Rousseau's (Educational) Principles and Purposes

by Gordon L. Ziniewicz

1. The overall purpose or Summum Bonum (reason for living): Fulfillment of the originally good tendencies of human nature through appropriate social institutions and education.

2. We are handed originally good human nature and we tend to mess it up.

3. Human nature, like a plant, must be cultivated and tended. This is the task of education (cultivation).

4. We have three teachers -- nature, man, and things. Nature teaches us through internal growth and development (includes pain). Man teaches us (or ought to) how to make use of what nature gives us. Things teach us through experience (how things affect us).

5. The lessons learned from the three types of teachers (nature, man, and things) must coincide and not conflict, or the pupil will not be at peace with himself/herself.

6. We have no control over what nature gives us. Our purpose is the purpose assigned to us by nature. We have limited control over experience of things. What we have most control over (human teaching) must conform to natural tendencies (or there will be conflict). Formal education must follow and not go against natural human tendencies.

7. Our developed sensibilities or feelings (including imagination and intelligence) should conform to, follow from, and be consistent with our original inclinations.

8. A man should not be educated for others (public), instead of for himself. The development of individual nature can conflict with "public" development of citizens.

9. Appreciate the innocence of children. Let them be children when they are children, playing games and the like. Don't rush their growth.

10. Children should learn self-reliance. The more they can do for themselves, the less they will depend on others.

11. Children should experience suffering, so that they will learn to live life to the fullest. Do not let them suffer too much or too little. Nature teaches by means of bringing pain and suffering. This toughens them up.

12. Do not admonish children too much; this makes them servile. Do not be too permissive; this makes them despotic. "Nature made children to be loved and helped, not to be obeyed and feared."

13. Do not use base passions (such as fear, envy, greed, and jealousy) as instruments in bringing up children. Trying to make them good with bad means ends up making them wicked.

14. Let children learn from experience; avoid verbal lessons. Don't punish them when they are unable to do anything wrong, since they are innocent and devoid of morality.

15. "The first impulses of nature are always right." "The only passion natural to man is self-love, or self-esteem in a broad sense." This passion is good insofar as it relates to ourselves, and good or bad in its social applications. Since this social use cannot be determined except by reason, until reason appears in the child, the child should "only do what nature demands of him."

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Copyright © 1997 Gordon L. Ziniewicz
This page last updated 10/14/12

Please note: These philosophical commentaries, though still in process, are the intellectual property of Gordon L. Ziniewicz. They may be downloaded and freely distributed in electronic form only, provided no alterations are made to the original text. One print copy may be made for personal use, but further reproduction and distribution of printed copies are prohibited without the permission of the author.