Emile: Or, on Education

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

ALTHOUGH the whole course of life up to adolescence is a time of weakness, there is a point during this first age when the growth of strength has passed that of need, and the growing animal, still weak absolutely, becomes strong relatively. His needs are not all developed, and his present strength is more than sufficient to provide for those he has. As a man he would be very weak; as a child he is very strong.

From where does man's weakness come? From the inequality between his strength and his desires. It is our passions that make us weak, because to satisfy them we would need more strength than nature gives us. Therefore, diminish desires, and you will increase strength. He who is capable of more than he desires has strength left over; he is certainly a very strong being. This is the third stage of childhood, and the one about which I now must speak. I continue to call it childhood for want of a term to express it, for this age approaches adolescence without yet being that of puberty.

At twelve or thirteen the child's strength develops far more rapidly than his needs. The most violent, the most terrible of these needs has not yet made itself felt in him. Its very organ remains in a state of imperfection and, in order to emerge from it, seems to wait only for his will to force it to do so. The child is hardly sensitive to injury from the air and the seasons, and his nascent heat takes the place of clothing. His appetite takes the place of seasoning; all that can nourish is good at his age. If he is tired, he stretches out on the earth and sleeps. He sees himself everywhere surrounded by all that is necessary to him. No imaginary need torments him. Opinions can have no effect on him. His desires go no farther than his arms. Not only is he self-sufficient, he has strength beyond what he needs. It is the only time in his life when this will be the case.

I anticipate the objection. It will not be said that the child has more needs than I give him, but it will be denied that he has the strength I attribute to him. It will not be remembered that I am speaking of my pupil rather than of those walking dolls who travel from one room to another, who plow in a box and bear cardboard loads. I will be told

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