Mosse Lecture #6
In this lecture, Fishman draws a parallel between David Riesman’s concepts of the “inner” and the “outer-directed” person and the aim of education envisioned by Rousseau. While the outer-directed person relies on his peers for moral cues, the inner-directed person acts according to his “natural” moral judgment, that is, the virtue inculcated by the right education. This virtue is already inherent in the natural impulses of the child, that, like Rousseau’s Emile, has to be brought up by a patient and respectful tutor who manipulates nature to teach the right lessons. Ideally, the child should grow up in a rural environment, far from the corrupting influence of the city. Despite his rejection of modern civilization, Rousseau does not romanticize the “noble savage”, whom he compares to a weed. Just as plants benefit from cultivation, education shapes the moral development of the individual that will eventually revolutionize society. Inspired by Locke’s “tabula rasa” argument, Rousseau repudiates the Christian notion of original sin. Fishman gives a biographical sketch of Rousseau, qualifying the image of the impulsive, romantic genius, the self-image the philosopher created to portray himself in his writings. Rousseau’s is a new kind of autobiography; self-critical rather than boastful, the author reveals his flaws to the reader. Moreover, Fishman points out that Rousseau, like other “great men”, were regarded as such only because they managed to articulate ideas that were held but not eloquently formulated by many of their contemporaries. The “Rousseau-mania” that gripped many of his readers and influenced the preoccupation with education of nearly every philosopher thereafter, is to a great extent explained by his mastery of language.
European cultural history, 1660-1870