Emile, or On Education

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Title page from the first edition of Emile; Portada de la primera edición de Emilio, o De la educación.

Emile, or On Education or Émile, Or Treatise on Education is a treatise on the nature of education and on the nature of man written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who considered it to be the best and most important of all his writings. Due to a section of the book entitled “Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar,” Emile was banned in Paris and Geneva and was publicly burned in 1762, the year of its first publication. During the French Revolution, Emile served as the inspiration for what became a new national system of education.

Émile ou De l'éducation (full text online)

Quotes[edit]

Book I[edit]

  • Tout est bien sortant des mains de l'Auteur des choses, tout dégénère entre les mains de l'homme.
    • Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the author of things, everything degenerates in the hands of man.'
    • Variant translations: Everything is good when it leaves the hands of the Creator; everything degenerates in the hands of man.
      God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil.
    • Book I
  • I shall always maintain that whoso says in his heart, "There is no God," while takes the name of God upon his lips, is either a liar or a madman.
    • Book I
  • Les villes sont le gouffre de l'espèce humaine.
    • Cities are the abyss of the human species.
    • Book I; gouffre is sometimes translated as "sink" instead of "abyss".

Book II[edit]

  • Men, be kind to your fellow-men; this is your first duty, kind to every age and station, kind to all that is not foreign to humanity. What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness? Love childhood, indulge its sports, its pleasures, its delightful instincts. Who has not sometimes regretted that age when laughter was ever on the lips, and when the heart was ever at peace? Why rob these innocents of the joys which pass so quickly, of that precious gift which they cannot abuse? Why fill with bitterness the fleeting days of early childhood, days which will no more return for them than for you? Fathers, can you tell when death will call your children to him? Do not lay up sorrow for yourselves by robbing them of the short span which nature has allotted to them. As soon as they are aware of the joy of life, let them rejoice in it, go that whenever God calls them they may not die without having tasted the joy of life.
    • Book II
  • Une des preuves que le goût de la viande n’est pas naturel à l’homme, est l’indifférence que les enfants ont pour ce mets-là, et la préférence qu’ils donnent tous à des nourritures végétales, telles que le laitage, la pâtisserie, les fruits, etc. Il importe surtout de ne pas dénaturer ce goût primitif, et de ne point rendre les enfants carnassiers; si ce n’est pour leur santé, c’est pour leur caractère; car, de quelque manière qu’on explique l’expérience, il est certain que les grands mangeurs de viande sont en général cruels et féroces plus que les autres hommes; cette observation est de tous les lieux et de tous les temps.
    • The indifference of children towards meat is one proof that the taste for meat is unnatural; their preference is for vegetable foods, such as milk, pastry, fruit, etc. Beware of changing this natural taste and making children flesh-eaters, if not for their health's sake, for the sake of their character; for how can one explain away the fact that great meat-eaters are usually fiercer and more cruel than other men; this has been recognised at all times and in all places.
    • Book II
The happiest is he who suffers least; the most miserable is he who enjoys least.
  • La gourmandise est le vice des cœurs qui n’ont point d’étoffe. L’âme d’un gourmand est toute dans son palais; il n’est fait que pour manger; dans sa stupide incapacité, il n’est qu’à table à sa place, il ne sait juger que des plats; laissons-lui sans regret cet emploi; mieux lui vaut celui-là qu’un autre, autant pour nous que pour lui.
    • Gluttony is the vice of feeble minds. The gourmand has his brains in his palate, he can do nothing but eat; he is so stupid and incapable that the table is the only place for him, and dishes are the only things he knows anything about. Let us leave him to this business without regret; it is better for him and for us.
    • Book II
  • Le plus heureux est celui qui souffre le moins de peines; le plus misérable est celui qui sent le moins de plaisir.
    • The happiest is he who suffers least; the most miserable is he who enjoys least.
    • Book II

Book III[edit]

  • I hate books; they only teach us to talk about things we know nothing about.
    • Book III
  • Jamais la nature ne nous trompe; c’est toujours nous qui nous trompons.
    • Nature never deceives us; it is always we who deceive ourselves.
    • Book III, More extensive translation: In the sensation the judgment is purely passive; it affirms that I feel what I feel. In the percept or idea the judgment is active; it connects, compares, it discriminates between relations not perceived by the senses. That is the whole difference; but it is a great difference. Nature never deceives us; we deceive ourselves.
  • Puisqu’il nous faut absolument des livres, il en existe un qui fournit, à mon gré, le plus heureux traité d’éducation naturelle. Ce livre sera le premier que lira mon Émile; seul il composera durant longtemps toute sa bibliothèque, et il y tiendra toujours une place distinguée. Il sera le texte auquel tous nos entretiens sur les sciences naturelles ne serviront que de commentaire. Il servira d’épreuve durant nos progrès à l’état de notre jugement; et, tant que notre goût ne sera pas gâté, sa lecture nous plaira toujours. Quel est donc ce merveilleux livre ? Est-ce Aristote ? est-ce Pline ? est-ce Buffon ? Non; c’est Robinson Crusoé.
    • There is one book which, to my thinking, supplies the best treatise on an education according to nature. This is the first book Emile will read; for a long time it will form his whole library, and it will always retain an honoured place. It will be the text to which all our talks about natural science are but the commentary. It will serve to test our progress towards a right judgment, and it will always be read with delight, so long as our taste is unspoilt. What is this wonderful book? Is it Aristotle? Pliny? Buffon? No — it is Robinson Crusoe.
    • Book III
  • Conscience is the voice of the soul; the passions are the voice of the body.
    • Book III, in The Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar
    • Variant translation: Conscience is the voice of the soul; the passions of the body.

Book IV[edit]

  • Our passions are the chief means of self-preservation; to try to destroy them is therefore as absurd as it is useless; this would be to overcome nature, to reshape God's handiwork. If God bade man annihilate the passions he has given him, God would bid him be and not be; He would contradict himself. He has never given such a foolish commandment, there is nothing like it written on the heart of man, and what God will have a man do, He does not leave to the words of another man. He speaks Himself; His words are written in the secret heart.
    • Book IV
  • I consider those who would prevent the birth of the passions almost as foolish as those who would destroy them, and those who think this has been my object hitherto are greatly mistaken.
    But should we reason rightly, if from the fact that passions are natural to man, we inferred that all the passions we feel in ourselves and behold in others are natural? Their source, indeed, is natural; but they have been swollen by a thousand other streams; they are a great river which is constantly growing, one in which we can scarcely find a single drop of the original stream. Our natural passions are few in number; they are the means to freedom, they tend to self-preservation. All those which enslave and destroy us have another source; nature does not bestow them on us; we seize on them in her despite.
    • Book IV
  • The origin of our passions, the root and spring of all the rest, the only one which is born with man, which never leaves him as long as he lives, is self-love; this passion is primitive, instinctive, it precedes all the rest, which are in a sense only modifications of it. In this sense, if you like, they are all natural.
    • Book IV
  • Il n’y a point de folie dont on ne puisse guérir un homme qui n’est pas fou, hors la vanité.
    • Provided a man is not mad, he can be cured of every folly but vanity; there is no cure for this but experience, if indeed there is any cure for it at all; when it first appears we can at least prevent its further growth. But do not on this account waste your breath on empty arguments to prove to the youth that he is like other men and subject to the same weaknesses. Make him feel it or he will never know it.
    • Book IV
  • We cannot teach children the danger of telling lies to men without realising, on the man's part, the danger of telling lies to children. A single untruth on the part of the master will destroy the results of his education.
    • Book IV
  • Let us give him everything. Let us lavish charms and merit on him. Let him be handsome, very clever, and lovable. He will be sought out by women. But in seeking him out before he loves them, they will unhinge him rather than make a lover out of him. He will have successes, but he will have neither transports nor passion for enjoying them. Since his desires, always provided for in advance, never have time to be born, he feels in the bosom of pleasures only the boredom of constraint.
    • Book IV
  • Although modesty is natural to man, it is not natural to children. Modesty only begins with the knowledge of evil... Blushes are the sign of guilt; true innocence is ashamed of nothing.
    • Book IV
  • I had been brought up in a church which decides everything and permits no doubts, so that having rejected one article of faith I was forced to reject the rest; as I could not accept absurd decisions, I was deprived of those which were not absurd. When I was told to believe everything, I could believe nothing, and I knew not where to stop.
    I consulted the philosophers, I searched their books and examined their various theories; I found them all alike proud, assertive, dogmatic, professing, even in their so-called scepticism, to know everything, proving nothing, scoffing at each other. This last trait, which was common to all of them, struck me as the only point in which they were right. Braggarts in attack, they are weaklings in defence.
    • Book IV
  • The one thing we do not know is the limit of the knowable. We prefer to trust to chance and to believe what is not true, rather than to own that not one of us can see what really is. A fragment of some vast whole whose bounds are beyond our gaze, a fragment abandoned by its Creator to our foolish quarrels, we are vain enough to want to determine the nature of that whole and our own relations with regard to it.
    • Book IV
  • Leonidas died for his country before Socrates declared that patriotism was a virtue; Sparta was sober before Socrates extolled sobriety; there were plenty of virtuous men in Greece before he defined virtue. But among the men of his own time where did Jesus find that pure and lofty morality of which he is both the teacher and pattern? The voice of loftiest wisdom arose among the fiercest fanaticism, the simplicity of the most heroic virtues did honour to the most degraded of nations.
    • Book IV
Shall we say that the gospel story is the work of the imagination? My friend, such things are not imagined...
  • La mort de Socrate, philosophant tranquillement avec ses amis, est la plus douce qu’on puisse désirer; celle de Jésus expirant dans les tourments, injurié, raillé, maudit de tout un peuple, est la plus horrible qu’on puisse craindre. […] Jésus, au milieu d’un supplice affreux, prie pour ses bourreaux acharnés. Oui, si la vie et la mort de Socrate sont d’un sage, la vie et la mort de Jésus sont d’un Dieu.
    • One could wish no easier death than that of Socrates, calmly discussing philosophy with his friends; one could fear nothing worse than that of Jesus, dying in torment, among the insults, the mockery, the curses of the whole nation. In the midst of these terrible sufferings, Jesus prays for his cruel murderers. Yes, if the life and death of Socrates are those of a philosopher, the life and death of Christ are those of a God.
    • Variant translation: If Socrates lived and died like a philosopher, Jesus lived and died like a God.
  • Dirons-nous que l’histoire de l’Évangile est inventée à plaisir ? Mon ami, ce n’est pas ainsi qu’on invente; et les faits de Socrate, dont personne ne doute, sont moins attestés que ceux de Jésus-Christ. Au fond c’est reculer la difficulté sans la détruire; il serait plus inconcevable que plusieurs hommes d’accord eussent fabriqué ce livre, qu’il ne l’est qu’un seul en ait fourni le sujet. Jamais les auteurs juifs n’eussent trouvé ni ce ton ni cette morale; et l’Évangile a des caractères de vérité si grands, si frappants, si parfaitement inimitables, que l’inventeur en serait plus étonnant que le héros. Avec tout cela, ce même Évangile est plein de choses incroyables, de choses qui répugnent à la raison, et qu’il est impossible à tout homme sensé de concevoir ni d’admettre. Que faire au milieu de toutes ces contradictions ? Etre toujours modeste et circonspect, mon enfant; respecter en silence ce qu’on ne saurait ni rejeter, ni comprendre, et s’humilier devant le grand Etre qui seul sait la vérité.
    • Shall we say that the gospel story is the work of the imagination? My friend, such things are not imagined; and the doings of Socrates, which no one doubts, are less well attested than those of Jesus Christ. At best, you only put the difficulty from you; it would be still more incredible that several persons should have agreed together to invent such a book, than that there was one man who supplied its subject matter. The tone and morality of this story are not those of any Jewish authors, and the gospel indeed contains characters so great, so striking, so entirely inimitable, that their invention would be more astonishing than their hero. With all this the same gospel is full of incredible things, things repugnant to reason, things which no natural man can understand or accept. What can you do among so many contradictions? You can be modest and wary, my child; respect in silence what you can neither reject nor understand, and humble yourself in the sight of the Divine Being who alone knows the truth.
  • A young man when he enters society must be preserved from vanity rather than from sensibility; he succumbs rather to the tastes of others than to his own, and self-love is responsible for more libertines than love. Self-love makes more libertines than love.
    • Book IV, Original French of the last line: L’amour-propre fait plus de libertins que l’amour.
  • He who knows enough of things to value them at their true worth never says too much; for he can also judge of the attention bestowed on him and the interest aroused by what he says. People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little. It is plain that an ignorant person thinks everything he does know important, and he tells it to everybody. But a well-educated man is not so ready to display his learning; he would have too much to say, and he sees that there is much more to be said, so he holds his peace.
    • Book IV
  • Habit accustoms us to everything. What we see too much, we no longer imagine; and it is only imagination which makes us feel the ills of others. It is thus by dint of seeing death and suffering that priests and doctors become pitiless.
    • Book IV

Book V[edit]

  • Women have ready tongues; they talk earlier, more easily, and more pleasantly than men. They are also said to talk more; this may be true, but I am prepared to reckon it to their credit; eyes and mouth are equally busy and for the same cause. A man says what he knows, a woman says what will please; the one needs knowledge, the other taste; utility should be the man's object; the woman speaks to give pleasure. There should be nothing in common but truth.
    • Book V; Variant translation: A man speaks of what he knows, a woman of what pleases her: the one requires knowledge, the other taste.
  • Où est l’homme de bien qui ne doit rien à son pays ? Quel qu’il soit, il lui doit ce qu’il y a de plus précieux pour l’homme, la mortalité de ses actions et l’amour de la vertu.
    • Where is the man who owes nothing to the land in which he lives? Whatever that land may be, he owes to it the most precious thing possessed by man, the morality of his actions and the love of virtue.
    • Book V
  • So long as chastity is preserved, it is respected; it is despised only after having been lost.
    • Book V
  • So, decide to raise them [women] like men. The men will gladly consent to it! The more women want to resemble them, the less women will govern them, and then men will truly be the masters.
    • Book V
  • Sophie is not beautiful, but in her company men forget beautiful women, and beautiful women are dissatisfied with themselves.
    • Book V
  • One must choose between making a man or a citizen, for one cannot make both at the same time.
    • Allan Bloom, trans. (New York: 1979), p. 39.
  • The abuse of books kills science. Believing that we know what we have read, we believe that we can dispense with learning it.
    • A. Bloom, trans. (1979), p. 184.

External links[edit]

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