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Natural freedom and moral autonomy: Emile as parent, teacher and citizen

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The following analysis seeks to question Rousseau's assumptions concerning the desirability of an ‘education from things’. In particular, I will focus on the problematic relationship between, on one hand, the development of Emile's sense of freedom and independence, and on the other, his sense of moral autonomy. It is my contention that moral development necessarily entails both what Rousseau provides, namely a well-developed conception of individuality, and something that is sorely lacking in Rousseau's project. Turning to an analysis of the preceptor's role in Emile's education, I will argue that it is precisely this type of connection and commitment to other human beings that Emile's education fails to foster. Ultimately, Emile emerges from his education prepared to deal with other humans on one level, but woefully lacking in other skills that are necessary for moral personhood.

Keywords: Emile; Rousseau; conception of individuality; education; freedom; independence; rights

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Washington University.

Publication date: January 1, 1995


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