Perhaps the best answer to this question can be found in the book Émile, which was, essentially, a treatise on education. Rousseau begins by observing that "God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil." He views education, then, as the source of a great deal of evil in the world, because, as it existed in eighteenth-century France, it was a corrupting influence. At the same time, he viewed a good education as essential—indeed, it was the only hope of creating a good society. As he said in another aphoristic statement later in the first chapter:
We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish, we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education.
Rousseau argued that what was essential was that one's education conform to, and ultimately foster to, reason, which was the ultimate aim of education. For this radical philosopher, this meant allowing children to be free and to learn at their own pace and to focus on what we might call skills-based learning. In the eighteenth-century, this was a radical idea, because most education was didactic and emphasized the rote memorization of texts and facts. Rousseau saw this as unnatural. If people were to live as free men within a society, they had to learn to exercise reason. Rousseau also, in the most famous part of the book, advocated a highly gendered form of education for young women. Girls, he thought, should learn the things that were specific to their sphere—appreciation for the arts, socializing, and other aspects of a cultured young woman's world. Here, too, Rousseau argued that education should align with reason and nature, reinforcing the latter.