Emile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Or Treatise on Education (Great Books in Philosophy)

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Synopsis

In his pioneering treatise on education the great French philosopher presented concepts that had a significant influence on the development of pedagogy, and yet many of his ideas still sound radical today. Written in reaction to the stultifying system of rote learning and memorization prevalent throughout Europe in Rousseau's time, Émile is a utopian vision of child-centered education, full of the sentiments of Romanticism, which Rousseau himself inspired.

Imagining a typical boy named Émile, Rousseau creates an ideal model of one-on-one tutelage from infancy to manhood with himself as the child's mentor. "Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Author of Nature; but everything degenerates in the hands of man." This is the first of many provocative statements that characterize this work and are a hallmark of Rousseau's arresting rhetoric. As in so many of his other famous works, here too Rousseau asserts his main thesis that human beings by nature are good; it is only the distorting influences of civilization that have corrupted them.

If this is true, then in educating children one must do nothing to interfere with human nature in its natural course. Far from being the chief means by which society inculcates its rules and principles, education should be the method of helping youths discover the inherent truths of their own human nature. From infancy to young adulthood learning should come purely from personal experience. Rather than imparting facts, teachers should foster self-discovery, so that knowledge is acquired through following innate curiosity, not vicariously through the statements of others.

Educators as well as students of philosophy will find much to admire in Rousseau's original and still radical ideas.
 

About Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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Jean Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss philosopher and political theorist who lived much of his life in France. Many reference books describe him as French, but he generally added "Citizen of Geneva" whenever he signed his name. He presented his theory of education in Emile (1762), a novel, the first book to link the educational process to a scientific understanding of children; Rousseau is thus regarded as the precursor, if not the founder, of child psychology. "The greatest good is not authority, but liberty," he wrote, and in The Social Contract (1762) Rousseau moved from a study of the individual to an analysis of the relationship of the individual to the state: "The art of politics consists of making each citizen extremely dependent upon the polis in order to free him from dependence upon other citizens." This doctrine of sovereignty, the absolute supremacy of the state over its members, has led many to accuse Rousseau of opening the doors to despotism, collectivism, and totalitarianism. Others say that this is the opposite of Rousseau's intent, that the surrender of rights is only apparent, and that in the end individuals retain the rights that they appear to have given up. In effect, these Rousseau supporters say, the social contract is designed to secure or to restore to individuals in the state of civilization the equivalent of the rights they enjoyed in the state of nature. Rousseau was a passionate man who lived in passionate times, and he still stirs passion in those who write about him today. Payne grew up in rural Texas before attending Baylor University, Harvard and Southern Methodist University. He then entered the practice of law in Houston and spent 30 years litigating suits in courts all over Texas. He now writes and raises cattle, hay and stray dogs on his farm.
 
Published August 1, 2003 by Prometheus Books. 315 pages
Genres: History, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction