By Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Virgil

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Rousseau es una fuerza que se anticipa a su época para crear ideas y situaciones, y para señalar rumbos educativos en un mundo sumergido en antiguas costumbre y tabúes. Leyendo a este Emilio espléndido, libre, amante de la vida, asistimos a un espectáculo sorprendente de descubrimientos pedagógicos aún valederos.(Rousseau is philosophical thought at its best. No need to vi Rousseau es una fuerza que se anticipa a su época para crear ideas y situaciones, y para señalar rumbos

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Book details

Paperback, 560 pages
October 1st 1998 by Edaf S.A.

(first published 1762)

Original Title
Émile ou de l'éducation
8471662663 (ISBN13: 9788471662668)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Ahmad Sharabiani

(966 From 1001 Books) - Émile; or, On Education = Treatise on Education, Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Emile, or On Education or Émile, or Treatise on Education is a treatise on the nature of education and on the nature of man written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who considered it to be the "best and most important" of all his writings.

Rousseau's masterpiece on the education and training of the young, is the first in more than seventy years. Readable, and highly engrossing text that at the same time offers a wholly new sense of the importance and relevance of Rousseau's thought to us.

عنوان: «امیل»؛ «امیل: رساله‌ ای در باب آموزش و پرورش»؛ «آموزش و پرورش»؛ نویسنده: ژان ژاک روسو؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش با ترجمه جناب آقای «منوچهر کیا»: روز دوم ماه مارس سال 1972میلادی

عنوان: امیل: رساله‌ ای در باب آموزش و پرورش؛ عنوان دیگر: آموزش و پرورش؛ «امیل، یا آموزش و پرورش»؛ نویسنده: ژان ژاک روسو؛ مترجم: غلامحسین زیرک زاده؛ تهران، دانشگاه تهران، 1328، در 299 ص، چاپ دیگر: تهران، چهر، چاپ سوم 1337، 1348، در 295 ص؛ چاپ بعدی 1360، چاپ دیگر: تهران، ناهید، 1380، در 408 ص؛ شابک: 9646205208؛ چاپ دوم 1382؛ چاپ چهارم 1386؛ در 408 ص، شابک: 9789646205208؛ چاپ هفتم 1393؛ چاپ دیگر: تهران، قاصدک صبا؛ 1389، در 351 ص؛ شابک: 9786005675047؛ موضوع: رساله ای در آموزش و پرورش از نویسندگان فرانسوی - سده 18م

عنوان: امیل، یا آموزش و پرورش؛ نویسنده: ژان ژاک روسو؛ مترجم: منوچهر کیا؛ تهران، دریا، معراجی، 1349، در 568ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، گنجینه، 1349؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، نشر محمد، گنجینه، 1371، در 568ص

عنوان: امیل، یا آموزش و پرورش؛ نویسنده: ژان ژاک روسو؛ مترجم: ع سبحانی؛ تهران، موسسه مطبوعاتی فرخی، چاپ دوم 1348، در 656ص؛

عنوان: امیل؛ نویسنده: ژان ژاک روسو؛ مترجم: سعید مولوی؛ تهران، ابر سفید، 1392؛ در 632ص؛ شابک 9786006988016؛

روسو میگویند: هر فرد می‌تواند اراده‌ ای ویژه، مخالف یا متفاوت از اراده ی عمومی که به عنوان شهروند دارد، داشته باشد؛ ایشان میگویند: «بهتر است برای نوجوان از واژه‌ هایی که بزرگسالان درباره ی اخلاق به کار می‌برند، خودداری شود»؛ سودی ندارد که به نوجوان لغات و علامت‌هایی که هیچ‌گونه مفهومی برایش ندارند را بیاموزیم؛ ایشان مینویسند: «در صورتی که ایده‌ ای از اشیاء نداشته باشیم، چگونه لغات می‌توانند خودشان ایده‌ های ذهنی به وجود آورند؟ لغات در واقع علاماتی هستند، که به اشیاء و یا ایده‌ ها، مربوط می‌شوند؛ برای یک نوجوان، واژه‌ ها می‌توانند جهت طرح اشیاء در غیابشان به کار روند، در حالیکه اگر این واژه‌ ها صرفاً ایده‌ ها را نشان دهند، همانند مفاهیم اخلاقی، به دنیای واقعیت مربوط نخواهند بود، بلکه دنیایی ذهنی را مجسم می‌کنند، که هنور دنیای نوجوان نیست».؛

نتیجه‌ ای که «روسو» می‌گیرند، اینست که برای تغییر ندادن ماهیت ذهنیت‌هایی، که نوجوان درباره ی اخلاق دارد، ایده‌ آل آن است که شناخت او را، به تجربیات حسی محدود کنیم؛ با توجه به این اصل که تربیت، باید ریتم طبیعی نوجوان را حفظ کند، «روسو» پیشنهاد می‌کنند، که جریان یادگیری نوجوان را نباید شتاب داد؛ پس از نشان دادن خطراتی که در تربیت نوجوان، در به کارگیری لغات اخلاقی، پیش از آنکه او قادر به درک آنها باشد، وجود دارد، نتیجه می‌گیرند که: «ذهنیت‌های نوجوان به داده‌ های حسی محدود می‌شود؛ عقل در فرایند گسترش روانی فرد، به دو صورت شکل می‌گیرد؛ نخست: «عقل حسی»ست که ابتدایی‌ترین است، و جوهره یا «عقل ذهنی» را شکل می‌دهد؛ عقل حسی از نظر زمان پیش از عقل ذهنی‌ است؛ تربیت مناسب عقل حسی باید گسترش عقل ذهنی را ممکن کند».؛ ...؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 19/08/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی


I recently read Durant’s The Story of Philosophy. In that he said that it was a pity that philosophy had become quite so obsessed with epistemology (worrying about how we think) rather than ethics (worrying about how we can live a good life). Durant saw a time in the not too distant future when philosophy would get over epistemology and become once more a kind of thinking persons self-help club. In many ways this book is a version of ‘how to live a good life’ – no, better, how to educate people so that they are able to live a good life. A lot of it might have you hoping philosophy sticks with epistemology for a wee while yet.

Just about every time Jean-Jacques mentions women in this expect either that your blood will boil or run cold. That the smartest of men could say and believe the dumbest things is a constant source of amazement to me. On the good side, like Plato he believes girls need to be educated and to play an active role in society, but he also believes that women are meant for quite other things than men and that these separate roles are decided by nature and are therefore impossible to change.

Just about the only thing I knew about Rousseau prior to reading this was that he believed in the noble savage. That is, that it is society that is the cause of all corruption in the world and that humans in their natural state are pretty well wonderful to each other. So, it is reasonable to guess that he is going to also think that the proper way to educate people is to do so in accordance with natural principles of one kind or another. And this is his lasting influence, I think.

I’ve recently read Dewey’s Democracy and Education, and I was surprised at how often Dewey referred to Rousseau and this book. I had also recently read The Social Animal, which is a bit of a homage to this book in many ways (expressly so). So, reading this was becoming increasingly important. To understand the ongoing importance of this book to education it might be best to start with what is the opposite view to Jean-Jacques. Remember how bored you were for so much of your time at school? Well, a lot of the reason for this was that you were being asked to remember stuff that you weren’t really all that interested in. If it ever occurred to you to say to your teacher, “Look, enough of this shit already, I’m bored out of my bloody mind – can’t you torture flies or something rather than torturing me?” Your teacher would just as likely say to you, “Now, listen you snotty-nosed little bastard, it is hard enough having to teach this crap to an empty-headed fool like you, but what you have got to realise is that although this stuff is as boring as bat-shit now, give it a couple of years and you’ve no idea just how important it will all turn out to be.”

Education, in this model, is always something for some time in the future (a time that is always unspecified) and will help in ways that can’t really be put into words right now. That kids buckle under and keep on ‘learning’ in a kind of half-sleep says much, much more about power relationships within classrooms than it does about anything else. (The 'anything else' here being ‘what is important for kids to learn?’ ‘how is it best to teach them?’ and ‘what is it that they are actually learning when we force them to attend to this crap anyway?’)

Rousseau makes this point beautifully when he is discussing what happens when you teach kids the catechism. When I was a child my family used to have a record of Brendan Grace doing a comedy routine about a priest asking a group of boys questions for their confirmation. Not being Catholic, there was always a sense of naughtiness in getting this insight into the happenings in that other world. One question was, “What is the mystery of the trinity?” And the boy who is asked replies, in an accent the priest cannot understand, “Three divine persons all in the one God.” The priest says he doesn’t understand and the boy says, “You’re not supposed to understand, it’s a mystery, isn’t it?”

Rousseau says that if you want to see just how effective such teaching is, such rote learning despite the utter lack of understanding (or even a lack of an expectation of an understanding) on the part of the student – all one needs do is talk to the student about the subject outside of their learned (rehearsed) response. Once out of role not only do you see they have understood none of it at all, but also that their understanding is actually quite off from your intention. Why? Well, mostly because what they are being asked to ‘learn’ has no relevance or interest to them now. So, at best they remember disconnected pieces, rather than anything like a consistent whole.

Now, think about what we are teaching kids by teaching them this. We are teaching them that it isn’t important for them to understand anything properly, but that they will get a pat on the back if they have been able to parrot back what appear to be meaningless jumbles of words in more or less the right order.

What the child understands doesn’t really matter in the least, what matters is that they have their heads get filled with ‘knowledge’ that will make sense ‘sometime’.

So, is there an alternative to this? Well, according to Rousseau there is – and that is to teach according to what the child is interested in learning and needs to know now. And if you want to teach the child something that they are currently not interested in learning, then it is up to you to find a way to make learning that thing essential for the child in the here and now. For example, he talks about getting his student lost in the woods so that he can teach the child the importance of knowing how to find directions from the position of the sun and therefore how the earth travels around the sun and how the sun shifts position in the sky according to the time of the year. The point is, as anyone with kids knows, kids live in the present. If that is the case, you really do need to teach them in the present too. When people see the point of something then learn is as easily as breathing. That is what we humans do – we are learning machines. But it is so easy to make it hard for kids to learn and to convince them they are not good learners. And the best way to achieve this is to try to force them to learn stuff they have no interest in or even any way of working out what possible interest they might have in it.

Now, all that is the good bit of this book. You have to know that this book was written for a very small group of people – that is, ‘nice’ people who are able to afford servants. This is about how to go about the education of boys, but not any boys, only a very few well off boys. It wouldn’t take a lot to be turned off this book entirely. The long and rather boring discussion of religion, the sexism, the endless marriage preparations and the classism weren't really my cup of tea. All the same, the bits of this that are good are particularly good.

Deborah Markus

I read this book as research for a writing project of my own. Once finished, I had no idea how I ought to rate it.

There is some brilliant writing here, and I highlighted a lot of eminently quotable passages. Certainly I can understand why the French adore some of Rousseau's ideas about education.

But even if one can get past the irony of Rousseau the child-abandoner writing (in very smug tones!) how the young ought to be raised and educated, there's the little fact that he was sexist above and beyond the call of duty. The thoughts on education that the French praise to the skies are all thoughts on the education of boys. When he does bother to mention girls, he stresses that their education ought to lie in teaching them how to be utterly submissive and obedient. Because if you're nice enough to that wife-beater your parents married you off to, he'll stop hitting you. And if he doesn't stop hitting you, well, I guess you weren't nice enough.

The fact that I'm paraphrasing shouldn't lead you to conclude that I'm exaggerating.

Yes, I know Rousseau lived and died in the eighteenth century. So did Mary Wollstonecraft.

So: Read this if you're interested in French history, the history of education, or Rousseau's bizarre life. And don't be fooled by the many people who refer to this book as a novel. It isn't. It's a work in which Rousseau presents his ideas about education, and at a certain point, says, "Let's pretend I was hired to be the tutor of a young man -- say his name is Emile. Here's what that might be like, and here are some conversations I can imagine having with this boy." Rousseau never claimed to be writing a novel. He simply alternates between the autobiographical and the hypothetical.

Roy Lotz

If all the philosophers in the world should prove that I am wrong, and you feel that I am right, that is all I ask.

My reaction to Rousseau is very similar to my reaction to Thoreau, whose back-to-nature ethic owed much to Rousseau’s philosophy. Though constantly impressed with the breadth of their vision and the force of their rhetoric, I find the personalities of these two men—at least as manifested in their books—to be grating and unpleasant. When I am not underlining brilliant passages, I read Rousseau through gritted teeth and with frequent interruptions to roll my eyes.

I see much in common between these two Romantic devotees of nature. While Thoreau’s dour and stern demeanor is not comparable to Rousseau’s sentimental imagination, the two of them are self-involved, prickly, and vain. Both praise wild isolation at the expense of society because neither seemed to fit into the latter. Though the two of them were brilliant in the extreme, neither of them seemed to have reached the level of intellectual maturity that allows feelings to be submitted to reasons and other perspectives to be considered. Both of them fire off opinions with wild abandon, saying what feels good, without taking the trouble to thoroughly argue their points, to consider competing ideas, or even to make their own thoughts consistent.

To pick just one example of this last tendency in Rousseau, at one point he says: “Amid the uncertainty of human life, let us shun that false prudence which seeks to sacrifice the present to the future; what is, is too often sacrificed to what will never be. Let us make man happy at every age lest in spite of our care he should die without knowing the meaning of happiness.” And yet, almost immediately after this pronouncement, he insists that his titular pupil, after having fallen in love and proposed marriage, postpone the delight of union for two years—leaving his beloved to go travel—in order to learn to master his feelings. The book is rife with such inconsistency. And not only that but, as in Thoreau’s case, Rousseau’s manner of life was notoriously inconsistent with the principles he espoused, adding hypocrisy into the bargain. That a man who sent his own children to an orphanage should write a manifesto of education is rich indeed.

But Rousseau must be read and praised, this book above all, since he—as well as his American disciple—contributed a great deal to our common stock of ideas and the expansion of our cultural faculties. Under the guise of a treatise on education, Rousseau has written a universal reflection on human life, comparable to Plato’s Republic or The Brothers Karamazov for its omnidirectional scope. The novelistic device of describing himself as a tutor educating a child allows Rousseau to illustrate his philosophy of society, ethics, government, love, history, travel, religion, literature, and much else along the way, besides to his groundbreaking views on education.

Rousseau begins with his famous dictum that nature makes everything good, and it is human society corrupts our natural goodness into evil. His stated purpose is to illustrate how natural goodness can be preserved in a growing boy destined for life in society—that is, without Thoreau’s recourse of reverting to a state of nature. With this principle in mind, Rousseau blasts mothers for hiring wet nurses to breastfeed their children rather than doing it themselves. And though Rousseau’s reasons are fallacious, this advice probably did the world much good, since, in addition to the emotional bonding, breastfeeding allows important antibodies to be transferred from the mother to the infant.

After infancy gives way to childhood, Rousseau’s real educational work begins. Here he made another important contribution to child-rearing, by insisting that children’s minds are not suited to adult ideas and methods. A child is a different creature altogether and education must be suited to a child’s capacities and predilections. Lectures, sermons, and catechisms must be avoided; and using punishment and reward only corrupt the child. Instead the tutor must find ways to motivate the child to learn without ever seeming to do so. Rousseau the tutor is constantly devising tricks and schemes to get his imaginary pupil, Emile, to learn valuable lessons in a “natural” way—that is, relying on the child’s intrinsic motivation and using no explicit instruction. Everything in Rousseau’s model must simulate life and the child must work on his own conclusions following his own curiosity. The tutor is much more a guide—and, behind the scenes, an impresario—than a real teacher.

Following this procedure, lessons on magnetism and morality are woven into a magician’s act. Geography is taught by getting lost in the forest. Geometry is taught by attempting to draw and map. Botany and agriculture are taught through gardening. And so on, covering sciences, arts, and moral lessons. This way, Emile grows up into a competent, strong, and thoroughly honest boy with no social pretensions and no vanity whatsoever. At least, Rousseau assures us that this would be the result. By the time Rousseau takes Emile into Paris, as a young man, the student is disgusted at the foppery of the men, the arrogance of the philosophes, and the affected manners of the women.

More contentiously, Rousseau would not teach his pupil anything about God or religion until the age of eighteen, considering such subjects too abstruse and profound for a child to understand. He would not even teach Emile to read until shortly before that. And this is not all that occasioned scandal. Rousseau famously interrupts the story of Emile’s education to include the Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar, the most well-known, influential, and controversial section of the book. Though couched in the language of philosophy, the Profession is essentially an argument against both organized religion and atheism in favor of deism, based on feeling alone. Voltaire, a deist himself, considered this the book’s only worthwhile section, only lamenting that it has been written by “such a rascal.” It was largely this trenchant criticism of organized religion that led to the book getting banned and burned in Paris and Geneva. And yet, ironically enough, the idea that inner conviction is a surer basis for faith than logic was to become a pillar of religious thought in the coming centuries.

The last section of the book consists in finding a mate for Emile. This is by far the most unpleasant part of the book. Rousseau’s view on women and their upbringing is reactionary and sexist to the utmost, not to mention unpleasantly marred by Rousseau’s own sentimental (and sexual) fantasies regarding women. Rousseau’s ideal companion for his pupil is named Sophie, and her education differs markedly from Emile’s. Sophie is to be a kind of passive doll, a creature not fit for reason or art, whose job is to caress Emile and to make his life easier. Rousseau describes their courtship with the drama of a novelist and the passion of an onanist. Both the principles and the writing are revolting.

Finally, after enduring a forced separation for his beloved—a very unnatural thing for Rousseau to recommend!—Emile settles down happily in blissful union with Sophie, and prepares to educate his own children along Rousseau’s lines.

This summary does not exactly do justice to Emile, since it omits all of the manifold digressions that Rousseau yields to in the book’s wandering course. Some of these are among the best sections of the work; others are pointless rambling. Even when he is not off in the bushes, Rousseau can be very repetitive, giving us five sentences where one would do, spending three paragraphs harping on a minor point. The final result is a book much longer than it has to be. This is Rousseau's most conspicuous stylistic flaw, which he excuses in typical Rousseau fashion: “If this book is to be well written, I must enjoy writing it.” Unfortunately the author’s pleasure is often gotten at the expense of the reader’s. Yet the book’s best moments are masterful, rising to heights of power and lyricism that cannot be forgotten. Immanuel Kant famously had to read the book twice, the first time just for the style, the second for the content.

The flaws in Rousseau’s ideas are many and grave. Most obviously, Rousseau’s educational program is impractical in the extreme, relying on a perfectly wise tutor to devote twenty years of his life to a perfectly malleable pupil. This may be excused, however, by treating the arrangement as an explanatory device and not a real proposal to be emulated. More seriously, Rousseau’s conviction that nature is intrinsically good is, I think, incorrect and even incoherent. Natural disasters, such as the Lisbon Earthquake in Rousseau’s own lifetime, demonstrate that nature can be cruel and merciless; and in any case, how can you know what nature is, or where nature ends and human culture begins? Besides, doesn’t Rousseau advocate many “unnatural” things? The level of control exercised by his tutor over his pupil’s reality is far greater than any real parent or teacher.

Yet even when strictly viewed as an educational treatise, there is much to be praised in the book. Rousseau’s emphasis on experiential rather than theoretical learning was quite valuable. And his conviction that education must take into account the child’s development and maturity was a revolution. I also share his suspicion towards using external rewards and punishments to motivate children, since the bad is avoided and the good is sought for artificial, rather than instrinctic, reasons.

Of course the book’s merits extend much further than education. Taken together, Rousseau’s philosophy touched on every aspect of society, from philosophy to fashion, from labor to love. For all his naïveté, Rousseau seemed to have correctly sensed that his society was artificial and could not last. Thirty years before the revolution, he says: “The crisis is approaching, and we are on the edge of a revolution.” And he then goes on in a footnote: “In my opinion, it is impossible that the great kingdoms of Europe should last much longer. Each of them has had its period of splendor, after which it must inevitably decline.” Like Thoreau, Rousseau was a prophet and a true original, embittered by being misunderstood, isolated, and ostracized, whose all-too-obvious faults concealed the revolutionary reach of his vision.

John Warner

this book is difficult to understand and hence easy to dismiss. many of the other reviews bear witness to this in the most immediate way. emile is not an instructional manual on how to educate a child, nor is it a misogynistic tract that insists on the inferiority of women. these suggestions fail to engage this work precisely where it becomes interesting.

Emile is, and was intended to be, the modern equivalent to Plato's Republic. It is a synoptic book, a sustained, comprehensive, and unified reflection on the human condition. All questions of perennial importance are not only treated, but treated with assiduous care and attention to detail.

The devil, it turns out, is in the details of this elusive and allusive book, which gives beautiful expression to perhaps the most dubious principle in the history of philosophy--that of man's natural goodness.

One reviewer advises us to skip directly to the beginning of the last Book, where Rousseau offers us his views on women. This strategy is more than adequate for all readers who do not care to understand Rousseau. For those who wish to come to grips with what he actually wrote, however, this peculiar advice will not do. If it is impossible to begin at the beginning, then begin at the very end. Read everything else in light of the work's conclusion, and see how--if--it hangs together.

David Sarkies

The Educated Human
26 January 2016

To say that Rousseau has a low opinion of humanity is an understatement – he absolute despises the corrupting nature of humans and the effect upon the world around them. This is clearly summed up in his opening statement:

God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.

Actually, Rousseau has an interesting view of reality: the world is initially good and people are free however from the moment of birth the corrupting influence of humanity comes to the fore and seeks to enslave the child - this book is a treatise on how to insulate the child from this corrupting influence and thus to create a new and evolved human through education. The problem with Rousseau is that he does not seem to recognise that human corruption is a part of their nature as opposed to something that comes about through interaction with society, and as such despite being isolated from society the child will still be corrupt. In a way it is sort of like a genetic disorder that is passed down through the parents, meaning that if the parents are corrupt then the child will inherit that corruption despite the parents attempting to insulate the child from the corrupting nature of society.

As you have probably guessed, this text (and it is a pretty long one mind you – Rousseau himself indicated in his foreword that he initially intended it to be quite short but unfortunately it blew out to beyond all proportions) is about the best way to educate a child, however it goes beyond that to theorise on how to craft and mould the child into becoming what Rousseau considered to be an enlightened human, and to do so he realises that one cannot simply isolate the child from society for there must come a time when the child will partake in society, particularly when it comes time for the child to marry. However the conclusion is the belief that if the child is educated properly, right up to and including marriage, then it will form the foundations of a new and enlightened culture as the educated child will then pass that knowledge and training onto his children.

The Education System
I'm going to have to say that I'm not hugely familiar with the system of education back in Rousseau's days, however it was certainly not the system that we are exposed to today. My understanding was that back in Rousseau's day children were educated through the use of private tutors and apprenticeships. If a child were highborn (that is a member of the aristocracy) then private tutors would be brought in to teach the children, and in many cases this education simply involved how one was to conduct oneself in such social circles. In fact I would go as far as to suggest that a lot of the aristocracy of these days probably weren't educated, or at least they weren't educated in the way we understand education. However they no doubt were literate, and would have been exposed not just to the teachings of the church, but also to the writings of the ancients (and in some cases contemporaries, unless their writings had been banned, which was not all that uncommon).

The lower classes tended to be apprenticed and their training would be similar to what we understand as on-the-job training. The idea of going to school and deciding on a career simply did not exist – one's career had been decided by birth and that career was either in the family business, or based upon when one was born as well as one's gender. Females generally would not be given the same education as where the men, and they certainly weren't taught to be literate. One of the problems I found with this book though was that this sexism does permeate quite deeply, despite the fact that Rousseau does state that with the exception of some physiological differences men and women are basically the same.

However that does not necessarily mean that our modern system of education is better – in fact I would have to argue that in many cases it is worse. I suspect that if Rousseau were to be grabbed by Bill and Ted and taken to modern day San Dimas he would be absolutely appalled (isn't it interesting that when the people of historical significance explored modern day San Dimas they were all pretty impressed). The thing with our modern system of education is that it is a by product of industrialisation. Children are all seen as similar products and are put through a machine with the idea of them emerging identical at the end. In a sense it not only assumes that everybody is the same, it works on the principle that one can grade a student's performance on a standardised test. There is one big problem with that, as is exemplified by this cartoon:

Climb the tree

Okay, I went through school before they came out with this wonderful idea of standardised testing, however there were still elements of it during the time I was there. The idea of having an exam at the end of every year, or even tests throughout the year, worked on the principle that everybody could write a perfect essay, or everybody was good at maths. The problem is that this is simply not true. I remember when one teacher said to the class that when he handed out an essay assignment that all of the essays when submitted were to be identical to each other. In fact he even wrote the entire essay on the board to illustrate what he expected. Needless to say I dropped that class and went on to do maths and science.

It is not necessarily the teacher's fault though as the teacher can only work with the tools given to them (and the fact that teachers are severely underpaid is a problem in and of itself). I personally believe that they should be given a lot more credit than they are by society, but I suspect that modern society hates teachers because as children we hated our teachers. In a way this is what it has become:

Modern Teaching

However, one thing that I will point out before I move on is that one of the ideas, especially for the later years of highschool and university, is that the student is supposed to become more specialised. That is the earlier years brings out the child's strengths and weaknesses, and in the later years the child then pursues subjects that play on the child's strengths. Of course I could also write about how the modern education system is also a form of mass indoctrination, but I will leave it at that for the time being.

On Religion
The main focus of this book is about education, but Rousseau needed to touch upon a number of aspects of his society to be able to explain this philosophy on how to train somebody to become an enlightened individual, and one of these areas is religion. I have noticed that many seem to believe Rousseau to be, while not an atheist, at least a humanist, but this could not be further from the truth. The idea of humanism is that humanity is the peak of the evolutionary ladder and that which humanity creates is worth paying attention. In fact our understanding of society and how to progress should come out of the whole body of human knowledge.

The problem is that Rousseau considers humans to be thoroughly corrupt, meaning that anything that is written by a human simply cannot be trusted, and this is very much the case with religion. Rousseau believes in the existence of God, however he points out that the problem with knowing the characteristics of god simply comes down to referring to human knowledge, which he considers corrupt. While be points out that in Europe at the time (as well as across the globe) there were all these groups claiming that their understanding of religion was the 'one true way' it all boils down to one thing – human understanding, which is untrustworthy.

Rousseau is basically a natural theologian in that his understanding of any spiritual reality can only come through observing nature, however he the goes on to conclude his treatise on religion by referring back to Christianity, and in fact pointing to Christ. His belief is that the horrendousness of Christ's death, and the fact that he was mocked and brutalised, adds to the truth behind Christ's claims simply because it is so absurd. The idea of God becoming a human is ridiculous enough, but subjecting himself to arrest, mockery, an unjust trial, and probably one of the most barbaric forms of execution is outright bizarre. In fact his suggestion is that it is so bizarre that it simply has to be true.

Mind you, he does touch on the idea of fundamentalism, and he does provide a warning that one needs to be very circumspect when talking about religion and belief systems as a whole because there is a danger that the child, if not taught properly, or even not taught at all, would become a fanatic.

The Social Sphere
Another idea that I picked up from this book was how decadent Rousseu's viewed the world of the French aristocrats. It was a world of high society, of debauchery, and of political machinations. No doubt this came about through their learning, particularly with the ancients. This is why Rousseau suggests one should be really circumspect on what they should be taught, and that there is only a handful of ancient texts that the student should be exposed to. In a way life in the upper crust of French society at the time was little different to that among the Roman patricians. While it has been a while since I have seen it, the film (which is based on a book) Dangerous Liaisons paints a very clear picture of what it was like.

French Aristocracy

This is probably why Rousseau, when he comes to the end of the book, suggests that his protegee (and his wife) should leave the city and live in a modest cottage in the country. In his mind the city is one massive cesspit of corrupting influence, and despite all of the work in training Emile, he knew that if Emile were to remain in the city, especially Paris (where much of the politics would be played out) then all of this hard work would be undone in short time. As mentioned, Rousseau believed humanity to be corrupt, and when humans got together in large numbers then this corruption would increase exponentially.

I wish to finish off here, namely because I found that this was probably the most unrealistic aspect of the treatise. The idea is that there will come a time when Emile will need to marry, and as such for the experiment to work Rousseau will need to find what I considered to be the perfect woman. However there is one problem:

Waiting for the perfect woman

So, my big question is, did Rousseau (or even somebody later) actually put this into practice, and did the whole experiment crash and burn when it came time for Emile to marry?

Kathryn Cantrell

Please read the last chapter first. If you can accept Rousseau at his most offensive, then maybe you should continue with the rest of the book. Personally, I'm enough of a feminist that I cannot stand this work. I have heard too much praise for this work by so many who haven't finished it (i.e. read Rousseau's treatment of Sophie) that I will refuse to discuss it altogether.

If you're of the "but, gender issues aside" persuasion, you should consider that at the time, there was enough feminist perspective, and we're not talking radical (think Austen), that apology is not appropriate.


How is it that the same book can at one and the same time be so fascinating and so wrong-headed? The author of Emile indicates that to bring up a child, the parent must be a lifelong tutor -- to the exclusion of any schools or spouses or relatives or anyone else. Rousseau deals with a fictional son named Emile. During the course of the book, he shows his influence from infancy to early marriage.

Perhaps such a controlling type of mentorship was possible only in a rural society; and Rousseau not only confines himself to rural society, but he attacks urban society. As I sit here in Los Angeles, surrounded by 10 million other Angelenos, I must admit that such an education as Rousseau describes is not only impracticable, but it would give rise to early rebellion and a broken family.

Now, one asks is this the way that Rousseau raised his own children? Not at all: The sad fact is that the children that Rousseau fathered were all given up to orphanages, as described by the author in his Confessions.

So what then is the attraction of this book? For perhaps the first time in Western Civilization, a man of penetrating intellect has bothered to systematize education that is separate from religious influences. Rousseau gives a nod to religion, but he prefers natural religion, the religion of common sense. He attacks the whole notion of catechisms and learning by any other means than by deduction from observable facts.

Imagine to yourself Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin sitting thousands of miles away across the North Atlantic reading this book and dreaming of a new nation founded upon "inalienable rights." We all came from Rousseau. He was perhaps only a way station to life as we know it, but he was powerfully influential. A man of intellect and feeling, he was at the same time prey in his life to persecution and jealousy to which he massively overreacted.

I loved reading this book. It was a difficult read, but I feel a rewarding one. You see, I have always believed that one could learn as much from writers with whom one disagrees than from anyone else. Rousseau raises the right issues. It is just that he does not always provide the right solutions.


"All children are afraid of masks . I begin by showing Emile the mask of a pleasant face..."

"Remember that, before you venture under taking to form a man, you must have made yourself a man; you must find in yourself the example you ought to offer him."

The Archbishop of Paris, Christophe de Beaumont, found this book "dangerous", and a "mischievous work": “it’s irreligion”; the book was burnt by the executioner; Rousseau had to leave Geneva.


Reading this tome was an equally delightful and discomforting one, as a lover of literature, great ideas, and feminist egalitarianism. On one hand, it is obvious that Rousseau was a true visionary (and a master of language). I am truly in awe of what he is trying to accomplish here. As a philosophical exercise of incredible scope, Emile is incredible. I couldn't help but ask myself, "Where are the visionaries of today?"

In another sense, though, it is certainly difficult to swallow Rousseau's misogyny; his depiction of Sophie (despite her namesake) is sadly small and limited. He reduces her worth to that of an appendage of men. Yet I ultimately feel that Rousseau cannot be faulted for the sexism of his time. Rousseau did not have the pleasure of being born in a time when he could have been influenced by the feminist vision that would soon follow, yet he still ATTEMPTS to understand women (Emile, in fact, spurred Mary Wollstonecraft to write her seminal Vindication on the Rights of Women). For surely Rousseau's love of freedom and commitment to breaking the restricting chains of society would eventually inspire him to want to release all humans from the straightjacket of gender, as well.

So while Rousseau surely fails in his reading of gender & "female/male nature" (and while this does blacken his argument immensely), I actually believe Rousseau's vision is more helpful than harmful to feminists and egalitarians. For the more I think about this book, the more my mind expands to fullness with the breadth of human possibility--exactly the thing Wollstonecraft demanded for all human beings.