Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Naturalism

Jean Jacques Rousseau was very much influenced by the natural environment of Paris (France) in his life. His experiences in France gave birth to attraction towards nature and natural values in his mind. Rousseau was the one who started the naturalism movement. In Rousseau’s ‘naturalist’ philosophy the state of nature, natural man and natural civilization are the three very important elements. He completely rejects the traditional approach in education, and exclaims, “Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Maker of the world, but degenerates once it gets into the hands of man.” In his naturalist philosophy, in order to acquire wholesome and all-round development Rousseau advice the child to remain in the midst of nature because he believes nature is the only teacher. While propounding these ideas, he gave the slogan of “Back to nature” to human beings.

In his philosophy of naturalism nature is predominant and man is subordinate to it. Rousseau was a famous naturalist. In ‘naturalism’ philosophy, education is given to the child according to his age and by keeping his needs and abilities in mind. This philosophy is against traditional approach in education and strongly condemns its orthodox nature. According to James Ward, “Naturalism is the doctrine that separates nature from God, subordinates the soul to matter, and establishes immutable laws supremely.” This philosophy recognizes the physical world and nature as the ultimate reality rest all is false. Apart from this, naturalist philosophy also denies the very existence of God. Naturalism views all human beings with the same point of view. Knowledge of natural and moral values is the most significant education. Apart from Jean Jacques Rousseau, there are few other proponents of Naturalism they are Aristotle, Comte, Bacon, Herbert Spencer, Rabindranath Tagore and Sir T.P. Nun.

Other features of Rousseau’s ‘naturalism’ philosophy are:

  • Special importance has been given to the child. Education should be child-centred and not teacher-centred.
  • All round development of Child takes place when complete freedom is given to him/her, and not through discipline.
  • This philosophy out rightly denies the very existence of the God, soul or any other divine power.
  • Innate conscience, moral instincts, the power of prayer all are nothing but illusions.
  • According to the philosophy of Naturalism, education should enhance the power of senses in the child.
  • Values should be cultivated to meet the specific needs of the individual.

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