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As towering figures of the Enlightenment—a period of intellectualism that itself towers over other eras—John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau hold a very sacred place in the pantheon of Western thought. It was during the Enlightenment—due much in part to both Locke and Rousseau—that the tenets of modern pedagogy, educational philosophy and educational psychology were forged. The writings of Locke and Rousseau on education, compared, are not by any means flush; but to say that both philosophers hold certain concepts to be immutable is a great understatement. Like their Enlightenment counterparts, both Locke and Rousseau seek to wrestle intellectual agency out of the hands the remnants of the medieval scholastic establishment, and to place emphasis on a bold new epistemological based educational philosophy. Further, Locke and Rousseau challenge what they feel are the misguided assumptions of fellow Enlightenment thinkers; most notably René Descartes and Thomas Hobbes. Focusing on John Locke’s Some Thoughts on Education and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, this essay shows the process of John Locke blazing a trail through the thickly wooded environs of seventeenth and eighteenth century scholastic and rational based education. This path is, opened by the blade of Locke’s own empirical and epistemological philosophies, allow Jean-Jacques Rousseau to follow through with his tour-de-force and pedogological doctrine Emile.
John Locke’s published Some Thoughts Concerning Education in 1693 at the request of friends Mr. and Mrs. Edward Clarke, who sought advice on raising their young son. In Education Locke reaffirms many of his previously established philosophical concepts, but further outlines a pedogological philosophy that incorporates his then burgeoning work on the origin and growth of knowledge (epistemology), the development of awareness (consciousness), the formation of character, virtue, and social responsibility. Although written for the small class of English gentlemen, Education was destined to have a profound influence upon children of all classes in societies throughout the Western world. This work comes to dominate educational philosophy until the mid-nineteenth century and lays the foundations of faculty psychology, child psychology, and modern experimental psychology.
This influential text cannot be understood without a survey of the significant meditations Locke references within; most essentially those on epistemology, empiricism, and psychology. The implications of Locke’s epistemology change the way that knowledge is pursued. Specifically, Locke’s empiricism encourages the collection of data as a prerequisite to making any conclusions. This shifts the emphasis away from studying/memorizing the, as Locke might argue, vague and undefined premises of many ecclesiastical interpretations that previous generations accepted. Regarding psychology, Locke’s “Tamquam Tabula Rasa” (like a blank slate) concept places a previously untold emphasis on the education of youth. Locke’s empirical challenge to the rationalist views marks the second round in what psychologists today call the nature vs. nurture debate. This debate involves analyzing man’s behavioral patterns with the goal of identifying either and innate or acquired explanation for specific categories of behavior.
Locke is immediately challenging the rationalist view. Empiricists and rationalists could not disagree more on the nature of epistemology. Whereas rationalists strongly supported the existence of innate ideas; the empiricists rejected this in favor of the concept of acquired ideas. For the rationalists reason is based on deductive logic (conclusion derived from a premise) but the empiricists instead value the inductive approach (whereby observations are used in effort to determine a premise). Also, whereas rationalist thought accepts revelation as valid, Locke and the empiricists emphasize reason as the acquisition of truth through the senses instead of deduction based on revelation.
Although not spelled out in the text