1st Edition

Educational Philosophy in the French Enlightenment From Nature to Second Nature

By Natasha Gill Copyright 2010

    Though Emile is still considered the central pedagogical text of the French Enlightenment, a myriad of lesser-known thinkers paved the way for Rousseau's masterpiece. Natasha Gill traces the arc of these thinkers as they sought to reveal the correlation between early childhood experiences and the success or failure of social and political relations, and set the terms for the modern debate about the influence of nature and nurture in individual growth and collective life.

    Gill offers a comprehensive analysis of the rich cross-fertilization between educational and philosophical thought in the French Enlightenment. She begins by showing how in Some Thoughts Concerning Education John Locke set the stage for the French debate by transposing key themes from his philosophy into an educational context. Her treatment of the abbé Claude Fleury, the rector of the University of Paris Charles Rollin, and Swiss educator Jean-Pierre de Crousaz illustrates the extent to which early Enlightenment theorists reevaluated childhood and learning methods on the basis of sensationist psychology. Etienne-Gabriel Morelly, usually studied as a marginal thinker in the history of utopian thought, is here revealed as the most important precursor to Rousseau, and the first theorist to claim education as the vehicle through which individual liberation, social harmony and political unity could be achieved. Gill concludes with an analysis of the educational-philosophical dispute between Helvétius and Rousseau, and traces the influence of pedagogical theory on the political debate surrounding the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1762.

    Introduction / Part 1 The Educational Philosophy of John Locke: Prologue: Locke's educational theory in relation to his philosophical and political thought / The natural external: Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Edication / Locke: father of social engineering or champion of liberty in education? / Part 2 Early Enlightenment Educational Theory: Claude Fleury, Charles Rollin and Jean-Pierre de Crousaz: Prologue: some sources of French educational thought and the legacy of the Jesuits / Childhood and education in the works of Claude Fleury, Charles Rollin and Jean-Pierre de Crousaz / 'The limits of reform' and the concept of utility in Fleury, Rollin, Crousaz and Mme de Lambert / Part 3 The Educational Philosophy of Étienne-Gabriel Morelly: Prologue: educational theory at mid-century / Morelly and individual education Essai sur l'esprit humain / Morelly and social education Essai sur le coeur humain / Morelly and the politicization of education / Part 4 The Helvétius-Rousseau Controversy: Prologue: the scandal over Helvétius's De l'Esprit and the origins of the Helvétius-Rousseau controversy / Helvétius's De l'Esprit: the argument for full equality / Rousseau's Emile, Books I–III: individual education / Emile, Books IV–V, and Emile et Sophie, ou les solitaires: social and moral education / Part 5 The Crisis of 1762: 'Children Belong to the State': Prologue: the expulsion of the Jesuits and the educational reformers of the 1760s / The influence of educational-philosophical concepts on the reform plans of the 1760s / Conclusion: disciples and critics: the impact of French Enlightenment educational thought / Appendices / Works cited / Index


    Natasha Gill is research associate at Barnard College, Columbia University.

    'In her thoroughly enjoyable book, Natasha Gill explores the many complexities in Enlightenment educational thought. Between nature and culture, politics and ethics, these philosophers understood that no society could function without an ambitious educational agenda. In this very well-researched study of eighteenth-century pedagogical debates, Natasha Gill demonstrates with impeccable clarity how Enlightenment views on education are still relevant today, and how much we still need them.' Anne Deneys-Tunney, Professor of French at New York University.

    'At a time when some argue that the broader notion of ‘education’ is once again under threat of being reduced to utilitarian ‘instruction’, Natasha Gill’s intelligent and wide-ranging study helpfully reveals the intellectual origins of this debate as it was framed by the educational theorists of the French Enlightenment.' French Studies

    'Philosophers mulling over questions of human potential and improvement have long found pedagogical philosophy appealing and have argued that education represents the best chance to reform society… [this book is] an excellent survey of pedagogical literature… Enlightenment historians will benefit from the careful study of educational philosophy in all of its rich complexity.' H-Albion

    'Readers are bound to be impressed by Gill’s extensive knowledge and thorough scholarship… Gill takes particular care to set the works and authors studied in their particular social, cultural and political milieu. The comprehensive quality of the volume and its exhaustive treatment of the subject are its unequivocal strengths… scholars of Enlightenment education will appreciate the meticulous analysis and the painstaking comparisons between theories, methods, and principles of various authors.' H-France

    'Gill […] manages to nuance claims of Rousseau’s originality and innovativeness by unfolding a rich landscape of philosophical crops sown by Locke and cultivated by several educational theorists preceding Rousseau… Drawing on a pioneering interpretation of Rousseau’s less well-known book Emile and Sophie, ou les solitaires, Gill not only nuances the latter’s image as an educational Columbus, but also shows how he did not manage to reconcile his pedagogical goal of negative education with his social goal of designing a society in which people can live as free individuals.' Sanne Parlevliet in Paedagogica Historica