What is prejudice according to Locke in Conduct? How does it compare to Rousseau's strategy in Emile?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to Locke in The Conduct of the Understanding, the only way that prejudice can be overcome is if each individual is willing and able "impartially to examine himself." This is because nobody—and here Locke makes a fairly persuasive point—is "convinced by the accusation of someone else that he is prejudiced." In order to overcome one's own prejudices, one must be willing to look at his beliefs. Locke proposes a three-part test to recognize prejudice. If a person looks at something they believe and determine that it is "built on good grounds," that it does not go beyond empirical evidence, and that argument, and not "reason or fancy," is the reason he believes what he believes, then it is safe to say that his belief is not prejudice. If any of these things are not true, then he is prejudiced.

Rousseau, on the other hand, thought that prejudice was the consequence of man's entry into society, which he viewed as essentially corrupting. He wrote in Emile that "God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil." Society—with its tribalisms, competition for wealth, and other features—created prejudice. Rousseau thought a proper education essential to overcoming prejudice, because an improper education was the source of it. For Rousseau, a proper education would be one that did not try to instill the student with information deemed important by the teacher, but an education that fostered the critical faculties of the child, and allowed him to learn independently of adult influence and that of society.

The reader will have to determine which of the two strategies is the most effective, but it should be noted that Locke tended to base his argument on empirical data--a more modern approach to overcoming pre-conceived notions--than did Rousseau. Also, Rousseau's chapter on the education of women is rife with the author's own prejudices.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial