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The Illustrative Education of Rousseau's Emile

  • JOHN T. SCOTT (a1)

Rousseau's mission as an author was to make his readers see what he saw in his philosophical “illumination,” yet his task is a paradoxical one, for he must persuade his readers that they are deceived by what they see before their own eyes and must learn to see anew. In order to transform the perspective of his reader, Rousseau throughout his works uses visual imagery and rhetorical devices invoking vision that represents both the correct view of human nature and virtue and the obstacles to learning to see ourselves properly. As a former engraver's apprentice, he was particularly interested in educating his reader through actual images such as frontispieces or illustrations. The aim of this article is to offer an interpretation of the engravings that illustrate Emile, or On Education, in order to investigate how Rousseau educates his reader through challenging the reader's preconceptions concerning human nature and replacing traditional exemplars of human nature and virtue with a new exemplar seen in his imaginary pupil.

Corresponding author
John T. Scott is Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95615 (
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