of republicanism--a much more practical adaptation to the unique circumstances of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century America, no doubt, but an adaptation nonetheless. Jefferson and Rousseau each embrace a notion of transcendent moral and political right and each subscribes to a natural rights philosophy informed by that standard. However, scholars either reject the Rousseauian overtones in Jefferson's thought or fail to appreciate fully those facets of his thought that substantiate the heretofore unrecognized affinity between Rousseauian and Jeffersonian idealism. While there have been a few (misguided) attempts to show that Jefferson was, historically, quite the Rousseauist, that is not my aim; rather, I wish to show that Jefferson's moral and political thought has more in common with Rousseau's at the level of principle than many scholars (and perhaps Jefferson himself) seem ready to recognize.
Date Issued
  • 2012
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Last Modified
  • 2019-11-16
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