Emile, or On Education

Politics and philosophy

The work tackles fundamental political and philosophical questions about the relationship between the individual and society — how, in particular, the individual might retain what Rousseau saw as innate human goodness 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.[4] He employs the novelistic device of Emile and his tutor to illustrate how such an ideal citizen might be educated. Emile is scarcely a detailed parenting guide but it does contain some specific advice on raising children.[5] It is regarded by some as the first philosophy of education in Western culture to have a serious claim to completeness, as well as being one of the first Bildungsroman novels, having preceded Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by more than thirty years.[6]

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