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Rousseau on Education, Freedom, and Judgment

Denise Schaeffer


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Rousseau on Education, Freedom, and Judgment

Denise Schaeffer

Rousseau on Education, Freedom, and Judgment is a splendid book. Denise Schaeffer treats an enormously complex question in a way that is simple, elegant, and altogether free of jargon. She first shows how each stage of Emile’s education is always double—meant seriously, but also designed to prepare for its own supersession—and then reveals this educational sequence also at work in Rousseau’s education of his reader. The quite considerable achievement of Schaeffer’s book is to employ the same sequence in her own writing, where the straightforward political issue with which she begins is gradually deepened and gives way to the question of what it is about the human soul that requires this sort of indirect education. Rousseau on Education, Freedom, and Judgment will be regularly read by Rousseau scholars and advanced students, but owing to the accessibility, and really the beauty, of its prose, it will inevitably find its way to a broader audience of students of philosophy and political theory at every level.”


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In Rousseau on Education, Freedom, and Judgment, Denise Schaeffer challenges the common view of Rousseau as primarily concerned with conditioning citizens’ passions in order to promote republican virtue and unreflective patriotism. Schaeffer argues that, to the contrary, Rousseau’s central concern is the problem of judgment and how to foster it on both the individual and political level in order to create the conditions for genuine self-rule. Offering a detailed commentary on Rousseau’s major work on education, Emile, and a wide-ranging analysis of the relationship between Emile and several of Rousseau’s other works, Schaeffer explores Rousseau’s understanding of what good judgment is, how it is learned, and why it is central to the achievement and preservation of human freedom. The model of Rousseauian citizenship that emerges from Schaeffer’s analysis is more dynamic and self-critical than is often recognized. This book demonstrates the importance of Rousseau’s contribution to our understanding of the faculty of judgment, and, more broadly, invites a critical reevaluation of Rousseau’s understanding of education, citizenship, and both individual and collective freedom.
Rousseau on Education, Freedom, and Judgment is a splendid book. Denise Schaeffer treats an enormously complex question in a way that is simple, elegant, and altogether free of jargon. She first shows how each stage of Emile’s education is always double—meant seriously, but also designed to prepare for its own supersession—and then reveals this educational sequence also at work in Rousseau’s education of his reader. The quite considerable achievement of Schaeffer’s book is to employ the same sequence in her own writing, where the straightforward political issue with which she begins is gradually deepened and gives way to the question of what it is about the human soul that requires this sort of indirect education. Rousseau on Education, Freedom, and Judgment will be regularly read by Rousseau scholars and advanced students, but owing to the accessibility, and really the beauty, of its prose, it will inevitably find its way to a broader audience of students of philosophy and political theory at every level.”
“Most of Rousseau's readers think that he fears complexity, ambiguity, and tension. Schaeffer presents Rousseau as an indispensable guide to confronting these unavoidable features of our personal and political lives. Schaeffer’s interpretation of Rousseau as a teacher of judgment is unprecedented but thoroughly convincing. Moreover, Schaeffer convinces me and will convince many others that we need Rousseau’s account of judgment to deepen our understanding of reflective citizenship. This book consequently makes an important contribution not only to the study of Rousseau but also to the study of politics.”
“Man or citizen, nature or perfectibility, wholeness or alienation: Rousseau’s readers have puzzled over the dichotomies that run through his thought and that seem to offer irreconcilable alternatives or tragic choices. In her insightful book, Denise Schaeffer runs straight through the breach of these either/or dilemmas by examining how Rousseau confronts his reader with alternatives in order to educate the reader’s judgment in making the choices that necessarily confront us as beings that are, according to Rousseau, naturally good but corrupted in society. Schaeffer focuses on Emile, which Rousseau considered to be his best and most important work, by following the stages of Emile’s education in judgment at the hands of his tutor, a process that at the same time educates the reader. Schaeffer’s persuasive reading of Emile is itself an education in how to read Rousseau.”
“Denise Schaeffer’s new book directs long-overdue attention to the place of judgment in Rousseau’s political thought and presents a forceful challenge to those who believe that his conception of citizenship demands an unreflective identification with the community that precludes any exercise of critical judgment. Schaeffer presents a distinctive reading of Emile that brings out the profound significance of Rousseau’s frequent repetitions, his apparent contradictions, and his curious device of introducing multiple versions of his principal characters—of Emile, of Sophie, and even of himself. By such literary inventions, Schaeffer argues, Rousseau demonstrates the cultivation of judgment in his protagonists and cultivates his readers’ judgment. Readers who already possess the virtue of good judgment will want to read Schaeffer’s new book; readers lacking such judgment need to read it.”
“Rousseau is often thought of as a thinker of incompatible extremes. Through her careful exposition of Rousseau’s understanding of judgment, Denise Schaeffer joins those who see him, instead, as a thinker who uses critical examination of these extremes to locate a middle ground. In particular, she demonstrates that in Emile (and elsewhere in his works), Rousseau portrays not one but several educations, using their twists and turns to develop the judgment of his readers. Schaeffer contributes to this development of judgment by offering fresh interpretations and provocative judgments of her own.”
“That Schaeffer’s reconstruction of judgment in Rousseau’s work provides a fresh lens of analysis for engaging with some of the most contentious debates among Rousseau scholars, and simultaneously adds a new and important voice to the ongoing conversation about the role of judgment in democracy, speaks to the significance of this work to the field of political theory broadly speaking.”
“Schaeffer’s book is original, insightful, and stimulating—offering a promising means by which to rescue Rousseau from those who would diminish his contributions to democratic theory.”

Denise Schaeffer is Professor of Political Science at the College of the Holy Cross.



Abbreviations of Rousseau’s Works


1 Judgment and the Standard of Nature

2 Learning to Move: The Body, the Senses, and the Foundations of Judgment

3 Books and Experience in the Education of Judgment

4 Judgment and Pity

5 Piety and Authority

6 Judgment, Love, and Illusion

7 Judgment and the Possibility of Partial Detachment

8 Judgment and Citizenship




The general will is always right, but the judgment that guides it is not always enlightened. It must be made to see objects as they are, or sometimes as they should appear to be. . . . From this arises the necessity for a legislator. (SC, 154; 3:380)

The idea of democracy presupposes that human beings are capable of exercising judgment, since it requires citizens who are capable of making judgments about a shared public world. The question of how to foster this capacity in individuals is thus a fundamental question for political philosophy. Yet the process by which the ability to exercise good judgment is acquired and nurtured remains somewhat mysterious, despite a rich intellectual history of the subject. This indeterminacy has to do with the very nature of judgment. As Ronald Beiner states in his landmark book Political Judgment, “Judgment is a form of mental activity that is not bound to rules, is not subject to explicit specification of its mode of operation (unlike methodical rationality), and comes into play beyond the confines of rule-governed intelligence.” Because the operation of judgment is detached from the realm of universal reason and absolute standards, yet is at the same time distinguishable from the realm of merely subjective opinion, judgment seems to rest upon “an elusive and ineffable faculty of sense,” as Peter J. Steinberger puts it.

In seeking to understand judgment, scholars rarely look to Rousseau, at least not when the inquiry is bound together with the question of democratic politics. In fact, Rousseau is often presented as suspicious of the very idea that citizens are capable of exercising good judgment, and is often depicted as willing to sacrifice judgment (and therewith genuine democratic freedom) for the sake of social cohesion and republican virtue.

Rousseau certainly leaves himself open to this charge insofar as his defense of popular sovereignty in On the Social Contract entails the following qualification: the general will, though always legitimate, is unenlightened and tends to lack good judgment (SC, 154; 3:380). This deficiency in judgment is precisely what creates the need for a godlike legislator, who mythologizes the origins of the city and its laws, creates ennobling spectacles, and appeals to divine sanction—all in order to foster the underlying psychology that is necessary to facilitate the proper expression of the general will. Rousseau seems less interested in creating citizens who are capable of exercising independent judgment than in producing citizens who are conditioned to be unreflectively patriotic: “by inclination, passionately, of necessity” (GP, 19; 3:966). To the degree that Rousseau seeks to guarantee good judgment in this way, he seems to undermine democratic judgment insofar as the general will becomes an effect of external manipulations rather than an autonomous expression of popular will. In short, it can appear that Rousseau is perfectly willing to substitute deep, nonrational conditioning for the genuine and independent exercise of judgment—except perhaps for the exceptional, solitary philosopher (an unlikely model for democratic politics).

On the level of the individual, similar concerns can be raised with regard to Rousseau’s model of an allegedly free individual: the imaginary pupil whose education toward freedom Rousseau depicts in Emile. Many have raised questions about Emile’s alleged autonomy in light of the veiled manipulations of his tutor. Even those who evaluate the figure of Emile positively on the question of his capacity for autonomy acknowledge limitations when it comes to the issue of judgment specifically. On this view, Rousseau’s educational project, like his political project, seems to consist in the substitution of new (healthy, salutary) prejudices for existing, corrupt prejudices. To be sure, these salutary prejudices may produce better judgments than those based on corrupt ones. But a nagging question nevertheless remains: if those judgments are conditioned reflexes, and if one never learns to reflect critically on those (new) prejudices, however salutary they may be, what are the implications for human freedom? Are we left with an unbridgeable gap between the few who are wise and the rest who remain the product of their indispensable prejudices? If so, then Rousseau’s idealized models of political freedom (e.g., the general will) and individual freedom (e.g., Emile) are little more than seductive but illusory chimeras that mask the deepest operations of power.

What this leads us to see is that the question of Rousseau’s position on the possibility of genuine self-rule is inseparable from the question of his view of the proper orientation of individuals and communities toward the illusions or “chimeras” that operate in identity formation and political life—including those that he himself generates. If these chimeras, in performing their necessary function in promoting civic cohesion, substitute for the faculty of judgment, then self-rule in any meaningful sense becomes compromised, if not impossible, as charged by those who see citizenship for Rousseau as fundamentally passive and devoid of critical reflection. In other words, if citizenship is to be more than a deeply conditioned, unconscious reflex, we must be able to distinguish between conditioning and education in Rousseau’s political philosophy.

What, then, does “education” mean for Rousseau? At first glance, he appears to offer two mutually exclusive models. On one side, there is the civic education depicted in overtly political works such as the Discourse on Political Economy and Considerations on the Government of Poland, in which the individual is apparently subsumed by the common unity. Then there is Emile, which is ostensibly the education of a natural man who is a whole unto himself (albeit one who eventually inhabits a social environment). What Rousseau’s civic and private models of education have in common is, at a minimum, that they are designed to overcome the contradictions that plague human beings in the modern world. The individual living in civil society, Rousseau argues, exists in a sorry state of in-betweenness. “Always in contradiction with himself, always floating between his inclinations and his duties, he will never be either man or citizen. He will be good neither for himself nor for others. . . . He will be nothing” (E, 40; 4:249–50). This lack of substance stems from a deeper dividedness within the bourgeois insofar as he sees himself only through the eyes of others. He lives outside himself, not within himself. He is neither whole nor part of a larger whole. He is nothing.

The bourgeois may be neither man nor citizen, but one might say the same of Emile himself, who, although a “savage made to inhabit cities” (E, 205; 4:484), possesses neither the absolute independence of natural man living in the state of nature (since he marries and joins society) nor the fervor of the citizen who exists only in relation to the whole. He is simultaneously attached and detached. Moreover, he is taught to compare himself with his fellow men, and to see himself through his beloved’s eyes. He therefore exhibits a certain degree of self-consciousness, but always in tandem (and in tension) with his unselfconscious naturalness, a tension that Rousseau suggests must somehow be reconciled. Emile’s example, and the project of his education, thus raises the question of whether there can be some positive form of in-betweenness, in Rousseau’s view. A positive in-betweenness that incorporates a healthy form of self-consciousness is necessitated by the fact that the wholeness that is the distinctive feature of Rousseau’s twin poles—natural man and citizen—is utterly fragile unless maintained by some outside force. In the political realm, that external force is obviously the legislator, and in Emile it is the tutor, who must employ a great deal of art to maintain his pupil’s ostensible naturalness. This paradox is already reflected in the Second Discourse, which depicts the progress of human development without any guiding hand, divorced from considerations of divine providence (or humans “left to themselves,” as Rousseau puts it). In this presentation, human beings fall away from their natural independence without realizing what is happening. They lack foresight to anticipate the implications of various changes they make to their environment. They embrace new chains, thinking that they are embracing freedom. Thus the lack of foresight and self-consciousness that makes possible a perfect equilibrium between desires and faculties (and thus facilitates self-contained wholeness) is also the Achilles’ heel of that wholeness. Is there some way in which this potential weakness can be transformed into a strength? This transformation is, I submit, the ultimate goal of education for Rousseau.

In exploring the possibility that there may be a positive form of in-betweenness for Rousseau, I join a number of scholars who understand the tensions that pervade Rousseau’s work as just as (or even more) important to his project as the simple model “wholes” that he presents in a polarized fashion. For example, Mark Cladis argues that Rousseau seeks “a middle way” between individuality and social assimilation, embracing “both humanity and citizenship, morality and politics, individuality and social cooperation.” Rousseau’s point is not to choose between the alternatives of self-possession and citizenship, but to come to see that they are mutually implicated and to combine them. Jonathan Marks also illuminates Rousseau’s concern for the harmonization, rather than the utter assimilation, of disharmonious goods.

One virtue of these readings is that they provide a way of explaining the paradoxes in Rousseau’s thought without explaining them away. They help us to see that Rousseau is neither inconsistent nor indecisive. He is not alternately individualist and collectivist, but rather theorizes important connections between the two poles. These interpretations help us to see that the common characterization of Rousseau’s overriding concern in terms of the goal of achieving unselfconscious “wholeness” (whether of the naturally unified man or of the artificially unified citizenry) is overdrawn, and that his writings are oriented to the problem of combining and harmonizing competing goods rather than forcing a choice between them. As Marks, for example, puts it, “Far from impatiently seeking unity at the cost of human freedom, Rousseau was willing to preserve tension in order to give the plurality of human goods their due.”

Scholars developing this line of thought often focus on the individual and the community as the most fundamental of the competing goods that Rousseau seeks to reconcile. The tension with which I am especially concerned is that between truth and illusion, and how these operate in Rousseau’s understanding of freedom, judgment, and the relation between the two (in his theory of education as well as in his own rhetorical strategy). This does not mean that I wish to ignore the individual/collective tension in his thought, but rather that I aim to explore the underlying human psychology that makes possible the achievement of Rousseau’s ideal middle state between individualism and collectivism. While I agree with Marks that “Rousseau views the human good not as a unity but as a set of disharmonious attributes or tendencies that must somehow be arranged in a life so as not to tear the human being apart,” I would add that this “somehow” raises troubling questions about the role of illusions, manipulation, and conditioning in this arrangement. Does Rousseau’s amelioration of this disharmony entail the sacrifice of self-rule?

To address these questions adequately, it is necessary that we rethink not only Rousseau’s understanding of the relationship between the “I” and the “we,” but also the stance of the “I” toward itself and toward the illusions that nourish that sense of self, whether identity is individual or collective. Whereas the bourgeois is unhappy and unfree because he sees himself only through the eyes of others, natural man and citizen do not see themselves at all, so seamlessly do they inhabit their identities, which is problematic in a different way. Is there, for Rousseau, a form of self-awareness that does not simply get in the way of freedom but actually allows one to preserve it from within? Can one achieve a measure of detachment that allows one to both be whole and know that one is whole, thus actively preserving that wholeness rather than having it maintained by some external force? Does this require dispensing with all illusions, which Rousseau seems to suggest is impossible, or does it require, instead, achieving some measure of detachment from those illusions while still being moved by them?

My reading of Emile suggests that although Rousseau sees salutary illusions as inescapably necessary to foster the conditions that make freedom possible, he nevertheless preserves a distinction between these illusions—which can and should be objects of critical reflection, and bear some essential relationship to truth—and mere prejudice. He does not simply sacrifice genuine self-rule for the sake of an illusory freedom out of a distrust of judgments that are not guided by some passionate attachment to a salutary ideal. Rather, he explores the question of whether illusions might not simply dazzle and inspire but also provoke critical reflection and judgment. Illusions might then contribute to the genuine education of judgment instead of simply circumventing the need for judgment, and thereby foster genuine self-rule rather than a condition that is subjectively experienced as autonomy but is actually a state of subjection. The question of whether freedom is fostered by naked truths or salutary chimeras is an undercurrent throughout Emile, implicated in every aspect of Emile’s education, from his exposure (or lack thereof) to books, to his physical education, to his religious education, to his development of pity and his experience of falling in love—each of which I address in the chapters that follow.

I pursue these issues primarily in the context of Emile, and the organization of my chapters tracks the stages of Emile’s education as it unfolds, but these issues resonate in Rousseau’s more explicitly political writings as well, and I trace these resonances in my concluding chapter. Even in Rousseau’s discussions of civic education, he indicates that the people cannot remain in a state of dependence upon the machinations of a legislator figure forever. As he states in the Discourse on Political Economy, citizens should one day become “the fathers of the country whose children they have been for so long” (PE, 156; 3:261). This is more than a matter of generational progression. The underlying question is: how will citizens subjected to a rigorous, parochial civic education from birth suddenly stop behaving like obedient children and become the “fathers”? And how then are we to understand the middle ground that Rousseau implies each time he suggests that a people must somehow be young and old at the same time?

While Rousseau does not adequately address the question in his overtly political works, he makes it a central question in his work on education. In a critical scene, as Emile approaches adulthood and marriage, the tutor explicitly reprimands him for being a mere product of his conditioning, and demands that he begin to make truly independent decisions (E, 326; 4:652–53). Emile is told that he must no longer simply obey his tutor but must question his advice and demand an account of his reasoning in order form an independent judgment. Whether Emile lives up to this charge remains to be seen; for now, I simply indicate that this is the professed goal of his education. Emile offers Rousseau’s fullest exploration of the question of what it means, and what it takes, to “grow up” in the broadest and deepest sense, and this is the philosophical and political significance of its pedagogical orientation.

In other words, Emile takes what remains embryonic or even resolutely problematic in the overtly political works—the need to combine rational detachment with passionate attachment in order to achieve the capacity for exercising independent judgment and hence self-rule—and makes it a central concern. It is Rousseau’s most sustained exploration of the possibility of a genuine self-rule in which freedom is actively maintained rather than passively enacted—a possibility on which the entire validity of Rousseau’s project, from the point of view of democratic theory, turns. Whereas On the Social Contract considers men as they are, and laws as they might be (SC, 131; 3:351), Emile explores human beings as they might be, and therefore opens up new political possibilities, even if these political implications are not fully developed in Emile itself. It is therefore a pivotal work that addresses a long-standing issue in Rousseau scholarship—the question of his support for genuine versus apparent self-rule—while also connecting Rousseau to a contemporary arena of concern: the question of judgment and how it is learned.

What does the term “judgment” mean in this context? Unlike Kant, Rousseau does not provide a formal account of judgment, although he refers to it frequently, especially in Emile. What he does say about judgment indicates that in his understanding judgment must be distinguished from formal reasoning, which seeks to understand particulars in light of valid universals. For Kant, the question of the relationship of judgment to purely logical reasoning results in a distinction between “determinate judgment,” which involves the correct application of general rules, and “reflective judgment,” which proceeds in the absence of such rules. Kantian reflective judgment operates specifically in the realm of aesthetics and taste. Hannah Arendt famously extends reflective judgment to the realm of politics. It is precisely because the particulars of political life are not fully subsumable under universal rules—which is what most fundamentally distinguishes political science from the natural sciences—that politics is both possible and necessary, and those particulars are not subsumable precisely because human beings are free. The attempt to turn politics into an exact science or expertise is, from Arendt’s perspective, a threat to human freedom, even if the attempt is motivated by a concern to foster freedom. In other words, the capacity for reflective judgment is both a product and a condition of our freedom. And yet this absence of determinative universal rules does not mean that we devolve to the realm of purely subjective opinion. The concept of judgment, as murky as it may be, is a marker for that necessary in-betweenness. As Linda Zerilli puts it in her influential analysis of Arendt:

A freedom-centered practice of judgment, then, cannot be modeled on the rule-following that characterizes what Kant calls determinate judgment. To obtain critical purchase on our social arrangements and the ungrounded form of life, but without yielding to the temptation of the external standpoint, we need to develop a practice of judgment that is not rule-governed. Judging without the mediation of a concept is a quotidian skill we do well to learn and practice. It always carries the risk that we will fall back on known concepts or rules for making sense of political reality out of our own sense of frustration or inadequacy. And yet if we want to come to terms with new objects and events, including those that have no place within our system of reference save as curious anomalies to the rule that merely preserve the rule, we need to develop the faculty of judgment.

In opposite ways, both the detachment of the universal rule (and of those who seek to apply it to politics) and the partisanship of the demagogue pose a threat to judgment. Rousseau was intensely concerned with this risk (in both forms) and sought to address it rather than to circumvent it. He was also acutely aware of how difficult it is to introduce the new, or that which finds no immediate place within existing frames of reference. “‘Propose what can be done,’ they never stop repeating to me; it is as if I am told, ‘Propose what is done’” (E, 34; 4:242–43). He sought to change how people see, in order to disabuse them of the prejudiced conceptions of nature, freedom, and happiness that produce widespread inequality and misery. Such reform would never be achieved by rational argument alone, he believed, but required a reorientation of human sentiments, specifically by means of an appeal to the imagination. Emile is, in part, such an appeal. But it does not only appeal to the imagination; it also appeals to judgment. “In expounding freely my sentiment, I so little expect that it be taken as authoritative that I always join it to my reasons, so that they may be weighed and I be judged” (34; 4:242).

Rousseau’s engagement with the question of judgment is not primarily a theoretical engagement, but rather an intervention. That Rousseau does not provide a formal account of judgment should not dissuade us from exploring his understanding of it. As Leslie Paul Thiele has observed, it is questionable whether we can “gain theoretical access to the essence of this mysterious faculty.” Charles Larmore similarly argues that an understanding of judgment “lies beyond the limits of theory” and requires examples “such as those we find presented by the literary imagination.” The effort to capture the essence of a judging stance that is simultaneously immersed in the experience of the particular to be judged, yet capable of some degree of detachment that makes critical reflection (and the very distinction between good versus poor judgment) possible, often proceeds metaphorically precisely because of this indeterminate character. Beiner, for example, drawing on Arendt, invokes the notion of spectatorship (understood as active and critical engagement, as opposed to passive watching) to capture precisely this in-between state. While one might think of spectators as governed by pathos rather than by praxis, or as mere “‘patients’ absorbing stimuli rather than ‘agents’ exercising active discrimination and intelligent reflection,” the spectator in Beiner’s sense interprets and judges, even as she is immersed in the experience of absorbing the spectacle. I propose that this is the stance that Rousseau evokes when describing a mature individual populace capable of exercising judgment with regard to all authoritative claims and dominant discourses and images—even as he argues that certain “chimeras” are necessary to the health and growth of that capacity for judgment.

The figure of Emile is itself such a chimera, created for Rousseau’s reading audience, who are meant to be deliberately seduced by his example but also invited—frequently and explicitly—to judge that example, not simply to affirm it unreflectively. The model of good judgment that is developed throughout Emile is thus rooted in Emile’s example but also transcends that example in important respects. The education of Emile is not identical to the education of Emile, though at times it runs parallel to it. Emile is educated to judge the world around him in increasingly complex ways, applying first a standard of utility, then of beauty, then of the good. The reader’s capacity for judgment is being similarly honed, though on a higher plane. The reader, whom Rousseau addresses directly throughout Emile, is as much a part of Rousseau’s pedagogical efforts as Emile is—perhaps even more so. Part of the reader’s education involves being inspired by Emile’s example, but part of it, too, is achieving some critical distance from that example; Emile’s deficiencies thus serve an important function in the reader’s education. That said, I would also submit that the internal education of Emile—Emile’s education—is, at least in its aspirations, more oriented toward a genuinely independent faculty of judgment than is often recognized, even if those aspirations are imperfectly realized. And the unfolding of Emile’s education forms but one part of the reader’s education, which is also primarily an education in judgment—including the ability to judge Emile. Rousseau’s ideal reader of Emile, initially characterized as a mother who knows how to think (E, 33; 4:241), is ultimately referred to in book V as a mother who is judicious (364; 4:701). Rousseau criticizes his readers for being too prejudiced to judge his pupil or his project soundly, yet he continually engages their judgment in different ways. By attending to how his engagement with the reader develops and changes over the course of Emile, we learn something about how he thinks judgment might be reformed. Rousseau, who complained that his readers did not understand him, does his part to educate them to do so.

I am not the first to draw attention to the importance of this dimension of Rousseau’s work. What is the character of the education he imparts to his reader? In many readings of Rousseau’s rhetorical strategy, a parallel is drawn between the tutor’s cultivation of necessary prejudices in Emile and Rousseau’s cultivation of necessary prejudices in the reader. One such salutary prejudice would be an idealized view of the goodness of nature, which allows the reader, like Emile, to be “shielded” from “the dangers that even measured progress and a limited social life entail.” While Emile may offer a more complex view of nature than the idealization we find in the first part of the Second Discourse, “downplaying or concealing this view is part of Rousseau’s rhetorical strategy,” employed for the political purpose of preserving a salutary prejudice in favor of the goodness of nature. The primary goal of Rousseau’s political/philosophical project is thus understood to be the production of certain beneficial psychological or social dynamics at the expense of revealing the truth about them. For example, we might understand Rousseau’s goal as the cultivation of a salutary but unreflective love of virtue by means of identification with Emile’s example. On this view, Rousseau manipulates the reader (for his or her own good), just as the tutor manipulates Emile.

My analysis seeks to extend this insight by subjecting it to the persistent question with which I began: if one never learns to reflect critically on those (new) prejudices, however salutary they may be, what are the implications for self-rule? Are we left with an unbridgeable gap between the enlightened few and the rest, who remain dependent upon prejudice? Does Rousseau ultimately follow Plato in suggesting the necessity of a noble lie deployed by an enlightened elite in order to produce a certain disposition in the many, and thereby a unified whole? But of course Rousseau is indisputably modern, which means that the tension between his desire for wisdom to rule and his egalitarianism (reflected in his claim that each individual has an infallible guide within, namely, conscience) is not so easily resolved. Just as there is a middle ground between the poles of radical asociality and seamless community, there is also a middle ground between mere prejudice, on the one hand, and either godlike wisdom or transparent truth, on the other. If we reconsider Rousseau’s rhetorical strategy in light of this middle ground, a new picture emerges, for example, of the rhetoric of the Social Contract. While Rousseau clearly offers a great deal of ideological ammunition for the people to use in passionate defense of their sovereign rights, as Arthur Melzer has argued, we must not overlook the fact that it also draws attention to the secret machinations of the legislator and thus requires that the reader transcend the perspective of the people for at least a few chapters. Rousseau does not of course spell out all of the legislator’s techniques—he leaves that in part to the Political Economy (which is for Melzer the partisan education of the legislator)—but he does highlight what is probably the most important technique: the necessity of an appeal to divine sanction in order successfully to direct the general will. Rousseau thus makes explicit the instrumental and Machiavellian character of appeals to divine sanction.

The Social Contract is not simply an education toward a particular illusion but is also simultaneously an education about illusions and the role that they play in creating and maintaining a political community. The claims of the legislator then would be checked not simply by the unreflective partisan zeal of the people but by their appreciation of the nature of his position in relation to their own. I would add that while the Social Contract is not simply a defense of a manipulative legislator, neither is it simply an unmasking. The matter is rather more complicated, even paradoxical. The challenge for Rousseau is to encourage critical reflection while at the same time preserving a passionate attachment to the political whole. He may hope that citizens appreciate the necessity of an appeal to divine sanction, which requires some critical detachment, but at the same time he needs the appeal to work. Explicit demystification is therefore not the goal, nor is the goal the checking of one single-minded perspective with another, but rather a double vision that both incorporates and transcends the necessary illusion.

Thus, while I agree with commentators that Rousseau seeks not simply to explain but to produce the political effects he theorizes, I argue that Emile represents Rousseau’s attempt to cultivate the capacity for independent judgment, and not simply to foster the salutary prejudices and illusions that might substitute for it. These prejudices and illusions play an important role, to be sure, but they are only one part of Rousseau’s strategy. Focusing on the twofold character of Rousseau’s project in Emile will enhance our understanding of the psychology that makes possible the political middle ground identified in the existing scholarship that focuses on Rousseau’s concern for complex middle states over simple, unified wholes. Emile is certainly about combining independence and interdependence, but it is also exemplifies another (related) middle ground. That is, as a philosophical novel it occupies a middle ground between Rousseau’s treatises and his literary works, such as La nouvelle Heloise. Emile does not simply tell the story of an idealized education; it includes commentary and critical reflection on that poetic representation throughout. Both substantively and structurally, it is a crucial text for exploring Rousseau’s take on the proper perspective toward idealized images.

For a book that is often considered to be primarily about achieving wholeness and psychic unity, Emile is strikingly riddled with divisions that resist assimilation to a stable whole. A crucial bifurcation occurs between book III and book IV, which heralds a “second birth” for Emile. This major fault line in Emile’s education separates the physical and the moral dimensions of that education, or, put another way, separates Emile’s education in independence from his education in interdependence.

Within this fundamental cleavage, however, others unfurl. Just as it is significant that Emile is “born” twice, it is important to note that the other characters in the book have a double or foil as well. For example, there is the awkward distinction between the tutor and Jean-Jacques (Rousseau’s persona as author). The voice of Jean-Jacques interprets, reflects, and comments upon the drama of Emile’s education by the tutor. This creates the illusion of a closed circuit between the tutor and Emile, with Jean-Jacques observing from above or beyond. However, Jean-Jacques also occasionally intervenes by means of a subtle narrative slippage, the implications of which are never explicitly acknowledged. The tutor seems never to make a mistake, but Jean-Jacques is an experimenter who must sometimes retrace his steps or explore alternative scenarios that involve other (often wayward) pupils who present challenges that do not arise with Emile. These challenges and mistakes are in one sense extrinsic to Emile’s education, but are in another sense an important part of it, as they provide the justification for many of its features. Moreover, they form part of the educational project of Emile as a whole, which is not reducible to the education of Emile in particular. Emile depicts several educations: the education of Emile (which is itself divided into two parts), and that of Jean-Jacques himself, which is itself two discrete educations in the following sense. We see the education that he receives about education, as it were, as he experiments with alternative scenarios for Emile and recalls experiments with other children, but we also witness certain moments in his own (earlier) education as a young man. For example, two important lessons in Emile—on taste and religion—are explicitly based on an account of Jean-Jacques’s own education rather than Emile’s. In his dual role as both educator and (at times) the one who is educated, Jean-Jacques serves as a foil not only for the tutor but for Emile as well.

Furthermore, there is the education of Sophie—yet another of Emile’s multiple educations. Since Sophie is destined to marry Emile, her education is part of Emile’s story, but it also stands on its own insofar as book V is not simply a chapter like other chapters but rather a “book” unto itself, with its own subtitle (“Sophie, or The Woman”). Sophie’s education is partly designed to complement Emile’s, but it also, I shall argue, explores alternative human possibilities, and therefore offers a model to challenge, not simply complement, Emile’s. (Rousseau more than once depicts men learning from women.) The book within a book on Sophie is itself further divided, consisting of a lengthy discussion of women in general followed by the story of Sophie in particular. These two accounts of “woman” (the general and the particular) are not entirely consistent. Thus the “or” in the book’s subtitle might be taken as disjunctive rather than conjunctive, or at least as ambiguous. Moreover, the figure of Sophie also has a double. Rousseau offers, in the middle of her story, a digression about “a girl so similar to Sophie that her story could be Sophie’s without occasioning any surprise” (E, 402). This other Sophie, who ends up a victim of her own unattainable standards of virtue, is abandoned when Rousseau decides to “resuscitate this lovable girl” and “to give her a less lively imagination and a happier destiny.” He returns to his original Sophie, but only after complicating his narrative of feminine education to the degree that he makes it difficult to discern which image of womanhood he wishes to present as ideal.

Finally, we must keep in mind that Emile’s story does not end with Emile but carries over into Emile and Sophie, or The Solitary Ones. The existence of a sequel, even an unfinished one, raises questions about what it might mean to understand and evaluate Emile’s education as a whole. Since Rousseau chose to publish Emile alone, with its happy ending and without any reference to Emile’s subsequent experiences, Emile can and should be considered a whole unto itself. At the same time, it is not a complete whole in light of the sequel. I draw attention to these ambiguities, and to the fact that every major character in Emile has a double or foil, to raise the question of what it means to talk about wholeness and psychic unity in the context of so many split identities and narrative cleavages. Bifurcation is structurally important in Emile in another way as well. There are numerous instances in which Rousseau returns to a subject he addressed earlier in order to present it in a new (and more critical) light, asking his reader to judge in both cases. In each case, the initial lesson points the reader directly to an explicitly specified conclusion, whereas the subsequent lesson introduces considerations that may call into question the initial conclusion, and then withholds any indication of the desired or correct conclusion. This pattern, which persists throughout Emile, brings to light (both discursively and performatively) Rousseau’s considered view of what good judgment is and how it develops. By calling for increasingly sophisticated judgments on the part of the reader, as we shall see, Rousseau does much more than simply redirect readers’ passions, seducing them toward virtue with necessary and noble chimeras. Rather, he cultivates a model of good judgment that calls for a more reflective stance than most commentators acknowledge—one that, to be sure, necessarily involves some degree of seduction by chimeras or illusions (of which the figures of Emile, and even of “natural man,” are examples), but simultaneously entails critical awareness of their chimerical quality and the hold they have on us. This middle ground is my focus, for it reflects the necessary combination of attachment and detachment that makes judgment possible, inasmuch as judgment can be neither reduced to the utter subjectivity of the prejudices and opinions to which we are unreflectively attached, nor elevated to a realm of detached scientific objectivity.

My attempt to elucidate this middle ground is not without its difficulties, for Rousseau does not address it directly or provide a straightforward account of it. It emerges only indirectly, out of the collision of the various extremes in Rousseau’s work and the juxtaposed episodes in Emile’s education. By this I do not mean that Rousseau’s indirectness veils a straightforward claim in order to make it obscure and accessible only to an enlightened few, which is one way of understanding philosophical esotericism. Rather, Rousseau suggests that the very nature of what he seeks to convey compels him to convey it indirectly. If, instead of providing one definitive lesson, he offers parallel episodes that revisit an issue in order to transform a simple lesson into a more complex one, it is because the moment of collision or transformation would be lost in a more direct account, which would then fail to do justice to the phenomenon in question. For it is precisely the experience of returning to a simpler “whole” with an altered perspective that produces the necessary insight; any attempt to jump directly to an explicit statement of that insight will inevitably distort the essential feature of what he seeks to convey. In other words, if (in part) the “lesson” is that the formation of ideal “wholes” is both necessary and dangerous, which suggests that a middle state between enchantment and disenchantment is necessary, then turning that middle state into yet another idealized whole would undermine the most essential part of the lesson. This middle state can be fully appreciated only in juxtaposition to the extremes that it lies between, not abstracted from them or as a separate “third way.” Otherwise, the effect is not an illuminating demystification of Rousseau’s lesson that increases its accessibility but rather a re-mystification, insofar as the “third way” becomes yet another oversimplified, static, and ultimately misleading ideal—an obfuscating chimera.

I admit that this difficulty necessarily haunts my reading of Rousseau as much as it haunts Rousseau’s own work, but I hope to address the problem head on instead of leaping over it. In striving to do justice to what Rousseau shows rather than limit myself to what he says, I will have to do my own share of showing. But this is thoroughly consistent with a widely shared insight about the nature of judgment: that it is primarily taught by example, experience, and narrative rather than by discursive inquiry. Judgment “can in one sense be taught and in another sense not.” If by teaching we mean the discursive transmission of knowledge about judgment, then judgment itself cannot be taught. Because judgment itself occurs only in the absence of universally applicable principles (which would render judgment superfluous), education in judgment cannot be a matter of acquiring a set of universal principles or rules of judgment. It must proceed, rather, by way of example. In other words, good judgment is not a discursive product to be transmitted but is, as Aristotle insisted, cultivated only by experience. “We gain such indirect experience from listening to, reading, and reflecting upon stories.” In other words, we must reflect on exemplary narratives and experiences in order to glean from them the insight they have the potential to convey.

Rousseau not only confirms this point by weaving together narrative and commentary upon that narrative, but also, in his commentary, raises important questions about the nature of such reflection. Throughout Emile he contends that examples are most likely to speak to (and be correctly interpreted by) those who, on some intuitive level, already understand what is being imparted, and are likely to be misunderstood by those who most need to be instructed by the example. This suggests that the sort of reflection that moves one from a complete lack of receptivity to the force of the example toward that very receptivity is not detached reflection “on” or thinking “about” the meaning of the example. What is fundamental to the development of the capacity for judgment is a form of engagement that is neither wholly absorbed by nor utterly detached from the object of reflection. For Rousseau, this is as much the case for self-reflection as it is for reflection on the particulars of the world we inhabit. In Emile, he explores how this complex stance toward oneself and one’s world develops over time, and the internal and external conditions that strengthen and weaken it. As such, Emile is an important resource for our own thinking about the nature of judgment, and how it is learned.