Rousseau's Philosophy goes by the name of "Naturalism". The keynote of his philosophy was to have a "Natural State, a Natural Man and a Natural Civilization".
He felt that all ills and miseries in the Modern world were due to a departure from the previous "State of Nature". He declared, "Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Author of Nature (the Creator), but everything degenerates in the hands of man."
He believed that child was essentially good but was made bad when he came in contact with society and its environment. He contended that "man in society is born, lives and dies in a state of slavery. He is fettered by our institution, which drags him away from his good nature." So Rousseau pleaded, "Leave the child alone. Let him be a natural man rather than a civilized man.
Let him have a state of nature rather than artificial surroundings that stunt his proper growth and arrest his natural development." Thus Rousseau preached for a life according to nature-which was simple and real and free from all customs, traditions and conventions. He, in fact, wanted to educate the child for manhood and not for citizenship.
It should, however, be clearly understood that by Natural State and Natural Man, Rousseau did not mean the primitive social order and the savage man. He believed that human institutions were one mass of folly and contradictions. To regain the old vitality and happiness, human society should give up the present artificial modes of life and revert to the natural state.
He favored natural civilization, free from all artificial and rigid barriers that pollute the goodness of our nature. The Natural man of Rousseau's conception was a fully developed Man enjoying social life, without being carried away by the passions and prejudices of society.
Reason was the only guiding force in producing natural Civilization and Natural man by Natural State also he meant 'a simple farming community or state, without the evils of large cities, corrupt rulers, social classes and luxury.
His Natural Man is a true man, who is 'governed and directed by the laws of his own nature rather than those of social institutions. Natural powers, emotions and reactions are most trustworthy as basis for action, rather than reflections or experiences that come from association with society.'
The catch-words of Rousseau's 'Naturalism' were freedom, growth, interest and activity. And all these words are the life and soul of modern progressive education.
Three-fold Meaning of Nature according to Rousseau
Rousseau madeuse of the word 'Nature' in a very wide sense. He gave three-fold meaning to it, namely:
(a) Isolation from Society:
Rousseau advocated that children should be saved from the evil influence of society. They should be isolated from society and brought up in contact with the beauties and wonders of nature.
This, however, does not mean no-education. It simply signifies a non- social education i.e. an education which is not based on meaningless traditions and formalities of society.
For Rousseau, society was not natural, but an artificial product, the outcome of a contract and evil. Nature and society, thus, become opposed to each other. Nature is accordingly, defined 'negatively to society'. It is a preventive education saving the child from the evil influences of society.
(b) Instinctive Make-up of the Child:
Instinctive make-up means the native instincts, tendencies and capacities of the child. Rousseau believed that learning takes place when the child is free to develop and grow according to his natural impulses.
So education must start from the child's instinctive tendencies and should be based on the same because these tendencies are more reliable bases of education than experiences, gained from society.
According to Rousseau, "Education is no longer a procedure, artificial, harsh, dull, unsympathetic and repressive of all natural inclinations. It is, on the other hand, an organic growth. It is a development from within."
(c) Contact with Natural Phenomena:
Education according to child's nature must be provided in natural environment. Rousseau himself was a great lover of nature, mountains, streams, sun-rise, sun-set, and solitude and country life. He, therefore, recommends contact with hills, streams, plants, trees, animals, birds and physical forces of all kinds.
One who is brought up and taught in natural environments automatically becomes a 'natural man' He follows nature and obeys the voice of his own conscience.