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Monday, November 17, 2014

Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality: Final Report #2 of 4


Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Prior to this discourse, Rousseau had written Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (which I will definitely elaborate on in post #4), which won a prize competition sponsored by the Academy of Dijon. With relatively high hopes, I presume, Rousseau entered the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality in to the same competition a few years later and came from it award-less. Nevertheless, Rousseau decided to publish this discourse anyways, because he was, well, Rousseau and he could (namely, he could afford to publish it). Though it was sort of seen in a negative light around the time of publishing, this Discourse is arguably his most familiar work.

Man's State of Nature

Rousseau never explicitly thought that humans were born brutish, as Hobbes did. Rousseau often thought that Hobbes failed to take in to account a human's true state of nature. To Hobbes, the natural human was to be constantly at war: in fear. Rousseau, however, believed otherwise. 
Before I get carried away with the idea that Rousseau did not agree with Hobbes on really anything, it's important to note that Rousseau did find some validity in what Hobbes called the natural state of man. Rousseau did agree that a part of the natural state of man did stem from self-preservation (i.e., being selfish in the sense that you fight back or you love yourself), which was indeed a basis for Hobbes' natural state. Most importantly, though, Rousseau believed that man's natural state was also home to pity (i.e., feeling sorry for your fellow man).
When humanity first began, humans lived in a 'pure state of nature:' that is, unaffected by negative, societal influences and 'bad' things. They only truly war with one another when things like property, possessions and rank came about (coming from humans themselves, mind you). As time wore on, physicality came in to play, so those that were better at lifting heavy objects may work on a farm and so on (sort of developing classes). The most important thing to get from this work, I think, is that Rousseau's view of human nature as being pure at some point was indeed pure (which kind of opposes some stuff he says in Discourse of the Sciences and arts). Basically, humanity was not birthed as evil or 'brutish.' At one point, we weren't born corrupt or with property taken in to account. We were mild and peaceful, because we hadn't encountered anything that made us better than anyone else or that deserved a fight for possession. This view, while the rest were pretty on par with Enlightenment thought, was unbelievable to many, even when you take in to account that this was the Enlightenment era.

Free
So, then, what's saying that other animals cannot rise to the power of humans? I mean, most animals are peaceful and primal. They don't have any notion of class or society, like the humans in the pure state nature. Rousseau said the deciding factor is that humans are 'free.' While reason isn't a component in the natural state of man, humans can get themselves in to situations that can develop reason, which is something that animals just really couldn't do. Humans just will always react a certain way, which I think is cool. 

Rousseau isn't necessarily pro-state of nature, though, because he concurs that it's impossible to resort back. Basically, once things like possessions and reason developed with humanity, you can't undo any of it. He's just merely providing his view on life, which I like.
Anyhow, below I've attached a video as well as a link to the pdf of Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (thanks for the suggestions, Dr. Oliver and Billy)
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11136
Also, this is just a really excellent summary on Rousseau that I read after I do my research to make sure I'm getting the right idea: http://www.iep.utm.edu/rousseau/#SH3b

Again, thanks a bunch for reading!! For my fellow classmates in Section 10, I plan to elaborate more on Emile for my class presentation, since it is my favorite work that I've truly looked at this far.

1 comment:

  1. Good, Katherine, carry on!

    "So, then, what's saying that other animals cannot rise to the power of humans? I mean, most animals are peaceful and primal." Well, primal, at least. Plenty of animals would rip your lungs out if they could, instinctively and without a trace of malice. Even domesticated animals (like my denuded cat) have their aggressive moments.

    "Rousseau said the deciding factor is that humans are 'free.' While reason isn't a component in the natural state of man, humans can get themselves in to situations that can develop reason, which is something that animals just really couldn't do." Compared to the more instinctual and less verbal species, though, even the most primal humans must have been relatively more dependent for their survival upon the mental capacities we've come to associate with reason.

    "Humans just will always react a certain way, which I think is cool." You mean we're predictable? Does that make us more or less free?

    Anyway, looking forward to your presentation.

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