Emile might seem to some ridiculous because it proposes a system of education which is manifestly impossible for most men and virtually impossible for any man. But this is to misunderstand the book. It is not an educational manual, any more than Plato Republic is advice to rulers. Each adopts a convention -- the founding of a city or the rearing of a boy -- in order to survey the entire human condition. They are books for philosophers28 and are meant to influence practice only in the sense that those who read them well cannot help but change their general perspectives.
Rousseau intends to show that only his understanding of nature and history can adequately describe what man really is and to caution his contemporaries against simplifying and impoverishing the human phenomena. The very unity of man he appears to believe he has demonstrated reveals the problematic character of any solution to man's dividedness. Emile stands somewhere between the citizen of the Social Contract and the solitary of the Reveries, lacking something of each. And this book was the inspiration for both Kant's idealism and Schiller's romanticism, each of which is somehow an elaboration of one aspect of Rousseau's complex teaching. Whatever else Rousseau may have accomplished, he presented the alternatives available to man most comprehensively and profoundly and articulated them in the form which has dominated discussion since his time. We must study him to know ourselves and to discover possibilities his great rhetoric may have overwhelmed.____________________
". . . it is a new system of education the plan of which I present for the study of the wise and not a method for fathers and mothers. . . ." ( Letters Written from the Mountain V [ Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 3, p. 783]). This does not mean that Rousseau's teaching is ultimately one of political moderation as is Plato's.