Rousseau is one of the famous Western philosophers of the eighteenth century. During
the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries reason ruled as a god , and people like Voltaire revolted against it. Rousseau also led the revolt against reason and he made nature the sole authority over human affairs.
Rousseau saw a great divide between the society and the nature and so led the second revolt
which was called as the naturalistic movement. He had a great emotion and sympathy for the
common man. (Khalid, 1998).
Jean- Jacques Rousseau was born on 28 June 1712 in the Geneva, Switzerland in the
house of a poor watch maker. His father could not afford a proper education for him so he
received informal education from his father. His mother died shortly after birth. From the age of
twelve to twenty four he travelled to many places and developed sympathy for poor people. In
1735 he was given the job of tutoring the two sons of M. De Malby. From here his interest in
education began and he prepared his first treatise “Project for the education of M. De Sainte-
In 1756 he was provided a hermitage by a lady on her estate. Here he studied the letters
she wrote to her nine year old son and he advised her about how it was not natural for a child of
this age to be educated. He wrote “Emile” in 1762 in which he used an the imaginary description
of the education of a boy named Emile and described how the education should be imparted
starting from infancy up to manhood. He died on 17 July 1778.(Khalid, 1998).
Rousseau’s main subjects of interest were philosophy, music, education and literature.
Some of the notable ideas given by him include: general will, amour- proper, natural goodness of
humanity. Rousseau was influenced by Hobbes, Locke, Diderot, Montesquieu and Machiavelli.
He in turn influenced the works of Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Goethe, Romanticism, Paine, Comte,
Bolivar and Engels. (Wikipedia the free encyclopedia).
Aims of education
As mentioned earlier Rousseau was the leader of the naturalistic movement. According to him
“man was born free and good and could remain that way in some ideal state of nature ”.
(Noddings, 1995, p.15).His main idea was that human being is created good by God and must
make all efforts to remain that way. Rousseau had an anti social attitude because he thought that
society was responsible for corrupting the nature of man. According to Noddings (1995, p. 15):
“having to live with other people and accommodate to their needs begins a process of corruption
in man that reaches its peak in the society characteristic of Rousseau’s time.” Thus Rousseau
wanted to work towards a society in which human being would remain in his/her natural state but
still be able to mingle within the society without corrupting this natural state. As stated by
Noddings (1995, p. 15): “his was an attempt to balance the needs of conjoint living with those of
The theory of natural man given by him brought him towards making such a plan for
education in which a person will be able to fulfil both the needs of living in a society and remain
in a natural state. Rousseau believed that education was not merely imparting information upon
the learner. Education also takes place from the environment around him/her. Khalid (1998,
p.93) states: “Rousseau says that education comes to us from nature, from man and from things.
Here he is regarding nature as equivalent of endowment.” Rousseau believed the education from
nature to be of the utmost importance followed by education from man and things. This is
because he considers emotions to be more trustworthy then experiences. (Khalid, 1998).
So the aims of education given by Rousseau can be summarized as follows:
Development of the abilities of the learner : the abilities given to a child by God must be
developed in a way so that they are not damaged in any way and the child remains
Liberty and happiness of child: the child receiving the education must not feel over
burdened by the knowledge imparted on him/her. The child must feel free and happy
during the course of education.
Preparation for life and participation in it: during education a child must be prepared to
face all the problems and difficulties that life challenge him with. He should be able to
make his own decisions and not rely on others judgments. He must also contribute to life.
Rousseau has provided very detailed information about his aims of education but it is
notable that he does not have the same aims for females. For females the aims of education differ
drastically. (Noddings, 1995).
In the words of Rousseau as cited in Noddings (1995, p.18): “The entire education of
woman must be relative to men. To please them, to be useful to them, to be loved and honoured
by them, to rear them when they are young, to care for them when they are grown up, to counsel
and console, to make their lives pleasant and charming, these are the duties of women at all
times, and they should be taught them in their child hood. To the extent that we refuse to go back
to this principle, we will stray from our goal and all percepts women are given will not result in
their happiness or our own.”
So according to Rousseau woman is only to please men and should be given an education
that takes them towards this goal.
Syllabus of Rousseau
Rousseau believed that the aims of education differ at different stages of a man’s life. So
he has provided a comprehensive syllabus for each stage of life starting from infancy to adulthood. Rousseau wrote his book “Emile” to show people how children should be brought up. In Emile Rousseau divides the development of child in five stages and gives the complete course of education for males. For females as mentioned earlier a very different syllabus is provided in his book where Sophie is the imaginary character to be educated. (jean- Jacques rousseau on nature, wholeness and education, n.d.).
Rousseau believed that children must be taught naturally but they must be taken care of by the parents and protected from unnatural prejudices, authority and force which surrounds them. (Lobo, 1974). Education- as mentioned earlier occurs from three sources: nature, man and things. According to Lobo (1974, p. 19): “natural means developing ones faculties and powers. Human(man) means making use of these natural faculties and powers. Things acquired by dealing with things(experience)”. The five stages of education as given by Lobo (1974, p.71) are:
1. Infancy : 0 – 6 years
2. Boyhood : 7 – 9 years
3. Preadolescence : 10 – 12 years
4. Adolescence : 13 – 19 years
5. Adulthood : 20 years and onwards
First stage: Infancy (0 – 6 years)
In the first stage of their life children are taught the use of their senses with experience. Education must be according to the nature of the child. No subjects must be taught. There must be no formal tutor and education must be the responsibility of the parents. At this stage child is allowed co-education with girl cousins. The parents must make sure that the child develops physically strong and healthy and that his senses are well used. The aim of education at this stage according to Khalid (1998, p. 98) is: “…to develop a well regulated sense of liberty and happiness”.
At this stage the child learns feelings such as pleasure or pain, fear of the unknown and courage in facing new situations. Memory and imagination begin at this stage the child should be allowed to touch as it gives him the idea of space and distance. Rousseau says that tears are the basis of relationships. According to Rousseau as cited in Lobo (1974, p.72): “the first tears of the infant are prayers but if one does not watch out, they will become commands.” The child is not aware of moralities and must be taught these by the adults. Precocity (premature culture) is considered bad by Rousseau. He says that the time table of nature must be followed. The maxims given by Rousseau are given in Lobo (1974, pp. 72-73) as:
Let the child employ all its faculties, especially movement
Supply physical wants
Help in real needs not imaginary needs
Learn from child’s speech and signs what his needs are.
Second stage: Boyhood (7 – 9 years)
According to Khalid(1998, p. 98) : “the aim of education at this stage is to perfect the organs and the senses that are instruments of knowledge and the development of his natural powers before knowledge is actually received.” The senses of the child must be developed with gymnastics and games and other types of exercises. The development of senses is important because these help in the proper development of reasoning and judgment. Rousseau does not opt for books at this stage of a child’s life. There should also be no verbal lessons or books for the child at this stage. According to Rousseau as cited in Khalid(1998, p.99): “reading is the curse of childhood.” Also “childhood is the sleep of reason.” (Khalid, 1998).
At this stage child must allowed to enjoy his life. The child at this point in life becomes conscious of his existence. He must be taught to live his life in accordance with the nature. This is because “man who does not live according to nature, but fashions himself through social institutions suffers misery.” (Lobo, 1974, p. 74).
Rousseau proposes the following methods for education at this stage:
· Let him be dependent on things not on persons
· Learn the hard way – through experience
· Give help only when needed
· Do not over tax the child’s capacity
· The best value is well regulated liberty
· No verbal lessons
· No punishments
· Don’t save time but lose it – the most useful rule of education at this stage
The various modes of education that must begin at this stage are:
Moral education: main thing to be taught is “never do harm to anyone”
Intellectual education: learn first by senses, then by ideas then comes judgment. One language must be learned at a time.
Motivation : child must feel the importance of learning.
Discipline : from nature not from things.
The following key concepts must also be learned:
Idea of property: what is ours
Idea of contract: respect others to be respected by others
Idea of justice: what others owe to us
Telling the truth:
Prayer: personal and not just a ritual
Charity: taught as an attitude and value
Morality: learned from the adults by watching them
Third stage : preadolescence (10 – 12 years)
This stage is characterized by utility and the training of the intellect. At this stage the child is ready to receive knowledge. The aim of education at this stage given by Rousseau is “to gain useful knowledge which would satisfy his wants and desires and stand the test of practical needs.” (Khalid, 1998. P.100). At this stage the child is now ready to receive knowledge of various subjects. So the content of his education must include:
Geography: they must be taught about ones own region using ones own instruments. Here accuracy is not important as much as self confidence.
Science: this should be taught using practical methods in laboratories and workshops and not from books.
Social relations: he must be taught the importance of companionship.
Manual work: this will prepare him for any emergency that might arise.
The methods implied at this stage are:
Primary education: this must be purely negative. Don’t teach them virtue but train the heart against vice and mind against error.
Positive moral education: this can only be achieved by giving example of ones own conduct. A child learns morals by observing his adults.
Fourth stage: Adolescence (13 – 19 years)
This is the stage of morality and of moral aesthetic and social education. The aim of education at this stage according to Rousseau is “…education should shape the heart. It should make Emile loving and tender hearted. He must learn to live for others and to live together in social relationships.” (Khalid, 1998.p.101). Child must also now be taught about God. At this stage the emotions and sentiments of a man develop. The man is according to Rousseau as cited in Lobo (1974, p.79): “like a lion in his fever - does not want to be governed.” The methods and content at this stage of life should be:
· The passions: these must neither be destroyed nor prevented.
· The primordial passions: this is the love of oneself which should be in balance – not too much and not too little.
· Sex: this was at fist indeterminate but now seeks an objects.
· Friendship: is for all and must come before love for one person.
· The natural law: this is based not on reason but on love of men derived from self love.
· Study of society: the study of lives of great men show us the role of good will as well as of evil intentions. It also teaches that wars are manmade and not natural.
· Morality: this is now based on self love according to Rousseau “virtue” is self love extended to others.
· Religion: this should again be taught from nature and not from books.
· Sex education: this comes after religious education, must be given by a person whom the youth can trust, questions must be answered not aroused.
Fifth stage: Adulthood (20 and above)
At this stage the person enters the society the content and methods of education at this stage are as follows:
Aesthetic sense: this is developed by visiting various places such as Paris, visiting theatres, learning to look for happiness instead of wealth and study good taste and not morals.
Moral sense: a virtuous man is one who controls himself, follows his reason and his conscience. He is his own master and commands his own heart.
Home and marriage: man should make his home in the place of his birth.
In conclusion it can be said that Rousseau was a great philosopher of his time and his stages of life are still applicable in our present day situation. Although he was biased where the education of a female is concerned but the detailed syllabus provided for the education of males is very comprehensive and if followed can lead to a man who is self controlled and can make hai own decisions in life.
Jean-jacques rousseau on nature, wholeness and education (n.d.). Retrieved on April 26, 2008
from http:// www. Infed.org/thinkers/et-rous.htm
Khalid, T. (1998). Education: An introduction to educational philosophy and history.
Islamabad: National book foundation.
Lobo, A.T. (1974). Educational ideas and their impact. Karachi: Rotti press.
Noddings, N. (1995). Philosophy of education: dimensions of philosophy series. Colorado:
Wikipedia (n.d.). Jean- Jacques Rousseau. Retrieved on April 26, 2008
from http:// Wikipedia.com/Jean-Jacques Rousseau.htm