Morality and Goodness in Rousseau’s Emile

April 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

In Rousseau’s Emile, all naturally-created things are inherently good. Rousseau states that man and society are what corrupt Amour de son (or self-love that is innate and worthwhile), turning it into Amour proper (or self-love under social pressure). In order to be a good man, one only has to remain true to nature. This process is shown as the tutor, Jean-Jacques, isolates Emile from society as a child. A moral man, however, is different from a good man: when confronted with a non-natural issue such as the causes behind amour-propre, a moral man can maintain his goodness.

The tutor tests and cultivates Emile’s imagination and morality by funneling these qualities into a love for others, and by guiding him through his courting and eventual marriage of Sophie. Emile turns into a “moral man” from a “good man” through this process by facing several issues during his courtship, which could have corrupted him. Jean-Jacques knows that the emergence of amour-propre is inevitable. Regarding love, he says, “As soon as a man has need of a companion, he is no longer an isolated being. His heart is no longer alone… His first passion soon makes others ferment” (214). In order to be loved, one has to be “…more loveable than another… this is the source of emulation, rivalries, and jealousy” (214). This jealousy is presented when Emile observes the manner in which Sophie treats the young male guests that visit her. However, instead of hating and destroying his rivals, Emile makes himself more desirable by “…[redoubling] his efforts to make himself lovable” (431). His method of surpassing his rivals is the result of the tutor’s efforts in guiding Emile’s imagination towards good things rather than towards things that are beyond his achievable limit, as shown earlier in the book when the tutor says, “Do not stifle his imagination… Speak to him of love, of women, of pleasures” (325). By pointing Emile in the right direction, he funnels Emile’s imagination towards love and bettering one’s self rather than towards repressing loving impulses. In a way, the tutor manages to make Emile turn his amour-propre into amour de soi, as his desire of Sophie’s love and approval lead to his improving himself in order to accomplish a romantic goal.

The tutor’s cultivation of Emile’s imagination begins when he allows Emile to feel pity towards other men and creatures. At first, “…[Emile] hardly knows that other beings suffer too. To see it without feeling it is not to know it” (222). With the first emergence of imagination, “…[Emile] begins to feel himself in his fellows, to be moved by their complaints and to suffer from their pains… Thus is born pity, the first relative sentiment which touches the human heart” (222). The tutor wants pity and its derivative emotions to be what result from imagination, and wants to shut out evil emotions like envy, covetousness, and hate. To do so, Jean-Jacques says, “To excite and nourish this [imagination]… what is there to do other than to offer the young man objects on which the expansive force of his heart can act – objects which swell the heart, which extend it to other beings” (223). For Emile, this object is love – for Sophie, and for other human beings. Emile imagines his life with Sophie, and feels pity and compassion towards more unfortunate people such as the injured man he sees on the way to see Sophie. As Emile says to Sophie, “…do not hope to make me forget the rights of humanity. They are more sacred to me than yours. I will never give them up for you” (441). It is evident that pity and compassion are the dominant emotions inside Emile, whose behavior mirrors the three maxims of the tutor.

Emile’s love of Sophie and his realization of their marriage are the final steps in his transformation from a good man to a moral man; during these stages of the narrative, the unwanted and repressed influence of amour-propre is introduced. Since the difference between a moral and a good man is that one remains good in spite of opposing factors, the previously-isolated Emile needs to be introduced to conflicts so that he can make moral choices. For example, when Emile has to choose between either fulfilling his promise to the work-master or joining Sophie and her mother, he chooses to stay and work. Sophie recognizes that he is staying true to himself when she says, “I know that he could easily compensate the worker for the slight harm his absence would cause him. But meanwhile he would enslave his soul… to putting his riches in the place of his duties” (438). Another hard decision that Emile had to make was to either help the man and wife or leave the task to someone else and proceed on the way to Sophie. If he had chosen the latter, Sophie would have never even known that he left a person in need behind. Instead, Emile again stays true to himself and aids the man and wife at the expense of Sophie’s anger. However, seeing that Emile is now a moral man instead of just a good one, Sophie immediately gives her hand in marriage to him. He does not fall to the pressure of society or the opinions of others during this time of internal conflict, this showing that he possesses the qualities of a moral man.

Jean-Jacques represses Emile’s imagination during his pupil’s childhood, but then cultivates it during Emile’s teenage years, pointing it in the direction of compassion and love for others. By doing so, the tutor turns amour-propre into moral virtue by making Emile want to improve himself, instead of changing to fulfill the wants of other people. Emile’s love for and marriage to Sophie proves to be the final obstacle in this transition from being good to being moral, due to the many conflicts that arise from the introduction of amour-propre. Nonetheless, Emile is able to stay true to himself and become the moral man that Sophie desires.

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