Emile, or On Education

Rousseau's Indictment of the Social Order in Emile

Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Emile (1762) consists of a series of stories, and its teaching comes to light only when one has grasped each of these stories in its complex artistic details and in its entirety. The interpretation of this hybrid text, the first ‘bildungsroman’ requires a union of l’ spirit de geometrie and l’ spirit de finesse, a union in which it both typifies and teaches.

In the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (1753) Rousseau says that “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.” Man is born equal, self-sufficient, unprejudiced, but we find at the end of history that he is in fetters. With the progress of civilization man has socially degenerated. He is constantly plagued by the social inequality, superstitions and the division between his inclinations and his duties. Nature has made man a brute. History has made man civilized, but unhappy and immoral. History is not a theodicy but a tale of misery and corruption.

For Rousseau, Emile is the history of his species rather than a novel. Kant says that it is a work which attempts to reconcile nature and with history, man’s selfish nature with the demands of the civil society, in other way, inclination with duty. Rousseau tries to restore the harmony of man with...

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