WESTERN EDUCATIONIST “JEAN-JACQUES
ROUSSEAU” AND HIS CONTRIBUTION IN
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the most influential thinkers during the Enlightenment in
eighteenth century Europe. He was a major Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of
18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy heavily influenced the French
Revolution, as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and
educational thought. His first major philosophical work, A Discourse on the Sciences and
Arts, was the winning response to an essay contest conducted by the Academy of Dijon in
1750. In this work, Rousseau argues that the progression of the sciences and arts has caused
the corruption of virtue and morality. This discourse won Rousseau fame and recognition,
and it laid much of the philosophical groundwork for a second, longer work, The Discourse
on the Origin of Inequality. The second discourse did not win the Academy’s prize, but like
the first, it was widely read and further solidified Rousseau’s place as a significant
intellectual figure. The central claim of the work is that human beings are basically good by
nature, but were corrupted by the complex historical events that resulted in present day civil
society. Rousseau’s praise of nature is a theme that continues throughout his later works as
well, the most significant of which include his comprehensive work on the philosophy of
education, the Emile, and his major work on political philosophy, The Social Contract: both
published in 1762. These works caused great controversy in France and were immediately
banned by Paris authorities. Rousseau fled France and settled in Switzerland, but he
continued to find difficulties with authorities and quarrel with friends. The end of Rousseau’s
life was marked in large part by his growing paranoia and his continued attempts to justify his
life and his work. This is especially evident in his later books, The Confessions, The Reveries
of the Solitary Walker, and Rousseau: Judge of Jean-Jacques.
The Beginnings of Modern Philosophy and the Enlightenment:
Rousseau’s major works span the mid to late eighteenth century. As such, it is appropriate to
consider Rousseau, at least chronologically, as an Enlightenment thinker. However, there is
dispute as to whether Rousseau’s thought is best characterized as “Enlightenment” or
“counter-Enlightenment.” The major goal of Enlightenment thinkers was to give a foundation
to philosophy that was independent of any particular tradition, culture, or religion: one that
any rational person would accept. In the realm of science, this project has its roots in the birth
of modern philosophy, in large part with the seventeenth century philosopher, Rene
Descartes. Descartes was very skeptical about the possibility of discovering final causes, or
purposes, in nature. Yet this teleological understanding of the world was the very cornerstone
of Aristotelian metaphysics, which was the established philosophy of the time. And so
Descartes’ method was to doubt these ideas, which he claims can only be understood in a
confused way, in favor of ideas that he could conceive clearly and distinctly. In the
Meditations, Descartes claims that the material world is made up of extension in space, and
this extension is governed by mechanical laws that can be understood in terms of pure
ROUSSEAU’S CONCEPT OF EDUCATION
‘The noblest work in education is to make a reasoning man, and we expect to train a young
child by making him reason! This beginning at the end; this is making an instrument of a
result. If children understood how to reason they would not need to be educated.”
Rousseau, Emile. (2)
Rousseau’s philosophy of education is not concerned with particular techniques of imparting
information and concepts, but rather with developing the pupil’s character and moral sense,
so that he may learn to practice self-mastery and remain virtuous even in the unnatural and
imperfect society in which he will have to live. The basic philosophy of education that
Rousseau advocates in the Emile, much like his thought in the first two Discourses, is rooted
in the notion that human beings are good by nature. The Emile is a large work, which is
divided into five Books, and Book One opens with Rousseau’s claim that the goal of
education should be to cultivate our natural tendencies. This is not to be confused with
Rousseau’s praise of the pure state of nature in the Second Discourse. Rousseau is very clear
that a return the state of nature once human beings have become civilized is not possible.
Therefore, we should not seek to be noble savages in the literal sense, with no language, no
social ties, and an underdeveloped faculty of reason. Rather, Rousseau says, someone who
has been properly educated will be engaged in society, but relate to his or her fellow citizens
in a natural way.
ROUSSEAU’S CONTRIBUTION TO EDUCATION
The Educational Theory of Jean Jacques Rousseau
Theory of Value:
The sciences and the arts, while brilliant, are not a genuine expression of fundamental
human needs but the result of pride and vanity.
Man's fundamental first duty is to learn the art of living; man's first duty is to be
Keep harmful influences away from the young child; a child should grow in
accordance with his own nature; no early childhood education.
Goals of education recognize a progressive education that respects that the child has
his own special needs as a being that exists in his own right.
Children should be children before being men".
Well regulated freedom provides the only valid basis and aim of sound education.
Necessity is captible with controlled freedom since it lets the human being exercise
his powers within the limits prescribed for him by nature.
Object of education is to make a man, not a soldier, priest etc; improvement of inner
self as worth as an end to itself.(3)
Theory of Knowledge
Knowledge constitutes the ability to reason and use our senses to learn; if we use
books in place of nature and our senses it teaches us to believe much and know little.
The instruments of knowledge are our own body.
Education should be rooted in man's moral nature.
Educate to be a man, not one profession; he will be able to do whatever is needed in
A lie in society man cherishes as virtues what are really vices, i.e. the lie of
Theory of Human Nature
Human nature is sacrificed by the demands of the focus on the development of an
Human Nature is in constant conflict with expectations of society.
Virtue confers stability and unity upon the human existence because it subordinates
the idle speculation to the active needs of the moral life; it induces strength and vigor
to the soul; allows for fall expression of man's genius; existence is solid and
The original nature of man is good but corrupted by society.
To be good is to exist according to ones intrinsic potentiality of one's nature.
Man's egotistic nature prevents him from regaining the simplicity of original human
Self-love is always good in its purest state and spontaneous; it expresses the real
essence of human existence.
Self-love serves as a source of all genuinely natural impulses and emotions; from
instinctively displayed in self-preservation to a nobler expression when combined
Natural order affects all aspects of human existence; brings individual into contact
with his own inner self, physical environment and his fellow man.
All passions are good if they are under our control; all are bad if they control us.
Man's nature is not fully mature until it becomes social.
Natural man in the state of nature is predominately an instinctive primitive creature
living on the spontaneous expression of his innate vitality; man in the social state is a
rational, moral being aware of obligations to other people, cafled upon to subordinate
the impulse of goodness to the demands of virtue -a moral and relative existence.
Rational man always has an awareness of common good and the need to live in
harmonious relationship with his fellow man.
Cannot separate morality and politics.
Man's ultimate feeling of satisfaction is to feel himself at one with a God created
system in which all is good; goal of human endeavor is happiness.(5)
Theory of Learning:
He stresses the importance of a progressive education adapted to the individuals
developing needs so to follow "the natural progress of the human heart.
Starts from a fundamental principle (man's natural goodness) derived initially from
personal intuition and is verifiable by observation and psychological analysis.
Early education is based primarily on the senses; promotes direct contact with the
physical world; no book learning for early education.
Learning is done through trial and error, experimentation through concrete medium.
Only book allowed a child was Robinson Crusoe because it describes a man's reliance
on his own ingenuity and resourcefulness.
No judgment on accomplishments; the child is happy as he is unaware of capacity and
desire, power and will, and artificial needs ("happy savage")
Rousseau recognizes the need for the child to be prepared for the future. Within the
child is a reservoir of potential energy they don't need immediately; the educators task
is to hold back the energy until it can be used effectively.
After lessons of necessity, lessons of utility are to be learned to develop reason to be
applied to what interests and helps him.
Early judgments must be formed not through words or abstractions but through
sensations and feelings. A positive education begins only when the child becomes
aware of his relationships with other people based on sensibility, particularly the
innate feeling of pity, and later love and aversion.
Through the source of our passions we are impelled “beyond ourselves" and extend
Primitive stage complete, move onto involving ourselves in relations with the physical
realm of nature and the world of human beings.(6)
Theory of Transmission
Teachers will teach outside of society in the realm of nature.
Students are provided with concrete materials, objects and situations for learning to
To teach a child you must understand him.(7)
Theory of Opportunity
Education of girls similar to boys in regard to naturalness but different because of
A girl cannot be educated to be a man. Studies must be on the practical side because a
woman should be the center of the family, a housewife, and mother; should strive to
please her husband and have a good reputation.(8)
Theory of Consensus
Man disagrees because of wants, avidity, oppression, desires, pride.
Legitimate authority, each man giving himself to all, gives himself to nobody; allows
security and natural freedom.
Rule by the general will; expressed in laws to which all submit; represents the public
spirit seeking the common good; assumes that everyone's true interests must coincide.
Total sovereignty of the state guided by the general will.(9)
The greatest work produced by Rousseau is ‘Emile’. This work is more a tract upon
education under the guise of a story than it is a novel in the true sense of the word novel. The
book describes the ideal education which prepares Emile and Sophie for their eventual
marriage. The following represents an outline of the vital educational principles found in
1. BOOK ONE:
This book deals with the infancy of the child. The underlying thesis of all Rousseau's
writings stresses the natural goodness of man. It is society that corrupts and makes a man
evil. Rousseau states that the tutor can only stand by at this period of the child's development,
ensuring that the child does not acquire any bad habits. Rousseau condemned the practice of
some mothers who sent their infants to a wet nurse. He believed it was essential for mothers
to nurse their own children. This practice is consistent with natural law.
2. BOOK TWO:
Rousseau describes the education of the child when the tutor has full responsibility. Some of
the major points of this section of the book are:
a. Purpose of Education
The tutor prepares the child for no particular social institution. Rather it is necessary to
preserve the child from the baleful influence of society. Education must be child-centered.
The tutor permits the child to develop his natural capacities. The aim of education is never
social. It is always individualistic.
b. The School
Emile is educated away from city or town. Living in the country close to nature he should
develop into the benevolent, good adult intended by nature. This school does not confine the
youth to a classroom. No textbooks are utilized. The child learns by using his senses in direct
c. Problem Centered
The tutor could employ no force in his teaching. When the child felt the need to know
something, he would be moved to learn. Thus, Emile desired to know reading and writing in
order to communicate with Sophie.
d. Character Education
The child learns morality by experiencing the consequences of his actions. Children are
morally bad only after learning reprehensible behavior from adults. Punishment is never
resorted to by the tutor.
e. Physical Education
Rousseau stresses the importance of physical activities in order to build a strong body. Emile
is given opportunity to engage in swimming, running and athletic sports. His diet and living
conditions are rigidly controlled. He lives in Spartan simplicity.
3. BOOK THREE:
This section describes the intellectual education of Emile. Again, this education is based upon
Emile's own nature. When he is ready to learn and is interested in language, geography,
history and science, he will possess the inner direction necessary to learn. This learning
would grow out of the child's activities. He will learn languages naturally through the normal
conversational activity. Geography begins with the immediate surroundings of the youth and
extends to the world through Emile's increased interest. The sense experience by which he
observes the motion of the sun leads him to knowledge of astronomy. Knowledge of natural
science is achieved through his interest in his own garden. Rousseau assumes that Emile's
motivation leads to the purposive self-discipline necessary to acquire knowledge. Finally
Emile is taught the trade of carpentry in order to prepare him for an occupation in life.
4. BOOK FOUR:
This section describes the social education and the religious education of Emile. The
education of Sophie is considered and the book concludes with the marriage of Emile and
Sophie. The following represents some of the major points:
a. Social Attitudes
Emile is permitted to mingle with people in society at the age of sixteen. He is guided toward
the desirable attitudes that lead to self-respect. Emile's earlier education protects him from the
corrupting influence of society.
b. Natural Religion
The revelation and dogma of organized religion are unnecessary for man. The fundamental
tenets of any religion affirm the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. These are
known through the heart only. It is not only unnecessary, but impossible to reason to these
truths. The Savoyard Vicar explains this natural religion, as Emile experiences the sensitive
emotion derived from his view of the valley of the Po. Religion, therefore, is a matter of
personal feeling and emotion.
c. Education of Women
Having completed the explanation of Emile's ideal education, Rousseau turns his attention to
the education of Sophie. Women are not educated as are men. The natural purpose of a
woman is to please a man. She is expected to have and care for children, and to please, advise
and console her husband whenever necessary. Her education does not extend beyond this
ROUSSEAU AIMS OF EDUCATION
Attainment of fullest natural growth leading to balanced, harmonious and useful life.
Prepares the child to live life.
To develop well regulated freedom.
To provide the child with strength to attain well regulated freedom.
Period of instruction, labor and study.
Training of heart, to make the child loving, social.
Religious, moral and social education is recommended.
Sex instinct is to be sublimated by redirection in work and activity.(11)
Allow the child to wander freely, play-things.
Greatest freedom of physical movement to learn by own experience, simple diet, light
clothing, no instruction of language, history or geography, exercise the body, sense
organs and powers i.e. learning to judge, foresee and reason, no need to learn by heart.
Curriculum should be built around curiosity to develop the urge for knowledge,
studies to reveal nature, astronomy, science and arts and craft, total intellectual and
Training of heart to be social and adapt to the conduct and interest of others, study of
society, economics, politics, history and religion is important.(12)
ROUSSEAU’S PRINCIPLE OF TEACHING
The principle of teaching as suggested implicitly by Rousseau reflects his naturalistic
philosophy. He lays stress on direct experience of things and on the principle of learning by
doing. He says,”teach by doing whenever you can and only fall back on words when doing
is out of the question.” (13)
Rousseau advocates the adoption of the heuristic attitude which places the child in the
position to discover. Do not teach books, they only teach us to talk about things that we know
nothing about own experience, not from books “let the child not be taught science, let him
discover it”. Provide sense training never substitute the symbol for the thing unless it is
impossible to show the thing itself. The same principles are to be followed in teaching
mathematics, history, geography, social relations and morality. Rousseau. Like a modern
educator thinks less of the teacher’s own exposition, much more of the learning experience of
the pupil. (14)
ROLE OF A TEACHER
Rousseau termed the role of a teacher as:
Minor place to the teacher.
Not an instructor but only a guide.
Responsibility to motivate the child to learn.
Must understand the nature of the child to be able to control his emotional reactions.
Not to impose any rules of control.
Guide properly with perfect freedom.
The highest function of the teachers consists not so much in imparting knowledge but
on stimulating the pupils in their love and pursuit.
ROUSSEAU’S VIEW ON DISCIPLINE
A free atmosphere can enable the child to develop his inborn and innate capacities Nature of
the children are essentially good, let them act freely No punishment to the child Discipline by
natural consequences. According to Rousseau,
“Children should never receive punishment as such; it should always come as natural
consequence of their fault.”(15)
He advises the teacher not to intervene in matters of moral guidance as means of disciplining
Rousseau has exerted great influence on education in its manifold aspects. Although his main
in life was to destroy traditionalism, yet many of the important principles in modern
pedagogy can be traced back to him. He asserted that education is a natural process, its
function is not to remake the nature of the child by forcing on him the traditional or
customary way of thinking and doing. It is a process of development of the natural powers of
thepupil, not an acquisition of information alone. He declared that a child is not a miniature
adult. His instincts ought to be respected, his personality, individuality should be kept intact.
It is due to Rousseau that the need of sense training and physical activities in the earlier
development of the child has been recognized in modern systems of education. We are
indebted to Rousseau for his emphasis on such principles as’ learning by doing’ or ‘learning
through one’s experience and heuristic teaching,’
ANALYSIS OF JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU WORK IN
RELATION TO PRESENT ERA
To justify why human society goes from a wonderful and positive state of nature into a
mostly uncontrollable political state, it is virtually impossible. Rousseau feels that when we
enter into this political state, or society, that it is an inevitable. Humans will reach their
potential, however at the same time society takes us away from our natural state and corrupts
us. In this state of nature, humans are basically good. Rousseau thinks that nature should
educate because it educates according to necessity. Throughout time, human society has
evolved into a society educated by man. In the past, man has learned off of nature and his
environment only to do and have what was necessary to get by. For the reason that man knew
of no other life other than his own, man was happy. However, in today's society, man knows
of many ways of life. There are many more ways to live, things to learn about, and
possessions to own. In this aspect, man needs more than natures' education in order to live in
this society in which we have created. Today's education changes day to day in order to adapt
to daily challenges. Nature does have an important role in the education of an individual,
however in order for a person, in today's society, to be able to live a mentally and physically
healthy and happy life, he or she must learn not only through nature, but also by man. The
three main educative forces, Rousseau talks about, are nature, men, and also things. The
education of nature consists only of what the human body is born with. Nature teaches us
boundaries, while balancing our power and will. With too much power or will, we are not
able to realize the one that is being overpowered. Thus causing us to exceed the lesser of the
two, and forcing us to balance our expectations with our abilities. The second educative force
is that of man. Man shows us how to use our body that we are born with. This education,
however, is one that Rousseau says that we have control of, or so he thinks. Last, there is the
education from things. This is what we learn from objects and things around us. He feels the
best education is to not do anything at all. That we should just let nature educate society
without interference from anyone or anything. However, he contradicts himself by saying that
all three types of education must work together in order for us to become his "perfect result".
So, if this is true, than how is man's education so evil and corrupting?"Nature, described by
Rousseau, "is only habit". However, he himself questions such a definition. He gives the
example of the habit of plants. When a plant is forced from its natural upright position and
than replanted, the unnatural movement remains the same while all new growth stays in its
natural position. He uses this analogy to help us understand that human inclinations are the
same. Human tendency will revert back to nature once it is free from restraints. These human
inclinations are what Rousseau describes nature to be. They are our sensations that we are
born with. They grow and strengthen with the growth of sensibility and intelligence, but are
replaced by beliefs when under the pressure from pure habit. Rousseau's goal of education is
to develop single-minded individuals who are focused on what they want and not swayed by
others. They must be self-disciplined in order to make their own decisions and to get what
they want from life, making them in a way selfish. This Rousseau thinks will allow a child to
equalize power and will. Rousseau would choose to educate for the making of a man rather
than of a citizen. He wants man to be like Emile, the imaginary pupil who is healthy, strong,
single-minded, and independent. When making a citizen, you must educate them fully to
understand society. They must receive a "public" education in which goals are never reached
and the roads that the individual takes in life will always lead to nowhere. That individual
will not have led a good life, or a happy one.
Rousseau thinks that we are born with the ability to learn, however we do not have any innate
knowledge. He uses Emile to explain the role that nature plays in an individual's intellectual
and moral development through education. Rousseau raised Emile with the least possible
restrictions. Rousseau's job as his tutor was to preserve.
Even today the theory on inequality in our society by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, though may be
arguable in some aspects, is very commonplace, as an inequality among men still exists and a
lot of people are concerned about it. If we search the web or buy the newspaper in the street
we will be amazed how the issue of inequality is urgent today. There is still a great inequality
in some countries where people cannot even express their opinion freely. Even today there is
a great inequality among men in our society, people are suffering from the hand of others,
they often cannot express what they believe in, the majority of them remains poor while the
rich minority rules. All this information does not contradict, but only supports the theory of
Jean-Jacques Rousseau. And whenever we agree or not with his theory about the origin of an
inequality, we will definitely confirm that the inequality is a bitter fact of the modern society,
and every man should ask himself, if he can do something to fight it. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
was one of the greatest philosophers of the 18th century, as he was the author of the theory
that is very urgent even today. That was the reason a lot of modern thinkers addressed in their
works Rousseau. He tried to prove that the inequality is the product of the society, and since
people cannot return to the state of nature, they should change the system they live in. That
was this idea that is considered to be the main impetus towards French Revolution and many
other events that shook our society for years.
In our day, sociologists and ethnologists have recognized Rousseau, the self-styled “apologist
of nature,” as a forerunner of the social sciences and perhaps, even, as their founder. Émile
Durkheim said succinctly of the Discourse. “Rousseau demonstrated a long time ago that if
all that comes to man from society was peeled off, there would remain nothing but a creature
reduced to sense experience and more or less undifferentiated from the animal”.(16)
9… Emile, or on Education by John Jacques Rousseau, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
12…History and Philosophy of Education by S.M.Shahid
13...History and Philosophy of Education by S.M.Shahid
15…Rousseau by Timothy O'Hagan
16… Rousseau by Timothy O'Hagan
Emile By Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Rousseau's contributions to psychology, philosophy and education By Walter Bowers
Philosophy of Education By Nel Noddings
Rousseau By N. J. H. Dent
Rousseau by Timothy O'Hagan
History and Philosophy of Education by S.M.Shahid