Emile, or On Education  

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“God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil. He forces one soil to yield the products of another, one tree to bear another's fruit. He confuses and confounds time, place, and natural conditions. He mutilates his dog, his horse, and his slave. He destroys and defaces all things; he loves all that is deformed and monstrous; he will have nothing as nature made it, not even man himself, who must learn his paces like a saddle-horse, and be shaped to his master's taste like the trees in his garden. Yet things would be worse without this education, and mankind cannot be made by halves. Under existing conditions a man left to himself from birth would be more of a monster than the rest. Prejudice, authority, necessity, example, all the social conditions into which we are plunged, would stifle nature in him and put nothing in her place. She would be like a sapling chance sown in the midst of the highway, bent hither and thither and soon crushed by the passers-by.” --Emile (1762) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile at Project Gutenberg in an English translation by Barbara Foxley [1]

"Les idées générales et abstraites sont la source des plus grandes erreurs des hommes ; jamais le jargon de la métaphysique n’a fait découvrir une seule vérité, et il a rempli la philosophie d’absurdités dont on a honte, sitôt qu’on les dépouille de leurs grands mots."[2]

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Emile: or, On Education (1762) which Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed to be the “best and most important of all my writings” is largely a philosophical treatise on the nature of man; it addresses political and philosophical questions regarding the individual’s relationship to society, in particular how the individual can retain what Rousseau saw as his natural goodness while participating in an inevitably corrupt society. In Emile, Rousseau attempts to describe a system of education that will enable the “natural man” that he outlines in The Social Contract (1762) to live within corrupt society. Rousseau includes the novelistic story of Emile and his tutor in order to illustrate how one might educate this ideal citizen; Emile is therefore not a detailed parenting guide, although it does contain some specific advice on raising children.It is the first complete philosophy of education in the Western tradition, as well as the first Bildungsroman, preceding Goethe's Wilhelm Meister by more than thirty years.

The text is divided into five "books"; the first three are dedicated to the child Emile, the fourth to an exploration of the adolescent Emile and the final book outlines the education of his female counterpart, Sophie, and Emile’s domestic and civic life.

Emile was banned and burned in Paris and Geneva as soon as it was published for the controversial section “Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar,” but despite, or perhaps because of this reputation, it became a European bestseller. Furthermore, during the French Revolution, Emile served as the inspiration for a new national system of education.

Philosophy of lasciviousness

In her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) Mary Wollstonecraft calls the following from Emile, or On Education excerpt a philosophy of lasciviousness.

"In the union of the sexes, both pursue one common object, but not in the same manner. From their diversity in this particular, arises the first determinate difference between the moral relations of each. The one should be active and strong, the other passive and weak: it is necessary the one should have both the power and the will, and that the other should make little resistance. This principle being established, it follows that woman is expressly formed to please the man: if the obligation be reciprocal also, and the man ought to please in his turn, it is not so immediately necessary: his great merit is in his power, and he pleases merely because he is strong. This, I must confess, is not one of the refined maxims of love; it is, however, one of the laws of nature, prior to love itself. If woman be formed to please and be subjected to man it is her place, doubtless, to render herself agreeable to him, instead of challenging his passion. The violence of his desires depends on her charms; it is by means of these she should urge him to the exertion of those powers which nature hath given him. The most successful method of exciting them, is, to render such exertion necessary by their resistance; as, in that case, self-love is added to desire, and the one triumphs in the victory which the other obliged to acquire. Hence arise the various modes of attack and defence between the sexes; the boldness of one sex and the timidity of the other; and, in a word, that bashfulness and modesty with which nature hath armed the weak, in order to subdue the strong." -- Rousseau's Emile: or, On Education.




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