Emile: Or, on Education

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Allan Bloom | Go to book overview
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PREFACE

THIS COLLECTION of reflections and observations, disordered and almost incoherent, was begun to gratify a good mother who knows how to think. I had at first planned only a monograph of a few pages. My subject drew me on in spite of myself, and this monograph imperceptibly became a sort of opus, too big, doubtless, for what it contains, but too small for the matter it treats. For a long time I hesitated to publish it; and often, in working at it, it has made me aware that it is not sufficient to have written a few pamphlets to know how to compose a book. After vain efforts to do better, I believe I ought to present it as it is, judging that it is important to turn public attention in this direction; and that although my ideas may be bad, if I cause others to give birth to good ones, I shall not entirely have wasted my time. A man, who from his retirement casts his pages out among the public, without boosters, without a party that defends them, without even knowing what is thought or said about them, need not fear that, if he is mistaken, his errors will be accepted without examination.3

I will say little of the importance of a good education; nor will I stop to prove that the current one is bad. Countless others have done so before me, and I do not like to fill a book with things everybody knows. I will only note that for the longest time there has been nothing but a cry against the established practice without anyone taking it upon himself to propose a better one. The literature and the learning of our age tend much more to destruction than to edification. A magisterial tone fits censure; but another kind of tone--one less agreeable to philosophic haughtiness--must be adopted in order to make proposals. In spite of so many writings having as their end, it is said, only what is useful for the public, the first of all useful things, the art of forming men, is still forgotten. After Locke's book4 my subject was still entirely fresh, and I am very much afraid that the same will be the case after mine.

Childhood is unknown. Starting from the false idea one has of it, the farther one goes, the more one loses one's way. The wisest men con

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