Rousseau emerged as a revolutionary philosopher. His philosophy emerged as a reaction against the contemporary social and political set up. Whatever, he thought and wrote was a reaction to hypocrisy, artificially, cruelty, correlation and despotism prevalent during those times. His philosophy is usually designated by the term “Naturalism“. The keynotes of his philosophy are his concepts of “Natural State”, “Natural Man” and “Natural Civilization”. Natural State is a simple farming community or state without the evils of large cities, corrupt rulers, social classes and luxury. He believed goodness as innate and evil as acquired. In ‘Social Contract’ he stated, ” Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”. In the words of Rousseau, “Civilized man borns, lives and dies in a state of slavery”. Natural Man according to Rousseau is governed and directed by the laws of his own nature rather than those of social institutions. He believed that man would have been happier if he had been allowed to remain in his natural stage. To him, cities were the graves of civilization. He said, “Human institutions are one mass of folly and contradictions”.
Admiring the simplicity and purity of nature, Rousseau says, “God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil”. He declared, “Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Author of nature, but everything degenerates in the hands of man”.
So Rousseau remarked, “Leave the child alone. Let him be a natural man rather than a civilized man. Let him have a state of nature rather than artificial surroundings that stunt the proper growth and arrest his natural development”. Natural Civilization is free from artificial surroundings and rigid barriers that pollute the goodness of our nature. So children should be educated in nature and according to nature, far from the madding crowd. They get corrupt in the towns in which they live with adults. ‘Return to Nature’ was his method to cure all troubles. Human nature i.e., his natural heritage is essentially good and it must be given the fullest opportunities for free development.
Rousseau was the champion of the dignity of man. He advocated the concepts of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
Three-Fold Meaning of Nature:
Broadly, there are three concepts of nature advocated by Rousseau-
Isolation from Society- Nature signifies non-social education. Rousseau wanted to save the children from the evil influences of society. They should be isolated from society and brought up by laws of nature. This was preventive education according to Rousseau.
Innate tendencies of the Child- The second meaning attached by Rousseau to the term ‘nature’ is the primitive emotions, instinctive judgement, natural instincts or innate tendencies. Thus by ‘nature’, Rousseau means natural tendencies. In the words of Rousseau, these innate tendencies are more reliable bases for action than the experience gained from society. In this sense, education means the spontaneous development of these innate tendencies of the child.
Contact with Natural Environment- The third meaning given to nature is to make contact with the natural environment i.e., hills, rivers, trees, plants, birds, animals, woods, stones, and physical forces. In the words of Rousseau, “Cities are the graves of human species”. Thus the child should be brought up in a natural environment and he will automatically become a rational being. He will act according to the voice of his conscience.