Locke and Rousseau on Educating for Freedom

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Locke and Rousseau are widely acknowledged to be the Enlightenment's two most important theorists of education, who enabled a shift from paternalistic to child-responsive pedagogies, centered on a commitment to children's future autonomy. Locke's credentials in this regard are called into question, however, by Rousseau's Emile, which views Some Thoughts Concerning Education as a broadly conservative text, aiming less at self-governance than conformity to parental and societal values. Locke, Rousseau contends, fails to recognize the specificity of childhood by catapulting children prematurely into the world of adult reason and morality, as evidenced, for example, by his injunction that parents sensitize children to social approval by teaching them to care about their reputations. This chapter defends Locke as a pioneer of child-responsive education by situating his argument about reputation in the context of the understanding of moral development he outlines in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Locke identifies regulation in childhood by what the Essay calls the law of opinion as a potential springboard for self-regulation in adulthood. Rousseau's suggestion that male children be governed by the laws of nature or necessity as opposed to the law of opinion produces a split between the developments of reason and morality that is never healed in Emile. It also splits the experiences of male and female children in ways that prohibit egalitarian relations between the sexes. Rousseau's claim to be the first thinker to truly discover childhood, a claim that resonates in histories of education today, relies on a contestable displacement of Locke's contributions to child-responsive education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Lockean Mind
EditorsJessica Gordon-Roth, Shelley Weinberg
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781315099675
ISBN (Print)9781138296909, 9781032055794
StatePublished - Aug 2021

Publication series

NameRoutledge Philosophical Minds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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  • The Lockean Mind

    Gordon-Roth, J. (Editor) & Weinberg, S. E. (Editor), Aug 31 2021, Routledge. 664 p. (Routledge Philosophical Minds)

    Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook

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