Rousseau’s Philosophy of Education

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Emilius and Sophia: or, a New System of Education, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s self-proclaimed ‘best’ and ‘most important’ work, from which today’s source originates details Rousseau’s philosophy of education. It is written as part novel, part treatise, and describes the education of protagonist Émile from birth to adulthood through the eyes of his tutor. It was originally published in 1762, just several months after Rousseau’s Social Contract, and both were immediately banned by Paris authorities – Émile being placed on the Index, and simultaneously condemned by the Sorbonne, the General Assembly of the Clergy and the Parlement of Paris, although on religious, rather than pedagogic grounds. It was also the most widely read of Rousseau’s works in his lifetime. In this particular section, appearing in the work’s fifth volume, we are introduced to Émile’s future wife Sophie, encapsulating Rousseau’s vision of the ideal woman, as Émile is his ideal man. Rousseau’s famous and infamous philosophy of female education sparked a huge contemporary response, provoking charges that it was both unjust and inconsistent with his own underlying principles, in particular, his insistence on the natural equality and independence of all human beings. Mary Wollstonecraft for example, who in her 1792 Vindication of the Rights of Women pressed for equality in education and legal rights, in order to give women a proper role and status dismissed Rousseau’s views on female education as ‘the reveries of fancy’ and a ‘refined licentiousness’ by which women are falsely made ‘the slave of love’. – For while the purpose of Sophie’s education, like Émile’s, is to perfect her nature, the perfection of her nature is to serve her husband– to develop her ‘natural essence’ of motherhood and dependence on man. He writes ‘the whole education of women ought to relate to men. To please men, to be useful to them, to make herself loved and honoured by them, to raise them when young, to care for them when...
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