Date of Award

Fall 12-20-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Eric Wilson

Second Advisor

Andrew Altman

Third Advisor

Timothy O'Keefe


Rousseau notoriously praises ignorance and censures learning for the moral corruption that it has inflicted upon his age, yet he admits that the arts and the sciences are good in themselves. I consider the effects of learning and knowledge on moral education, in an effort to answer the following question: What is the role of ignorance in moral education for Rousseau? While some interpreters have acknowledged his sensitivity to various groups in society with regard to moral education, none has properly systematized the different types of ignorance that Rousseau praises or identified the benefits of those types of ignorance to various individuals and societies. I distinguish the savage’s ignorance from that of Socrates and identify another important type of ignorance, the benefits of which stem from our natural sentiment and innate curiosity.