[In Our Time] Rousseau on Education

Rousseau on Education

10/10/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=83544173
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p07qnf38.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) on the education of children, as set out in his novel or treatise Emile, published in 1762. He held that children are born with natural goodness, which he sought to protect as they developed, allowing each to form their own conclusions from experience, avoiding the domineering influence of others. In particular, he was keen to stop infants forming the view that human relations were based on domination and subordination. Rousseau viewed Emile as his most imporant work, and it became very influential. It was also banned and burned, and Rousseau was attacked for not following these principles with his own children, who he abandoned, and for proposing a subordinate role for women in this scheme.

The image above is of Emile playing with a mask on his mother’s lap, from a Milanese edition published in 1805.


Richard Whatmore
Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Co-Director of the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History

Caroline Warman
Professor of French Literature and Thought at Jesus College, Oxford


Denis McManus
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2020-01-21


  • The knobbly savage episode.
  • I learned that Geneva used to be an independent republic and didn’t join Switzerland until the 1800s. Oho.
  • I also learned that Rousseau and Voltaire hated each other and Voltaire exposed Rousseau having had five illegitimate children and leaving them on the doorstep of an orphanage. Enjoyable.
  • So Rousseau was possibly a pioneer of the ‘Cities are corrupt, go back to the countryside’ mode of thought – or at least a pioneer of writing it. I wonder how much of the other people who’ve been advocating it – Gandhi, that chap mentioned in the Our Fake History: Moon Landings episode, and so forth are just rehashing Rousseau, and may not even know it. (The other, more depressing thought, is that they actively want to be in a place where they get to boss around women and others.)
  • The episode talked a lot about ‘Rousseau changed his mind, Rousseau was complex, the French Revolution claimed Rousseau but completely misunderstood him,’ and while that’s probably true, it does mean that there’s no way to some this topic up in a couple of lines. So it goes.


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