Emile is a treatise on the nature of education and on the nature of man written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who considered it to be the “best and most important of all my writings”. Due to a section of the book entitled “Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar,” Emile was banned in Paris and Geneva and was publicly burned in 1762, the year of its first publication. During the French Revolution, Emile served as the inspiration for what became a new national system of education.
The work tackles fundamental political and philosophical questions about the relationship between the individual and society— how, in particular, the individual might retain what Rousseau saw as innate human goodness while remaining part of a corrupting collectivity. Its opening sentence: “Everything is good as it leaves the hands of the Author of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.”
Rousseau seeks to describe a system of education that would enable the natural man he identifies in The Social Contract to survive corrupt society He employs the novelistic device of Emile and his tutor to illustrate how such an ideal citizen might be educated. Emile is scarcely a detailed parenting guide but it does contain some specific advice on raising children. It is regarded by some as the first philosophy of education in Western culture to have a serious claim to completeness