Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778)

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”

~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau

In this fourth in my philosophy series, I look at a Cancerian philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Birth Chart

Traditionally, in a Cancerian chart, the mother’s influence is strong.  In the case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, his mother’s influence is conspicuous by virtue of her absence, for she died nine days after his birth.  But Rousseau did concern himself a great deal with the phase of life associated with Cancer: childhood.  He wrote a treatise for the upbringing of a child, Emile. However, his perceptions were often skewed on the subject, and he did himself abandon his own children (which he later regretted).  Some of these paradoxes may be seen in the square to his Moon (Cancer’s ruler) from an opposition of Jupiter and Saturn, forming a T-square.  When Jupiter and Saturn are strongly connected by conjunction, square or opposition, there is a sense that the person is chasing their own tail, caught between two such different forces.  His Ascendant was in Virgo, and he was extremely concerned with health and hygiene, almost a hypochondriac, but in the end opted to avoid the conventional medicine of the day (which could often be quite brutal).  This worked for him largely, until he fell victim to the consequences of an accident.  He had all the creative brilliance, independence and originality of the Sun sextile Uranus, and with Sun trine Chiron, he had a healing intent.  He was a prolific writer, as you would expect from his natal conjunction of Mercury and Venus in Gemini.  He also had an acute critical faculty, with Mercury conjunct Mars.  Mercury occupied the top spot in his chart, square the Ascendant, on the 10th House cusp, marking him out as a Thinker.  Gemini is one of the signs associated with Philosophy, although my efforts to find a Sun Sign Gemini Philosopher were difficult (I settled on Blaise Pascal).  Mercury and Gemini rule the logic and mental processes involved, whereas Sagittarius is the sign actually associated with Philosophy and deeper levels of thought.  Mars trine Jupiter depicted great energy allied with enthusiasm (the “noble savage”), while at the same time Mars sextile Saturn produced very deliberate in action. Other “wild child” energy came from Mars square Uranus, and Uranus conjunct Pluto.  Mars conjunct closely the Midheaven in Gemini in 9th House shows the Philosopher-Warrior, at odds with the Encyclopedistes.

Life and Career

Much of what we know about his life comes from his Confessions, published after his death.  Rousseau was born in Geneva in 1712,  (he stated: “I was born almost dying, they had little hope of saving me”), and came from a family tradition of watchmaking (Ascendant in Virgo, Mercury at the top of his chart).  At the age of 10, he boarded with a Calvinist minister who lived just outside Geneva, where he learned mathematics and drawing. At the age of 13, he was apprenticed to a notary then an engraver, but ran away at 15 (on 14th March 1728).  That date shows a transit of Neptune trine his natal Jupiter, and it coincided with a new religious outlook (he was born with a square between those two planets).  He took shelter with a Roman Catholic priest, and met the love of his life Francoise-Louise de Warens, who was 14 years his senior.

Rousseau lived on and off in Paris, and later established a relationship with Therese Levasseur, who bore him several children.  In 1742 he met Philosopher Denis Diderot, who was to play an important role in his life.  They met at the Cafe de la Regence, watching chess and drinking coffee.  Initially friends, they became philosophical rivals. Rousseau contributed articles to Diderot and D’Alembert’s  Encyclopedie.

In 1750 he won a competition organized by the Academie de Dijon, in which he wrote an essay inspired by a revelation that he had about the arts and sciences being responsible for moral degeneration, being a reflection of man’s pride and vanity. Rousseau’s answer to these ills was the development of reason and being close to nature.

He met with controversy when he criticized the insincerity and shallowness of the Encyclopedistes, and that soured relations between him and his friend Diderot.  The two men had a close astrological connection, dynamic and profound, which included double whammy mutual sextiles between their Suns and Saturn.  There was great sensitivity (Diderot’s Neptune conjunct Rousseau’s Moon), but also the potential for conflict (Diderot’s Mars square Rousseau’s Uranus (sparks flying).  When he broke away from the Encyclopedistes, Rousseau found himself expressing more independent views, such as his more spiritual ideas in contrast to Diderot’s more materially based views.  He published Emile  and  The Social Contract in 1762.  At the age of 50, these will have carried the essence of his Chiron Return, the maturation of his Inner Healer.

In Emile the ideal education of the child, the process of which he advises from infancy, is not to be guided by the state, but by a chosen mentor, who would apply natural principles with as little intervention as possible (although Rousseau lays down so many rules and guidelines that it is difficult to see that as non-intervention).  His account of the ideal childhood in Emile is often naive and based on a narrow class of child in his own historical period.  I often found his assertions of what a child is capable at a certain age untrue, certainly in respect of the modern child, who is exposed to so much more stimulation and information from a young age.

In his work, he professed to be optimistic in his attitude towards human nature, believing that mankind was fundamentally good, and therefore should be allowed to thrive as naturally as possible – as distinct from Hobbes who believed that the people needed to be governed by an autocracy as they were fundamentally wicked.  In matters of religion, Rousseau did not believe in the doctrine of original sin.

He drew the attention of Scottish philosopher Edward Hume (the Taurean subject of my second philosophy blog), who later offered him some refuge from some of the criticisms of Parisian society (e.g. for contending that all religions are worthy, and religious tolerance was the right way forward).  On my Philosophy course [we have enrolled for a second year!] Hume is one of the most popular philosophers, and his reputation describes him as one of the nicest of their kind.  At that point in time, Voltaire was also sympathetically disposed towards Rousseau.  Rousseau also received support from Frederick the Great of Prussia, and travelled around to various places he thought might be safe from his accusations of blasphemy (including his native Switzerland).

In 1765 he met Hume in Paris, and made a very good impression, travelling at his invitation to England early in 1766.  Hume described his visitor as “gentle, modest, affectionate, disinterested, of extreme sensitivity.”  The astrological synastry between their charts is quite harmonious.  However, the relationship soured after inexplicably Hume was involved in a hoax letter being sent by Horace Walpole purporting to be from Frederick the Great.  Among other transits, Saturn was square Rousseau’s Pluto in Virgo in his 12th House (the House of Self-Undoing and Hidden Enemies).  Voltaire also wrote critically of Rousseau at this time.

On 21st June 1767 Rousseau moved to an estate outside Paris, recording feelings of anxiety and paranoia at this time. He married Therese on 30th August 1768.  He completed writing the account of his life Confessions the following year, with an eye to his future reputation.  Although not published until after his death, he read portions in group sittings in Paris.

After an accident in 1776, caught between a carriage and a Great Dane in the street, Rousseau suffered neurological damage and epileptic seizures.  Transits for the accident are stark: Uranus on his natal Mars (accident) and Uranus square his natal Chiron (difficult health challenges).  His natal Mars and Chiron were exactly square, so this was a weak point in his chart for his health and wellbeing in terms of transits.  He occupied time in these later years with the study of botany, refining his writings, and musical composition.  On 1st July 1778 he suffered a fatal stroke.


His influence was widespread in his time, and subsequently.  His political ideas inspired the revolutionaries, and his educational ideas resonated with Pestalozzi and Montessori.  He also promoted romanticism, and influenced German writers such as Goethe and Schiller.

Rousseau ever had an inner eye trained on the Inner Child, the province of the sign of Cancer.  The principle of allowing a child’s spirit and talents to flourish is of great importance.  Children above all need to be allowed to be themselves, and express their true nature.

On Pg 29 of Emile, he wrote:

“We were meant to be men, laws and customs thrust us back into infancy. The rich and great, the very kings themselves are but children; they see that we are ready to relieve their misery; this makes them childishly vain, and they are quite proud of the care bestowed on them, a care which they would never get if they were grown men.”


(1) Ed Patrick Riley – The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau, Cambridge University Press 2001

(2) Jean-Jacques Rousseau – Emile, Published by Pantianos Classics; first published in 1762

(3) Jean-Jacques Rousseau – The Social Contract; first published in 1762


There’s a New Moon at 28 degrees Cancer tomorrow, a pure and simple chance to get back to basics with our home, family, roots, locality, emotions and ancestry.  Where it falls in your chart can give you extra clues about placing your intentionality, your hopes and wishes.  (Rousseau would have loved it!).  After two New Moon Eclipses in a row, this one may feel like a bit of a relief, with some sense of normality.

In the late evening, Saturn opposes the Sun, so there may be a touch of sadness, and coming down to earth.  Reality dawns before midnight, so cosset yourself with some Green & Black’s cocoa, and lavender on your pillow, and settle down to some healing sleep.  Programme your dreams to contain information which can help you with any blocks or frustrations going on in your life.

The Sun goes into Leo on Wednesday morning (22nd) and that is another bright new start.  Normally, that would signal the holiday season, both academically and astrologically, but some of the population will be more cautious than usual about venturing forth, even on staycations.  As long as you all make sure to socially distance on beaches, we’ll (the collective) be fine!  Certainly the spirit will be there, if not the geographical relocation for all of us.  I’ve had as an earworm all week, the following song by the Bee Gees:

” Ooh you’re a holiday , ev’ry day , such a holiday
Now it’s my turn to say , and I say you’re a holiday
It’s something I think’s worthwhile…”

…The rest of the lyrics don’t have anything to do with holidays, but it has started to get me in the mood, and getting into holiday mood is a start, even if you don’t know how you will achieve an actual holiday.  Something may follow from the mood itself.  For schoolchildren and homeschoolers, it will be a welcome break from homework.  What do you need a break from in terms of your routine?

In the evening, we have a repeat of an aspect which occurred twice in June, due to Mercury’s retrograde motion: Mercury sextile Uranus.  Well it’s a happy aspect to revisit, being helpful for mental endeavours and technology.  Telepathy, intuition and the power of surprise are also benefits of this aspect.  This aspect can amaze you and help you find that “wow” factor.

The week in bullet points:

  • Tomorrow – new beginnings; confronting reality
  • Wednesday – holiday mood; sparkling communications