Emile: Or, On Education
Émile, or On Education is a treatise on the nature of education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

 and on the nature of man
The term man is used for an adult human male . However, man is sometimes used to refer to humanity as a whole...

 written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

, who considered it to be the “best and most important of all my writings”. Due to a section of the book entitled “Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar,” Émile was be banned in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 and Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

 and was publicly burned in 1762. During the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, Émile served as the inspiration for what became a new national system of education.

Politics and Philosophy

The work tackles fundamental political
Political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it...

 and philosophical
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 questions about the relationship between the individual
An individual is a person or any specific object or thing in a collection. Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; a person separate from other persons and possessing his or her own needs, goals, and desires. Being self expressive...

 and society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

— how, in particular, the individual might retain what Rousseau saw as innate human goodness
Noble savage
The term noble savage , expresses the concept an idealized indigene, outsider , and refers to the literary stock character of the same...

 while remaining part of a corrupting collectivity. Its opening sentence: “Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.”

Rousseau seeks to describe a system of education that would enable the natural man he identifies in The Social Contract (1762) to survive corrupt society. He employs the novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

istic device of Émile and his tutor
A tutor is a person employed in the education of others, either individually or in groups. To tutor is to perform the functions of a tutor.-Teaching assistance:...

 to illustrate how such an ideal citizen might be educated. Émile is scarcely a detailed parenting
Parenting is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood...

 guide but it does contain some specific advice on raising children. It is regarded by some as the first philosophy of education
Philosophy of education
Philosophy of education can refer to either the academic field of applied philosophy or to one of any educational philosophies that promote a specific type or vision of education, and/or which examine the definition, goals and meaning of education....

 in Western culture
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 to have a serious claim to completeness, as well as being one of the first Bildungsroman
In literary criticism, bildungsroman or coming-of-age story is a literary genre which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood , and in which character change is thus extremely important...

novels, having preceded Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship is the second novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, published in 1795-96. While his first novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, featured a hero driven to suicide by despair, the eponymous hero of this novel undergoes a journey of self-realization...

by more than thirty years.

Book Divisions

The text is divided into five books: the first three are dedicated to the child Émile, the fourth to an exploration of the adolescent, and the fifth to outlining the education of his female counterpart Sophie, as well as to Émile’s domestic and civic life.

Book I

In Book I, Rousseau discusses not only his fundamental philosophy but he also begins to outline how one would have to raise a child to conform with that philosophy. He begins with the early physical and emotional development of the infant and the child.

Émile attempts to “find a way of resolving the contradictions between the natural man who is ‘all for himself’ and the implications of life in society.” The famous opening line does not bode well for the educational project—“Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.” But Rousseau acknowledges that every society “must choose between making a man or a citizen” and that the best “social institutions are those that best know how to denature man, to take his absolute existence from him in order to give him a relative one and transport the I into the common unity.” To “denature man” for Rousseau is to suppress some of the “natural” instincts that he extols in The Social Contract, published the same year as Émile, but while it might seem that for Rousseau such a process would be entirely negative, this is not so. Émile is not a panegyric for the loss of the noble savage, a term Rousseau never actually used. Instead, it is an effort to explain how natural man can live within society.

Many of Rousseau's suggestions in this book are restatements of the ideas of other educational reformers. For example, he endorses Locke's program of “harden[ing children’s] bodies against the intemperance of season, climates, elements; against hunger, thirst, fatigue” He also emphasizes the perils of swaddling and the benefits of mothers nursing their own infants. Rousseau’s enthusiasm for breastfeeding led to him to argue “but let mothers deign to nurse their children, morals will reform themselves, nature’s sentiments will be awakened in every heart, the state will be repeopled," a hyperbole that demonstrates Rousseau’s commitment to grandiose rhetoric. As Peter Jimack, the noted Rousseau scholar, argues “Rousseau consciously sought to find the striking, lapidary phrase which would compel the attention of his readers and move their hearts, even when it meant, as it often did, an exaggeration of his thought.” And, in fact, Rousseau’s pronouncements, although not original, effected a revolution in swaddling and breast-feeding.

Book II

The second book concerns the initial interactions of the child with the world. Rousseau believed that at this phase education should be derived less from books and more from their interactions with the world, with an emphasis on developing the senses, and the ability to draw inferences from them. Rousseau concludes the chapter with an example of a boy who has been successfully educated through this phase. The father takes the boy out flying kites, and asks the child to infer the position of the kite by looking only at the shadow. This is a task that the child has never specifically been taught, but through inference and understanding of the physical world, the child is able to succeed in his task. In some ways, this approach is the precursor of the Montessori method
Montessori method
Montessori education is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori. Montessori education is practiced in an estimated 20,000 schools worldwide, serving children from birth to eighteen years old.-Overview:...


Book III

The third book concerns the selection of a trade
Trade is the transfer of ownership of goods and services from one person or entity to another. Trade is sometimes loosely called commerce or financial transaction or barter. A network that allows trade is called a market. The original form of trade was barter, the direct exchange of goods and...

. Rousseau believed that it is necessary that the child must be taught a manual appropriate role models of how to live his life.

Book IV

Once Émile is physically strong and learns to carefully observe the world around him, he is ready for the last part of his education—sentiment: “We have made an active and thinking being. It remains for us, in order to complete the man, only to make a loving and feeling being—that is to say, to perfect reason by sentiment” Émile is a teenager at this point and it is only now that Rousseau believes he is capable of understanding complex human emotions, particularly sympathy. Rousseau argues that the child cannot put himself in the place of others but once adolescence has been reached and he is able do so, Émile can finally be brought into the world and socialized.

In addition to introducing a newly passionate Émile to society during his adolescent years, the tutor also introduces him to religion. According to Rousseau, children cannot understand abstract concepts such as the soul before the age of about fifteen or sixteen, so to introduce religion to them is dangerous. He writes, “it is a lesser evil to be unaware of the divinity than to offend it” Moreover, because children are incapable of understanding the difficult concepts that are part of religion, he points out that children will only recite what is told to them – they are unable to believe. Book IV also contains the infamous “Profession of a Savoyard Priest,” the section that was largely responsible for the condemnation of Émile and the one, paradoxically, most frequently excerpted and published independently of its parent tome. Rousseau claims at the end of the “Profession” that it is not “a rule for the sentiments that one ought to follow in religious matters, but... an example of the way one can reason with one’s pupil in order not to diverge from the method I have tried to establish." Such a claim was clearly difficult for many readers at the time to accept and still is. Rousseau, through the priest, leads his readers through an argument with only one concluding belief: “natural religion
Natural religion
Natural religion might have the following meanings:* In the modern study of religion it is used to refer to the notion that there is a spontaneous religious apprehension of the world common to all human beings, see:**Urreligion**origin of religion...

.” Even more importantly, after this brief excursion into religious education, religion does not play any role in Émile’s life; religion, however important to Rousseau (Rousseau is believed to have created the Savoyard Vicar by combining the traits of two Savoyard priests whom he had known in his childhood: Abbé Gaime from Turin and Abbé Gâtier from Annecy), is insignificant in Émile’s education and socialization.

Book V

In Book V, Rousseau turns to the education of Sophie, Émile’s wife-to-be. This brief description of female education sparked an immense contemporary response, perhaps even more so than Émile itself. Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft
Mary Wollstonecraft was an eighteenth-century British writer, philosopher, and advocate of women's rights. During her brief career, she wrote novels, treatises, a travel narrative, a history of the French Revolution, a conduct book, and a children's book...

, for example, dedicated a substantial portion of her chapter “Animadversions on Some of the Writers who have Rendered Women Objects of Pity, Bordering on Contempt” in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects , written by the 18th-century British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. In it, Wollstonecraft responds to those educational and political theorists of the 18th...

(1792) to attacking Rousseau and his arguments. Rousseau begins his description of Sophie, the ideal woman, by describing the differences between men and women in a famous passage:
While the opening “in what they have in common, they are equal” offers an intriguing possibility for women, Rousseau does not elaborate on it. For him, sexual differences far outweigh similarities and those differences tilt in man’s favor: women should be “passive and weak,” “put up little resistance” and are “made specially to please man.”

Rousseau also touches on the political upbringing of Émile in book V by including a concise version of his The Social Contract
Social Contract (Rousseau)
Of The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is the book in which Rousseau theorized about the best way in which to set up a political community in the face of the problems of commercial society which he had already identified in his Discourse on Inequality...

in the book. His political treatise The Social Contract was published in the same year as Émile and was likewise soon banned by the government for its controversial theories on general will
General will
The general will , made famous by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a concept in political philosophy referring to the desire or interest of a people as a whole. As used by Rousseau, the "general will" is identical to the rule of law, and to Spinoza's mens una.The notion of the general will is wholly...

. The version of this work in Émile, however, does not go into detail concerning the tension between the Sovereign and the Executive, but instead refer the reader to the original work.

Emile et Sophie

In the incomplete sequel to Emile, Emile et Sophie, published after Rousseau’s death, Sophie is unfaithful (in what is hinted at might be a drugged rape), and Emile, initially furious with her betrayal, remarks “the adulteries of the women of the world are not more than gallantries; but Sophia an adulteress is the most odious of all monsters; the distance between what she was, and what she is, is immense. No! there is no disgrace, no crime equal to hers.” He later relents somewhat, blaming himself for taking her to a city full of temptation, but he still abandons her and their children. Throughout the agonized internal monologue, represented through letters to his old tutor, he repeatedly comments on all of the affective ties that he has formed in his domestic life—“the chains [his heart] forged for itself” As he begins to recover from the shock, the reader is led to believe that these “chains” are not worth the price of possible pain—“By renouncing my attachments to a single spot, I extended them to the whole earth, and, while I ceased to be a citizen, became truly a man.” While in La Nouvelle Héloïse, the ideal is domestic, rural happiness (if not bliss), in Emile and its sequel, the ideal is “emotional self-sufficiency which was the natural state of primitive, pre-social man, but which for modern man can be attained only by the suppression of his natural inclinations.”

See Also

  • Robinson Crusoe
    Robinson Crusoe
    Robinson Crusoe is a novel by Daniel Defoe that was first published in 1719. Epistolary, confessional, and didactic in form, the book is a fictional autobiography of the title character—a castaway who spends 28 years on a remote tropical island near Trinidad, encountering cannibals, captives, and...

  • Émile, ou De l'éducation at Wikisource (in French)
  • The Emile of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, at Columbia. Complete French text and English translation by Grace G. Roosevelt (an adaptation and revision of the Foxley translation) in an English translation by Barbara Foxley
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