Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/341

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335
ROUSSEAU'S CONTRIBUTIONS

owes much to him. Herbert Spencer also shows his influence indirectly, although he had not read Émile when he wrote his essay on education. For good or for ill, then, the popular educational doctrines of the day can be traced to Rousseau.

In brief, Rousseau had an important place in both philosophy and education. It would be interesting to ask how many of Rousseau's doctrines were his own and how many were merely borrowed and worked over. Many of his theories can be traced to earlier men, to Montaigne, to Rabelais, to Montesquieu. His educational theories were largely modified from Locke and Condillac, and the influence of the classics was great in all departments. Much more was common thought and common talk among his associates—what might be called the spirit of the age. What there is left that is original is difficult to say. Certainly, nowhere else among the writers of the age have these ideas been brought together and put with such emotional fervor and literary skill. Whoever may have originated the ideas, Rousseau gets credit for them because of his skill in exposition. Certainly no one better than he represents all the contradictory tendencies of his age.

Still another question presents itself in connection with a man like Rousseau. Does he deserve any credit for his ideas? They present themselves in striking profusion in a highly unstable nervous system, ideas, good, bad and indifferent, queerly assembled and altogether out of relation to each other and to the acts of the man himself. It may even be questioned whether Rousseau was able to distinguish between the true and false, the worthy and the unworthy. Each was given expression with no reference to anything else or to its value. There was apparently no definite purpose in their utterance, aside from pleasing the reader or satisfying the artistic sense of the writer, there was even no responsibility for them. It might be asked in retort how far any one deserves credit for his ideas, and how many men have been able accurately to guage the value of their contributions. Rousseau furnishes an enigma in this respect, but all questions of credit in this fundamental sense are enigmatical. Certain it is that an occasional unstable nervous system of this sort is likely to be a spot where ideas of value germinate and makes for progress in the world of thought. Whether Rousseau is to be regarded as a credit or debit on the world's books depends upon the point of view. The relatives of the victims of the Reign of Terror would give one answer; you would get another if you asked the men of all ages who have enjoyed the brilliant literary work of Rousseau or the increasing democracy that followed the French Revolution, assuming, which is an open question, that Rousseau was really responsible for the economic change.