Discourse On The Origin Of Inequality



Rousseau writes in answer to a question proposed to him, namely, what is the origin of inequality? Almost all of the philosophers writing before him tended to assert that certain things were inherent in man’s original nature, and that this lead to the origin of government and law. Rousseau, however, takes a different approach. He argues that modern man is way to far away from the original state of nature to be able to understand it, and that ‘by dint of studying man we have rendered ourselves incapable of knowing him.’ (853)
As for inequality, most people would argue that ‘men [are] by common consensus, … naturally as equal among themselves as were the animals of each species before ...

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precisely that for the establishment of society, men must have used enlightenment which develops only with great difficulty and by a very small number of people within the society itself.’ (854) Primitive man could not have been in this ‘state of nature’ if it takes a civilized mind to even conceive of it.
Man then, according to Rousseau, began with only two motivations: an ‘ardent[] interest[] in our wellbeing and our self preservation, and … a natural repugnance to seeing any sentient being, especially our fellow man, perish or suffer.’(855) The principles of ‘natural right and wrong’ then flow from these two things. In fact, as long as man’s own self-interest does not conflict with it, he will seek to go out of his way to avoid injuring another, or to prevent another from being injured by some one else. Rousseau also defends animal rights, classifying animals not as moving toys for us to use as we desire, but as conscious beings. ‘It seems, in effect, that is I am obliged ...

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most advantageously organized of all.' (858) He then compares a man in the primitive state to a modern one, and says that if you 'give a civilized man time to gather all his machines around him, … undoubtedly he will overcome a savage man. But if you want to see an even more unequal fight, pit them against each other naked and disarmed, and you will soon realize the advantage of constantly having all of one's forces at one's disposal, of always being ready for an event.' (859) Rousseau very often returns to this, to whether the savage or the modern man is better off. Firstly, he conjectures that many of the diseases we have to deal with are a direct result of living in a civilized society. ...

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Added: 3/6/2005 10:46:11 PM
Category: English
Type: Premium Paper
Words: 2258
Pages: 9

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