Rousseau and the fable: Rethinking the fabulous nature of educational philosophy

Educational Theory 62 (3):323-341 (2012)
Abstract
In this essay Tyson Lewis reevaluates Jean-Jacques Rousseau's assessment of the pedagogical value of fables in Emile's education using Giorgio Agamben's theory of poetic production and Thomas Keenan's theory of the inherent ambiguity of the fable. From this perspective, the “unreadable” nature of the fable that Rousseau exposed is not simply the result of a child's innocence or developmental immaturity, but is rather a structural quality of the fable as such. Moving from a discussion of Rousseau's description of the fable and its relation to early childhood development, Lewis then telescopes outward into an analysis of Emile as a reenactment of the paradoxes of the fable. While Rousseau critiqued the pedagogical value of the fable, his own pedagogical project is informed by many of the qualities that he attributed to the fable. This return of the fable is enacted through Rousseau's writing on three interconnected levels: the question of the maxim, the paradox of truth, and the paradox of freedom. Lewis argues that if we take seriously the textually fabulous dimension of Emile, then the reader is left exposed to the very same anxieties as a child who is confronted with the ambiguity of the fable. In a concluding gesture, Lewis speculates about what Emile's fabulous dimension means for the practice of educational philosophy itself
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Lester H. Hunt (2009). Literature as Fable, Fable as Argument. Philosophy and Literature 33 (2):pp. 369-385.
Richard White (2008). Rousseau and the Education of Compassion. Journal of Philosophy of Education 42 (1):35-48.
Mark D. Gedney (1999). Rousseau's Émile. The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy 3:41-50.
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