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Discours Sur L'Origine Et Les Fondements de L'Inegalite Parmi Les Hommes: Avec: La Reine Fantastique

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If humans are benevolent by nature, how do societies become corrupt? And how do governments founded upon the defense of individual rights degenerate into tyranny? These are the questions addressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, a strikingly original inquiry into much-explored issues of 18th-century (and subsequent) philosophy: human If humans are benevolent by nature, how do societies become corrupt? And how do governments founded upon the defense of individual rights degenerate into tyranny? These are the questions addressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, a strikingly original inquiry into much-explored issues of 18th-century (and subsequent) philosophy: human nature and the best form of government. Rousseau takes an innovative approach by introducing a "hypothetical history" that presents a theoretical view of people in a pre-social condition and the ensuing effects of civilization. In his sweeping account of humanity's social and political development, the author develops a theory of human evolution that prefigures Darwinian thought and encompasses aspects of ethics, sociology, and epistemology. He concludes that people are inevitably corrupt as a result of both natural (or physical) inequalities and moral (or political) inequalities. One of the most influential works of the Enlightenment, the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality offers a thought-provoking account of society's origins and a keen criticism of unequal modern political institutions.


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If humans are benevolent by nature, how do societies become corrupt? And how do governments founded upon the defense of individual rights degenerate into tyranny? These are the questions addressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, a strikingly original inquiry into much-explored issues of 18th-century (and subsequent) philosophy: human If humans are benevolent by nature, how do societies become corrupt? And how do governments founded upon the defense of individual rights degenerate into tyranny? These are the questions addressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, a strikingly original inquiry into much-explored issues of 18th-century (and subsequent) philosophy: human nature and the best form of government. Rousseau takes an innovative approach by introducing a "hypothetical history" that presents a theoretical view of people in a pre-social condition and the ensuing effects of civilization. In his sweeping account of humanity's social and political development, the author develops a theory of human evolution that prefigures Darwinian thought and encompasses aspects of ethics, sociology, and epistemology. He concludes that people are inevitably corrupt as a result of both natural (or physical) inequalities and moral (or political) inequalities. One of the most influential works of the Enlightenment, the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality offers a thought-provoking account of society's origins and a keen criticism of unequal modern political institutions.

30 review for Discours Sur L'Origine Et Les Fondements de L'Inegalite Parmi Les Hommes: Avec: La Reine Fantastique

  1. 4 out of 5

    David Sarkies

    Why rulers are rulers and why we serve them 18 January 2013 I found this book an interesting read and it does has some interesting concepts. While it sort of reads like Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, much of the ideas are based upon speculation and Rousseau's conclusions seem to be little more than guess work. Mind you, it is interesting to see such a discourse written over one hundred years before Darwin wrote his Origin of the Species, and it appears that Darwin has borrowed from this text. Why rulers are rulers and why we serve them 18 January 2013 I found this book an interesting read and it does has some interesting concepts. While it sort of reads like Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, much of the ideas are based upon speculation and Rousseau's conclusions seem to be little more than guess work. Mind you, it is interesting to see such a discourse written over one hundred years before Darwin wrote his Origin of the Species, and it appears that Darwin has borrowed from this text. However, Rousseau did not write this as a scientific text but rather a political discourse. There are a number of us who would find the idea that we as humans came about from a bestial origin to be offensive, but I think that Rousseau does have a point with some of the things that he suggests. For instance, the moment we invent the sling, our ability to be able to throw a rock diminishes, in the same way that the moment we invent a ladder, our ability to climb a tree also diminishes. However this is one of those things that separates us from animals, and that is our ability to be able to develop and invent tools that enables us to do a job much better than we were able to previously. I find it difficult to accept that before we invented the spear, or the sword, we would have been able to take down a fully grown lion. There is also his discussion on the development of private property. Private property began when somebody put up a fence around a block of land and made a declaration to the world at large that that block of land belonged to him. However it was not the act of putting up the fence that created ownership in that land, but rather the acknowledgement of the world at large that that piece of land belonged to that person. If, for instance, this person put up a fence, and the world at large then turned around, pulled down the fence, and then began to tear that person limb from limb, then the law of property would be meaningless. In reality, law has no power in and of itself. I may declare a law, but it is the people whom are subject to the law that must accept it. If a population does not willingly submit themselves to that law, then the law has no power. However, that problem is solved through coercion, and in the modern state it is the threat of punishment, whether it be a fine, the revocation of some privileges, or even imprisonment, that gives the law some force. It is also the existence of an arm of government, that is the police and the army, that makes sure that that law is enforced. However, as soon as laws were enacted, or created, to regulate human behavour, a class of people, known in our day and age as the lawyer, also arose to not only challenge these laws, but to look for ways, usually through fine sounding arguments, as to why this law should not apply. It is not a question of the indigenous tribe that is ruled by the wisdom of the elder, or even the dictatorship where the law is enacted by the will of a single ruler, but a sophisticated law (not necessarily a democracy) where the power to regulate the law is handed to a class of people, generally known as the bureaucracy. Rousseau suggests that inequality arose at that point in time where one person was able to gather enough food for two people, and then to hold that food for himself. This, once again, is not necessarily a truth, since hunter-gatherers have always been able to gather more than a day's supply of food, and many of these tribes have habits of storing up food for lean years. However, it is not a question of storing food, but collecting it, making it your property, and then using it to make people do your will. This is how government is formed, because a class of people, not necessarily the strong ones, but the cunning and charismatic ones, are able to form a body that is able to administer the population for the best of the population. However, as they must dedicated their time to ruling, and need feed themselves, they must hand that duty over to others: thus a class of workers, or farmers, is formed to produce not so much enough for themselves, but for themselves and the administrative class. With that food the administrative class are able to create another class: enforcers. This class was not created so much as to keep the peace, or defend the realm, but to keep the administrators in power. As long as the administrators have control of the food supply, and are able to control who has it and who hasn't, then they are able to control the populace. The final thing that I wish to mention has to do with enslavement. Rousseau indicates that when we hand a job over to another person to perform for us that is when we become enslaved. That is very much a truism, and indicates that even those who are in power, or live in their mansions, are really slaves. In fact, the uber-rich are probably the most powerless of them all because if you take away all of their servants they will be unable to do anything for themselves. If you don't believe me I have a simple proof:'feed yourself'. As soon as you go down to the shop to buy food, you have demonstrated your reliance upon another human being. In fact, we are also slaves to our inanimate objects, like our cars (take us to the shop) and our television (entertain us) or even the internet (teach us, connect us).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Well, I dont know what I was expecting, but not this. Or rather, I was expecting the noble savage to play some sort of role and I got the noble savage , admittedly so, I should be satisfied, but when people have told me about the noble savage in the past they have left things out. The main thing that excised is HE is a bloke, not just a man, a bloke. He is rarely happier than when he is on his own, he doesnt spend a whole lot of time thinking about stuff , theres no football, so, obviously, Well, I don’t know what I was expecting, but not this. Or rather, I was expecting ‘the noble savage’ to play some sort of role and I got the noble savage , admittedly– so, I should be satisfied, but when people have told me about the noble savage in the past they have left things out. The main thing that excised is HE is a bloke, not just a man, a bloke. He is rarely happier than when he is on his own, he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about stuff , there’s no football, so, obviously, there is also something missing in his life that he can’t quite put his finger on – but mostly his needs are met by what is immediately to hand. He lives in a forest and given how basic his needs are, they are all right there for the taking. Occasionally he will have sex with a noble savagess, but, as it is put so beautifully here – with more pleasure than ardour. And that just about sums up the book, in many ways. What the noble savagess gets up to in her spare time isn’t really detailed here. The noble savage had his own individual language – by necessity it was pretty rudimentary, and it seems a bit hard to know why he bothered. This meant he wasn’t particularly good at abstract thought. The savage was also without society, and so also without what get called here ‘moral inequalities’. The inequalities that existed in this happy early phase of human history mostly involved getting older and slower than other noble savages. Otherwise, everyone was essentially equal. In some ways this book is the paleo-diet version of philosophy. There is a strong belief that we humans were most happy in our ‘native’ state, and that any shift from that state has been debilitating – whether in terms of the food we eat, the society we live in, the medicine we use, the houses we live in – despite the remarkable extensions to our life expectancy due in large part to all of these. The problem is that unlike us deciding to eat nuts and meat – or whatever it is that paleo-types think we used to eat in our ‘the state of nature’ – we can’t really go back to the primordial forest – because, well, we chopped it down. And ‘the good life’ has perverted our tastes so much that now we can’t be satisfied with less, or even just ‘enough’. This is all seriously pessimistic stuff – which is something else I hadn’t quite expected either. We are condemned to a life that makes us miserable, and there is no escape. The main problem was in developing agriculture. He makes the point that unless you have a society – and an unequal society at that – that agriculture is basically impossible. I thought this was an interesting idea. It is a bit like the tragedy of the commons, but perhaps more forcefully put. He says that if you do all of the work in ploughing and planting fields and growing grain and so on, unless you have some way of saying ‘this is mine’ and backing that up with some sort of force – when the time comes to harvest then others will take everything and leave you with nothing. So, agriculture was pointless until there was society. And with society then came all the evils associated with it – the need for laws, the problem of rulers and ruled, of ‘the refinements of luxury and effeminacy’. The part of this that I will remember of it, I think, is the surprise I had at finding him so certain that the base determination of the human condition is social isolation – the great individual standing free and depending solely upon his own ingenuity for his own well-being. This is basically wrong in every way. The only thing that makes us human is human society. He really could be describing Orangutans rather than humans. The idea that humans like such isolation seems an odd thing to have ever caught on. The whole things sounds too much like crushing loneliness – hardly something to be longed for.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Siddharth

    I shall hopefully write a proper review once I have composed my thoughts, but for now I will seek to emulate the delighted and reverential tone of those critics whose choiciest lines of praise are plastered on the back-cover, front-cover and insides of books: "A magnificent triumph of imagination, scholarship and reason!" *** The discourse is divided into two parts. Part I deals with Man in the "State of Nature" (a concept used to denote the hypothetical conditions of what the lives of people I shall hopefully write a proper review once I have composed my thoughts, but for now I will seek to emulate the delighted and reverential tone of those critics whose choiciest lines of praise are plastered on the back-cover, front-cover and insides of books: "A magnificent triumph of imagination, scholarship and reason!" *** The discourse is divided into two parts. Part I deals with Man in the "State of Nature" (a concept used to denote the hypothetical conditions of what the lives of people might have been like before societies came into existence), i.e. Savage Man. Part II deals with how inequality originated and was perpetuated among us humans. Part I Rousseau basically argues in Part I that it was not possible for inequality to set in, in the State of Nature. In that pursuit, he gives us an elaborate, vivid and - most importantly - convincing portrayal of the life of Savage Man as he, Rousseau, imagines it to have been. Let us conclude then that man in a state of nature, wandering up and down the forests, without industry, without speech, and without home, an equal stranger to war and to all ties, neither standing in need of his fellow-creatures nor having any desire to hurt them, and perhaps even not distinguishing them one from another; let us conclude that, being self-sufficient and subject to so few passions, he could have no feelings or knowledge but such as befitted his situation; that he felt only his actual necessities, and disregarded everything he did not think himself immediately concerned to notice, and that his understanding made no greater progress than his vanity. If by accident he made any discovery, he was the less able to communicate it to others, as he did not know even his own children. Every art would necessarily perish with its inventor, where there was no kind of education among men, and generations succeeded generations without the least advance; when, all setting out from the same point, centuries must have elapsed in the barbarism of the first ages; when the race was already old, and man remained a child. Part II Part II begins powerfully. THE first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." Rousseau then proceeds to begin from where he left off at the end of Part I. The life of Savage Man - a tranquil, solitary, equal one; what changed that? In proportion as the human race grew more numerous, men's cares increased. The difference of soils, climates and seasons, must have introduced some differences into their manner of living. Barren years, long and sharp winters, scorching summers which parched the fruits of the earth, must have demanded a new industry. On the seashore and the banks of rivers, they invented the hook and line, and became fishermen and eaters of fish. In the forests they made bows and arrows, and became huntsmen and warriors. In cold countries they clothed themselves with the skins of the beasts they had slain. The lightning, a volcano, or some lucky chance acquainted them with fire, a new resource against the rigours of winter: they next learned how to preserve this element, then how to reproduce it, and finally how to prepare with it the flesh of animals which before they had eaten raw. Rousseau traces the journey (or descent, as he would probably call it) of Man into domesticity, the idea of property, political society; a journey that sees inequality originate and entrench itself firmly in the human race. It is, again, a convincing argument, and a rewarding one for the reader (to say the very, very, infinitesimally little least). The crux of the argument: It follows from this survey that, as there is hardly any inequality in the state of nature, all the inequality which now prevails owes its strength and growth to the development of our faculties and the advance of the human mind, and becomes at last permanent and legitimate by the establishment of property and laws. *** This is not something that I would have normally bothered to read. I owe this wonderful reading experience to the MOOC I am currently enrolled in, "The Modern and the Postmodern". Link: https://www.coursera.org/course/moder... The course is only three weeks in, and I would heavily recommend it to anyone who may have an interest in the subject matter. Next up: The Communist Manifesto. Can't wait :)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    rousseau has written the first anti-civ, anarchist philosophical essay that i am aware of. it doesn't seem to be fully acknowledged as that, but it's clear what rousseau is talking about when he declares "All ran to meet their chains thinking they secured their freedom... Such was the origin of society and laws, which gave new fetters to the weak and new forces to the rich, destroyed natural freedom for all time, established forever the law of property and inequality, changed a clever usurpation rousseau has written the first anti-civ, anarchist philosophical essay that i am aware of. it doesn't seem to be fully acknowledged as that, but it's clear what rousseau is talking about when he declares "All ran to meet their chains thinking they secured their freedom... Such was the origin of society and laws, which gave new fetters to the weak and new forces to the rich, destroyed natural freedom for all time, established forever the law of property and inequality, changed a clever usurpation into an irrevocable right, and for the profit of a few ambitious men henceforth subjected the whole human race to work, servitude and misery." when i first read this book it was a wake up call to the highest degree, because i had never read someone who had such a similar viewpoint to my own before. it was a liberating experience, as if he was speaking my words. rousseau takes the reader all the way back to the beginning of humanity and brings you one step at a time through the development of society (and the division of labor) until we reach our current, horrible state. finally some realistic philosophy! beats the shit out of marx, THIS is materialism.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    I'm occasionally struck by how bad the great classics of political philosophy are. Consider that, when teaching philosophy, we spend an awful lot of energy convincing students that their arguments have to be tight, they have to avoid fallacies, they have to back up their reasoning, and they have to avoid special pleading. Then we give them Locke's treatises, or The Prince, or this great turd of philosophical unreason. That said, once you decide this isn't a work of philosophy, it gets much I'm occasionally struck by how bad the great classics of political philosophy are. Consider that, when teaching philosophy, we spend an awful lot of energy convincing students that their arguments have to be tight, they have to avoid fallacies, they have to back up their reasoning, and they have to avoid special pleading. Then we give them Locke's treatises, or The Prince, or this great turd of philosophical unreason. That said, once you decide this isn't a work of philosophy, it gets much better; it's not. It's pretty clearly a work of rhetoric, seeking to persuade rather than to reason. The first part, in particular, is utterly ridiculous taken as an argument of any kind: we have no reason to think that human beings outside of society are happy vegetables, but that's how Rousseau presents them. His 'argument' is entirely inconsistent; one minute he says these 'savages' have no need of tools or weapons, since they can just eat acorns, the next minute he's happily supplying them with spears to fight off wild beasts. Taken as a rhetorical attack on previous state-of-nature theories, however, and on the idea that civilization is always all good, it's okay. It's too silly to be anything other than okay, but that's fine. Read it ironically, and it makes sense: Rousseau's picture is no sillier than Hobbes', or Locke's, and his name is a lot less silly than Pufendorf's. Part II is a bit more serious. Here Rousseau takes a lot from Hobbes (one of the few philosophically solid classics of political philosophy), his analysis tightens up, and we're suddenly faced with a whole bunch of fascinating questions: how did it happen that humans because social? how did it happen that some people get the power and wealth, while others get nothing? can that be justified? His answers aren't particularly good, but as a way of showing us how difficult and important these questions are--and, pace Hobbes/Locke/et al., how difficult they are to solve--Rousseau's book works very nicely. It's much harder to justify inequality than previous philosophers had argued (slash some philosophers still argue), it's much harder to provide a rational basis for human society than most of us like to think, and it's very hard indeed to imagine how human institutions came into being. Sadly, Rousseau seems to have led more people towards naturalism than away from it, even though you can easily read this book as an attempt to do the latter. The point about the 'state of nature' is that it probably never happened, not that we should return to it; if we can get out of the habit of thinking that there's some nature we can get back to, we can also get out of the habit of thinking we can justify our institutions and actions based on the 'fact' that they're 'natural.'

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nicolae

    How did people start to use words to express abstract ideas such as love, reason, freedom, death, or life?

  7. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    This was one of the first works of Rousseau (1755), the fruit of a public concourse (he always was in need of money). It's already clearly a work of genius, although certainly not completely thought through. Anyway it reveals the spirit of Rousseau's thinking: there's no such thing as original sin, civilization (and the unilateral use of reason) has brought decline to man and introduced inequality; but there is no way back, man has to proceed (so, in contrast with what often is stated, he does This was one of the first works of Rousseau (1755), the fruit of a public concourse (he always was in need of money). It's already clearly a work of genius, although certainly not completely thought through. Anyway it reveals the spirit of Rousseau's thinking: there's no such thing as original sin, civilization (and the unilateral use of reason) has brought decline to man and introduced inequality; but there is no way back, man has to proceed (so, in contrast with what often is stated, he does not plead for a return to Eden). Remarkably, he uses various terms for man in his natural state: "homme original", "l'homme sauvage", "l'homme naturel" and often makes reference to tribes in Suriname and the Caribbean. As is often the case in the writings of Rousseau his ideas are not always clearly formulated and uniform. But what a treat to read this, especially in the original French.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Clint

    Without Rousseaus careful reflections on the distance from pure sensations to the simplest knowledge, Kant couldnt have applied his theory that, Men work themselves gradually out of barbarity if only intentional artifices are not made to hold them in it. Rousseau says the distance couldnt have been bridged without communication and goes on to show how incredibly slow the process to create language must have been. Society must have been a precursor to real language, the first ideas must have been Without Rousseau’s careful reflections on “the distance from pure sensations to the simplest knowledge”, Kant couldn’t have applied his theory that, “Men work themselves gradually out of barbarity if only intentional artifices are not made to hold them in it.” Rousseau says the distance couldn’t have been bridged without communication and goes on to show how incredibly slow the process to create language must have been. Society must have been a precursor to real language, the first ideas must have been nouns and served as complete sentences, and thought as a whole must have been particular and not generalized. With the creation of language and abstract ideas comes the eventual creation of property, and property makes society the new state of nature. At the end of the discourse, Rousseau illustrates this new nature by saying, “The savage lies in himself; sociable man, who lives outside himself, is capable of living only in the opinion of others.” Rousseau’s philosophy on the original nature of man is predicated on two principles, a human’s interest in his self-preservation and a “natural repugnance to seeing any sentient being, especially our fellow man, perish or suffer.” Society corrupts these two principles. Rousseau doesn’t think a man in his natural state would have ever committed suicide or harmed himself intentionally in any way, but he observes that people in the midst of enlightenment, with so much free time that they have the luxury of deep thought, sometimes commit suicide or harm themselves. He develops the idea that humans have lost much of their pity and compassion even more. The formation of societies and economic classes make humans jealous or scornful of each other. The wealthy value the poor or working class only as another piece of property, and the working class feels only jealousy and animosity toward the wealthy. This separation of humanity engenders hatred and a feeling of satisfaction at the misfortune of a person in a different class. He says, “Natural inequality in the human species must increase as a result of instituted inequality.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Scot

    I had a much harder time diving into this discourse compared to his previous on art and science which I thoroughly enjoyed. Once I got through his ramblings, which was about half of the book, I was thoroughly captivated though which salvaged my rating and of course overall enjoyment. It seems to be an imperative to remember the timing of its release and not apply modern filters, otherwise you can easily groan and guffaw at his treatise on the "noble savages" in the first half of the book. If you I had a much harder time diving into this discourse compared to his previous on art and science which I thoroughly enjoyed. Once I got through his ramblings, which was about half of the book, I was thoroughly captivated though which salvaged my rating and of course overall enjoyment. It seems to be an imperative to remember the timing of its release and not apply modern filters, otherwise you can easily groan and guffaw at his treatise on the "noble savages" in the first half of the book. If you can achieve this very difficult task you can begin to see between the lines and get at his deeper point which is that the more we develop and have the less happy we are and the greater the level of inequality between the haves and have-nots. The second half of this work was much more palatable as there were many juicy quotes and nuggets related to the rise and decline of all forms of government from monarchy to aristocracy to democracy. Some of his writing was incredibly eerie when you used it a lens for analysis of the current state of world affairs and global democracy. For the casual reader, I would personally recommend skipping to part II, though if you can again remove your filters, you may enjoy Part I as well.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Elie F

    The title of this marvelous essay might suggest that it is about politics, but no it's not. Rousseau tackled political problems and solutions in The Social Contract, and no, the social contract is not the solution to the problems of human condition he laid out in The Discourse on Inequality. Apparently Rousseau's radicalness goes way beyond politics; he sees inequality as stemming from material and spiritual dependence. We are materially dependent on others from the moment we collaborate to The title of this marvelous essay might suggest that it is about politics, but no it's not. Rousseau tackled political problems and solutions in The Social Contract, and no, the social contract is not the solution to the problems of human condition he laid out in The Discourse on Inequality. Apparently Rousseau's radicalness goes way beyond politics; he sees inequality as stemming from material and spiritual dependence. We are materially dependent on others from the moment we collaborate to produce, and we are spiritually dependent from the moment we perceive ourselves through the eyes of another and develop vanity, envy, honor or shame. So basically inequality (due to our interdependence) is our human condition, and there is no going back to the savage state of nature. I don't think Rousseau is even suggesting that it is desirable to return to independent savageness, and this essay is simply his theory of alienation and his scorn of the vanity of our civilization. Politics aside, it is genius.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shima Masoumi

    Rousseau talks about what he calls  natural human being  and the origin of gouvernements and how they led to inequalities between human beings. The inequalities based on race, wealth and position and not based on natural capacities. The first part of the book is much more interesting but in the second part Rousseau mostly repeats the same ideas and towards the end the discourse becomes mostly irrational and uninteresting in a way that I my self found it really hard to read. Also there are so Rousseau talks about what he calls « natural human being » and the origin of gouvernements and how they led to inequalities between human beings. The inequalities based on race, wealth and position and not based on natural capacities. The first part of the book is much more interesting but in the second part Rousseau mostly repeats the same ideas and towards the end the discourse becomes mostly irrational and uninteresting in a way that I my self found it really hard to read. Also there are so many footnotes written by Rousseau himself which are in my opinion (and in his of course as he added them to the end of the discourse) most of the time off topic. Rousseau sent a copy of this discourse to Voltaire and Voltaire added lots of notes to it so if you wanna read this book, I recommend the version with Voltaire’s notes so you can sense the battle between the two of them.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    The problem with reading Rousseaus Discourse on Inequality more than 250 years after its composition is that the content alternately seems obvious, because it had such influence on subsequent work, and archaic, because so much has been superceded. On balance it was still worth reading, although I wouldnt have bothered if my mum hadnt given me a copy. The overall argument about human nature inevitably seems dated and repeated references to 'savages' grate. Rousseaus views on women also really get The problem with reading Rousseau’s ‘Discourse on Inequality’ more than 250 years after its composition is that the content alternately seems obvious, because it had such influence on subsequent work, and archaic, because so much has been superceded. On balance it was still worth reading, although I wouldn’t have bothered if my mum hadn’t given me a copy. The overall argument about human nature inevitably seems dated and repeated references to 'savages' grate. Rousseau’s views on women also really get on my nerves: ‘Happy are we so long as your chaste power, exerted solely within the marriage bond, makes itself felt only for the glory of the state and the wellbeing of the public!’ Do shut up. I was pleased to find in the footnotes that Voltaire disagreed with Rousseau’s misogyny and took the view that, ‘Women are capable of doing everything we do: the only difference between them and us is that they are nicer’. Nevertheless, Rousseau does make some points in this discourse that still appear powerful and well-articulated today. His arguments about the development of language are notably well-put and it is not hard to see why they were influential at the time. It is likewise fascinating how easily he sets aside god and religion from the start, obviously a radical stance at a time when people were still being burnt for heresy. I think this point still merits repetition, given the current trend of claiming to have discovered timeless and immutable truths about human nature from behavioural economics experiments: For it is no light enterprise to separate that which is original from that which is artificial in man’s present nature, and attain a solid knowledge of a state which no longer exists, which perhaps never existed, and which will probably never exist, yet of which it is necessary to have sound ideas if we are to judge our present state satisfactorily. Indeed it would require more philosophy than people realise in anyone who undertook to determine exactly what precautions must be taken to ensure reliable observation in this field... I also appreciated the critique of explorers’ accounts of so-called savages, which he finds unscientific (to use an anachronism) and likely inaccurate. Rousseau's feelings on environmental destruction also appear prescient. Perhaps most memorable to me, though, was this rhetorical question: ‘What is one to think of a system in which the reason of each private person dictates to him maxims contrary to the maxims which the public reason preaches to the body of society, a system in which each finds his profit in the misfortunes of others?’ It could probably be translated more tidily than that, but remains powerful. What indeed are we to think when compassion and co-operation are celebrated as individual virtues, but totally inimical to the wider economic system? ‘A Discourse on Inequality’ is only 114 pages long, including Rousseau’s introduction and notes, yet the introduction by Maurice Cranston runs to 44 pages. This is frankly excessive and I don’t think Rousseau’s entire biography, in addition to commentary on the discourse, was necessary for context. I read the introduction last as ever and did not find it terribly enlightening. The editor’s notes were very good, however, especially the grumpy interjections from Voltaire.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bertrand

    I remember having to read Rousseau's confessions at school, a pursuit I artfully dodged being the first rate slacker that I was. Yet I did not escaped the few lessons we were taught on this character, which I somehow came to picture, based on those partial readings, as a whiny, self-loathing and moralizing character, which in those attributes seemed quite credible as the father of the democratic thought. More recently I have come across a variety of texts addressing a very different Rousseau - I remember having to read Rousseau's confessions at school, a pursuit I artfully dodged being the first rate slacker that I was. Yet I did not escaped the few lessons we were taught on this character, which I somehow came to picture, based on those partial readings, as a whiny, self-loathing and moralizing character, which in those attributes seemed quite credible as the father of the democratic thought. More recently I have come across a variety of texts addressing a very different Rousseau - understand very different from the image I formed of him, but also very different I suppose, from the image I was taught of him. The only flaw I knew him was his rather 'complex' childhood sexuality as revealed in his autobiography, but I came to discover other peculiar traits that gave his thought more depth as well as his character: his originating the "collectivist methodology" or his (unhealthy) obsession with Sparta shine a very different light on the concept of the noble savage, one much less self-evident and politically correct. It was in this particular mindset I was when I started this reading. I was not disappointed, indeed Rousseau is far from the poor cliché I had stuck in my mind: first of all, not unlike Locke, he is a great writer, witty and confrontational, which always make for an easier lecture. Second his work if it happens to inscribe itself with earlier modern political theory, in the tradition of 'conjectural history', also provide a particular reflection on this theme, which it is as far as I know, the first to do. Also his work is strikingly secular: if he happily acknowledges Locke or Hobbes, his relationship to religion -if any- is closer to Machiavelli's. Last, assertions I have read that he was often regarded as the forefather of romanticism, left me until reading this text, skeptic at best. I am not knowledgeable enough about this movement to make my own mind but I now definitely see where this genealogy comes from: not the sentimentalism, nor the aesthetic primacy, but a sense of modernity as a right scourge grants him this awkward position, as both the paragon of humanism, and the omen of reactionary, anti-enlightenment and nationalist thought.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stephan

    After reading Jean-Jacques Rousseaus Discourse on the origin of inequality I could only conclude that philosophy is truly an art of speculation. Ive been looking forward to reading this book, since I have been intrigued by the subject of inequality for the last two decades due to unfortunate circumstances. Undoubtedly, had I read this book in my youth, I would have been in awe of it. But as it is today I find it more in dissension due to my empirical knowledge, and personal encounters with the After reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ‘Discourse on the origin of inequality’ I could only conclude that philosophy is truly an art of speculation. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book, since I have been intrigued by the subject of inequality for the last two decades due to unfortunate circumstances. Undoubtedly, had I read this book in my youth, I would have been in awe of it. But as it is today I find it more in dissension due to my empirical knowledge, and personal encounters with the world outside the realm of equality. Rousseau’s unsubstantial statements can be quite distasteful for someone who has been hurt by the practices and customs of the exponents of inequality. The first part of the discourse was somewhat euphoric; Rousseau was unduly ecstatic. However, it is hard for a reader to find logic without substantial evidence to support Rousseau’s statements. I admit that I have had pleasure in agreeing and disagreeing with Rousseau, as he truly possess the talent to provoke the mind and stimulate the reader intellectually. If you are more into science than into philosophy, however, you might this book quite nonsocial. Rousseau’s writing, particularly in the first few pages was quite digressive and illusive. I struggled to sort out the wheat from the chaff, and was just about to give up the book. Rousseau’s residues of narcissism can either amuse or vex the reader. I must admit here that I was both amused at parts and vexed at parts, thus I had to let the book rest for a while and read it in small portions. Relating to Rousseau’s background, he gained my sympathy, thus after overcoming the first hurdles and obstacles of the book, I began to slowly speculate over what he was really trying to say. Throughout the entire book Rousseau’s writing was condensed and repetitive, and yet inquisitive. Particularly in the first part I had to bear with him out of curiosity. Rousseau’s longing for equality is relevant to love and compassion as natural needs. Not to be harsh on Rousseau but I could see why some readers might find him delusional and pompous. Most of his arguments were presumptuous, premature pompous, euphoric, and refutable. Nevertheless Rousseau’s greatness is in making his arguments interesting to debate. The themes in this book were very intriguing. The question which led to this book by the academy of Dijon was somewhat rhetoric: ‘What is the origin of inequality among mankind? And whether such inequality is authorized by the law of nature?’ Rousseau chose to write a discourse on an answer that deserves only one word. The answer is Vanity. However the second part of the question is quite tricky, because there is no clear definition of what ‘The law of nature’ constitutes. I found it a flaw where Rousseau and the academy of Dijon implied that the law of nature is an absolute law. The law of nature, just like the law of man is not an absolute law, therefore the second part of the question is immaterial. There are only two absolute laws that surround both man and beast in their bindings. The law of nature and the law of man are splitting between these two absolute laws, upon which I have elaborated in some of my own literature. These two laws are: (See full review in two parts on my blog)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey Hennegen

    Rousseau is responding to the prompt, What is the origin of the inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law? Hes rife with suspicion as to whether man can employ such categorical language when speaking of the natural. He doubts our capacity to define nature, define law. So, Nature qua nature turns out to be a slippery thing. He paints a suggestion (not meant to be taken as his literal belief of our past, I think) of pre-social, pre-political existence (consequently, pre-moral). Rousseau is responding to the prompt, “What is the origin of the inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?” He’s rife with suspicion as to whether man can employ such categorical language when speaking of the natural. He doubts our capacity to define nature, define law. So, Nature qua nature turns out to be a slippery thing. He paints a suggestion (not meant to be taken as his literal belief of our past, I think) of pre-social, pre-political existence (consequently, pre-moral). Rousseau’s natural man exhibits a natural pity and a faculty for self improvement (not just a faculty for change, I think, but a proclivity toward it). Natural man as ever shifting, striving, at odds with stasis. As soon as we socialize, something corrosive occurs. Contextualization among others invariably surfaces and makes evident the natural differences among men. Once among others, we began to love and speak and engage in commerce and thus find a use for beauty, intelligence, and cunning. We developed the distinction between virtue and vice, which served as a normative, even corrective, means to signal and reflect value. Man reveled in praise and envy in the face of virtue, consternation toward vice. From this new relative, normative context emerges both pride and shame. This pride, or amour propre, is not the self-love of amour de soi that Rousseau lauded as man’s natural virtue. As man became social, excessive self-importance (pride) or self-consciousness (shame) usurped the self-love that once imbued our natural state. If pity fostered our natural compassion and helped us locate the humanity in another, amour propre pushed cruelty, callousness, and an unapologetic self-interest. This shift from the internal to the external is irrevocable. As soon as one is conscious of the gaze of the other, how can he hope to return to himself? As soon as society has introduced to the individual the concept of morality, a return to the amoral becomes untenable. Here I find something of modern selfhood in the Rousseaian account: as soon as we are conscious of an other, there emerges a human need to be liked, approved of, admired. This begets a performative basis for interaction and existence, a disconnect between the true self and the social self. We find ourselves slaves to pride, expectation, and validation as we are ever and inextricably attuned to others’ perceptions of us. Pride and shame found then perpetuate this consumptive state of being. Civilization looks to be a ruinous thing, shrouding our natural inclination toward pity with more corrosive attributes of pride and shame. Cultivation, specialization that creates dependence among individuals, begets possession, from possession, the concept of property and ownership. Protective forward-thinking and greed succeed. The game is zero-sum, all men are measured by the yardstick of wealth or rank or power. I am left amid feelings of defeat and exasperation, wondering at how modern man might attempt to recultivate pity (and therein, empathy and compassion) to counter contemporary ills of inauthenticity (the performative nature of interaction), self-conscious insecurity, caustic pride and debilitating shame.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Valdemar Gomes

    It is old, what it says is antiquated and much of it can be disproved with an "Anthropology 101" book. It has its historical relevance and it has some very nice premises. Still, the further it goes, the worse it gets. This whole book is a snowball fallacy. P.S. Terrible conclusion! Primitivism or faith and loyalty to the state? Bah how limited.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Belinda

    3,25 stars - English hardcover - I have dyslexia - I read this book when I worked as a au-pair in Bradford on avon. Found an old diary with this enterance in it. 🌸🌸🌸🌸

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    We have here exampled in glorious prose one of the primary reasons coming to grips with this topic has taken so long and led down so many dead-ends. While I give a nod to Rousseau for having the perspicacity to be in and indeed sometimes originate the right arguments, he could be a profoundly poor observer, historian, and human being. His example of "man in a state of nature" is purest misanthropy and renders much of the rest dubious at best. This was a vitally important topic and he was in the We have here exampled in glorious prose one of the primary reasons coming to grips with this topic has taken so long and led down so many dead-ends. While I give a nod to Rousseau for having the perspicacity to be in and indeed sometimes originate the right arguments, he could be a profoundly poor observer, historian, and human being. His example of "man in a state of nature" is purest misanthropy and renders much of the rest dubious at best. This was a vitally important topic and he was in the thick of it at the time, but his grounding theses are not to be taken other than with a block of salt. He could be forgiven for not having better understandings of anthropology and of course it was century before Darwin laid out the biological foundations of species development, but still his portrait of the ideal Savage is almost laughable. He would have done better to leave that kind of fabulation alone and just dive into the current political and social realities of his day. He betrays cultural biases as well. This is a great text to argue against. That his conclusions are what they are is all the more surprising given the assumptions on which he based them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Serinus Canaria

    The book itself was a little ripper, but here I wish to express my delight at the editor's inclusion of Voltaire's commentary in the endnotes. Writing in the margins of the copy sent to him by Rousseau, Voltaire shows himself to be less than impressed by the efforts of his contemporary. Alongside single-word zingers like "Ridiculous" and "False", perhaps my favourite Voltairean shut-down follows this passage, where Rousseau claims that "savages" are incapable of experiencing the "moral" aspect The book itself was a little ripper, but here I wish to express my delight at the editor's inclusion of Voltaire's commentary in the endnotes. Writing in the margins of the copy sent to him by Rousseau, Voltaire shows himself to be less than impressed by the efforts of his contemporary. Alongside single-word zingers like "Ridiculous" and "False", perhaps my favourite Voltairean shut-down follows this passage, where Rousseau claims that "savages" are incapable of experiencing the "moral" aspect of love: "Imagination, which causes so much havoc among us, never speaks to the heart of savages; everyone quietly awaits the impulse of nature, responds to it involuntarily with more pleasure than frenzy; and once the need is satisfied, all desire is extinguished." (p. 103) To which the salty Voltaire responds: "How do you know? Have you ever seen savages making love?" I dare say he hadn't, no. May philosophical spatting live long and flourish for yet another three centuries to come!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ivy-Mabel Fling

    An interesting take on why society has become corrupt but the axiom, provided in the first part, is purely speculative and seems very improbable. Reading it reminded me of being at school and having to struggle through De rerum natura with all its rather bizarre arguments (or maybe that was just my way of seeing things at the time) used by Lucretius to prove the mortality of the soul. I think it might be a good idea to read more of Rousseau's work to get a fuller picture of what he was saying An interesting take on why society has become corrupt but the axiom, provided in the first part, is purely speculative and seems very improbable. Reading it reminded me of being at school and having to struggle through De rerum natura with all its rather bizarre arguments (or maybe that was just my way of seeing things at the time) used by Lucretius to prove the mortality of the soul. I think it might be a good idea to read more of Rousseau's work to get a fuller picture of what he was saying and why.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jana Light

    I really enjoyed this work, wholly apart from my judgment of its philosophical merits. Some great ideas in here, along with a looooot of conjecture. Very worth reading for its place in the history of ideas and for a surprisingly enjoyable read.

  22. 5 out of 5

    FromReading2Dreaming

    This book gave a very interesting argument as to why there is inequality in the world. As a person who doesn't tend to read books of this nature I have to say I enjoyed this one.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Giovanna

    *read for uni no point in rating it

  24. 4 out of 5

    Srivani

    This piece was essentially written for an "essay competition" (by the Academy of Dijon, I believe) before Rousseau realized that he was a good writer and that he should perhaps do it professionally. Les Miserables, the musical, is one of our favorites and we have recently started reading the book. This essay was interesting to read in that context because it gives an idea about the prevailing ideas in France at the time that eventually led to the revolution and more. This was a period in modern This piece was essentially written for an "essay competition" (by the Academy of Dijon, I believe) before Rousseau realized that he was a good writer and that he should perhaps do it professionally. Les Miserables, the musical, is one of our favorites and we have recently started reading the book. This essay was interesting to read in that context because it gives an idea about the prevailing ideas in France at the time that eventually led to the revolution and more. This was a period in modern western philosophy when the influence of church has steadily declined over the past couple of centuries (starting with the Italian Renaissance) while the influence of science has steadily increased, although for a long time the increase in the latter was not quite on par with the decrease of the former. One can see that in this essay. Rousseau does not argue that liberty is a divine right. There is almost no mention of God in the essay, which was a welcome relief. He argues, instead, that the right is derived from nature. The trouble, though, is that the knowledge at the time of how pre-historic men (savages, as he calls them) lived was quite limited, so a lot of assumptions that he makes are not quite right. He also makes sweeping statements without feeling the need to give any evidence for them or make an apology when not able. For example, he speculates on how language must have developed among men but gives no evidence of why he thinks that's right. This is what I found interesting about the essay, and I might be completely off the mark here. Perhaps the inspiration behind the philosophical thought shifting from God to nature has partly to do with encountering new peoples (the Americas, the Caribbean) that were so shockingly different from anything the Europeans had yet seen? Rousseau, assuming these "savages" as midway between pre-historic man and present-day European, works his way backwards to speculate what men were like further back in the past going all the way to the "very beginning". Perhaps Rousseau was thinking, "If this is us, and that is them ... perhaps there are others, still further different from us with entirely different needs wants and value systems, at the very beginning and a fundamental truth to be found there?" .... All in all, this certainly got me interested enough to read more enlightenment era philosophers.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Skyler Myers

    "The civil law being thus become the common rule of citizens, the law of nature no longer obtained but among the different societies, in which, under the name of the law of nations, it was qualified by some tacit conventions to render commerce possible, and supply the place of natural compassion, which, losing by degrees all that influence over societies which it originally had over individuals, no longer exists but in some great souls, who consider themselves as citizens of the world, and "The civil law being thus become the common rule of citizens, the law of nature no longer obtained but among the different societies, in which, under the name of the law of nations, it was qualified by some tacit conventions to render commerce possible, and supply the place of natural compassion, which, losing by degrees all that influence over societies which it originally had over individuals, no longer exists but in some great souls, who consider themselves as citizens of the world, and forcing the imaginary barriers that separate people from people, make the whole human race the object of their benevolence." PROs: * Fascinating thoughts * Interesting discussion on the origins of language and civilization CONs: * Very dry at times * Can be hard to follow "Which was the most necessary, society already formed to invent languages, or languages already invented to form society?" I agree with Rousseau more in his second discourse than his first, and I think his points are better argued, but I still don't think it's anywhere near as well written. He still loves run on sentences, which make it very hard to read and comprehend. I think the highlight of the book was where he hypothesized about the origin of language and civilization. It really got me thinking about how much of a monumental achievement that was. "The first man, who, after enclosing a piece of ground, took it into his head to say, "This is mine," and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, how many wars, how many murders, how many misfortunes and horrors, would that man have saved the human species, who pulling up the stakes or filling up the ditches should have cried to his fellows: Be sure not to listen to this imposter; you are lost, if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong equally to us all, and the earth itself to nobody!"

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bob Nichols

    For Rousseau, natural man is his own master; he is not dominated by others and he, isolated from others, does not dominate others. Self-preservation is to attack and defend. But, driven desire and fear, the savage never goes beyond his physical wants. Care for his own preservation is the least prejudicial to that of others. Compassion moderates the violence of love of self and this contributes to the preservation of the whole species. Self-limiting behavior occurs not by reasoned principles, but For Rousseau, natural man is his own master; he is not dominated by others and he, isolated from others, does not dominate others. Self-preservation is to “attack and defend.” But, driven “desire and fear,” the “savage” never goes “beyond his physical wants.” Care for his own preservation “is the least prejudicial to that of others.” Compassion moderates “the violence of love of self” and this “contributes to the preservation of the whole species.” Self-limiting behavior occurs not by reasoned principles, but because of man’s natural goodness that practically, non-reflectively, says, ‘Do good to yourself with as little evil as possible to others.” Such men were more intent “to guard themselves against the mischief that might be done them, than to do mischief to others,” Rousseau writes. Whereas in the state of nature there was enough to go around and natural inequalities (“and the law of the strongest”) were of no effect in giving one advantage vis-à-vis the other, in associations with others these natural inequalities began to reveal themselves. (1) Though I lost the train of his argument about how the transition occurred between natural and social man, sex played a central role. For the natural man, the sexual act is simply animalistic. (“The heart of savages who quietly await the impulses of nature,” Rousseau writes, “yield to them involuntarily, with more pleasure than ardor, and their wants once satisfied, lose the desire.”) But, when imagination enters the picture, he begins to compare “excellences.” Whereas before when “every woman equally answers his purpose,” now there is a preference for one over another. With this, there is scarcity and competition and these begin to corrupt man’s best impulses. Family associations formed. The sexes came together under “one roof” for the necessary union with each other, and “a little society” formed with “reciprocal attachment.” Associations became bigger. Groups formed for mutual advantage but always the civilized veneer was thin. Property provided for man’s needs but also staked out a division between individuals. The governing motive was “love of well-being” that could be served by transitory associations with others or by seeking “private advantage, either by open force, if he thought himself strong enough, or by address and cunning, if he felt himself the weaker.” For Rousseau, it all went downhill from here. “Natural inequality unfolds,” he states. “It now became the interest of men to appear what they really are not. To be and to seem became two totally different things; and from this distinction sprang insolent pomp and cheating trickery, with all the numerous vices that go in their train….free and independent as men were before, they were now, in consequence of a multiplicity of new wants, brought into subjection, as it were, to all nature, and particularly to one another; and each became in some degree a slave even in becoming the master of other men: if rich, they stood in need of the services of others; if poor, of their assistance; and even a middle condition did not enable them to do without one another.” Rousseau goes on with his critique. “Usurpations by the rich, robbery by the poor, and unbridled passions of both suppressed the cries of natural compassion and the still feeble voice of justice, and filled men with avarice, ambition, and vice.” And now, he writes, “in the midst of so much philosophy, humanity, and civilization, and of such sublime codes of morality, we have nothing to show for ourselves but a frivolous and deceitful appearance, honour without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness. It is sufficient that I have proved that this is not by any means the original state of man, but that it is merely the spirit of society, and the inequality which society produces, that thus transform and alter all our natural inclinations.” Boiled down, Rousseau’s theory is that natural man is good and it is society that corrupts this natural goodness. That view of “natural man” presumes too much. Rousseau starts with an untenable premise. There cannot be an autonomous man. (2) “Man” was always part of an association. He is tribal “by nature,” just as Darwin argued. As part of a group, the individual survived; separate from it, the individual died. Mutual dependence existed from the beginning. There cannot be an autonomous man. Given this, it’s plausible that Rousseau’s “imagination,” the comparison of “excellences,” and the troublesome aspect of personal inequalities existed then as well as now, though there’s clearly a difference in scale. (3) Rousseau also makes a generalization about the nature of natural man, but this too misleads. (4) It’s plausible enough to see that there are two poles of human nature and everything in between. Driven by self-preservation concerns, some use their strength in ways that increase their advantage at the expense of others; others by nature are Rousseau’s compassionate man. Both poles work for survival. Compassion is good for group solidarity and individual survival. Extreme self-oriented behavior, when combined with strength, skill, and deception, also works. And, social norms and institutions mirror this variability of our inner character: some reflect a “might is right” ethos, whereas others reflect the norms of reciprocity. (1) Of the four sources of inequality, personal qualities Rousseau says were the origin of the other three. (2) “Let us conclude, then,” Rousseau writes, “that man in a state of nature, wandering up and down the forests, without industry, without speech, and without home, an equal stranger to war and to all ties, neither standing in need of his fellow-creatures nor having any desire to hurt them….If by accident he made any discovery, he was the less able to communicate it to others, as he did not know even his own children. Every art would necessarily perish with its inventor, where there was no kind of education among men, and generations succeeded generations without the least advance.” (3) Some contemporary commentary theorists (see Margaret Power’s The Egalitarians) also make similar arguments as Rousseau did about the nature of natural man (pre-hunter gatherers, and their chimpanzee predecessors) being egalitarian “by nature,” but that claim can be debated or countered. (4) Evolutionary theorists also wrongly standardize their understanding of behavior, working with man as “a species” rather than man as an individual member of the species. As a species, humans seek to survive, but there are different ways that survival can be achieved, including both poles of behavior (extreme self-interest, or through serving the self’s interest as a member of a group), as seen throughout history and as seen today.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ensiform

    translated by Lester Crocker. Although this treatise contains many good points, and some advanced ideas on democratic government, I found its argument empty. Even given that Rousseaus construction of the natural world, of early, savage man is a conjecture, a hypothetical thought experiment, it is misinformed and lacks any data to even suggest validity. My two main objections are: (i) the original state of man was not, in fact, a solitary nomadic one, but most likely has always been a tribal one, translated by Lester Crocker. Although this treatise contains many good points, and some advanced ideas on democratic government, I found its argument empty. Even given that Rousseau’s construction of the “natural world,” of early, “savage” man is a conjecture, a hypothetical thought experiment, it is misinformed and lacks any data to even suggest validity. My two main objections are: (i) the “original” state of man was not, in fact, a solitary nomadic one, but most likely has always been a tribal one, as the great apes, elephants, monkeys, wolves, etc. are; (ii) the development of man from savage to social as Rousseau lays it out is fine and makes good points about the flaws in social interaction, but it is entirely unclear what is “unnatural” about this progression. He implies in the text twice that something interfered with man, and “left to himself,” man would still be in the peaceful, solitary, natural state. But Rousseau never demonstrates any real break in man’s development. On top of those objections, other instances of minor contradictions and faulty logic further disappointed me. There’s just no point to using “the natural” state to criticize real flaws in government when the former never even existed, and the latter, although indisputably worse, seems to be just as natural.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andre

    Rousseau is rather convincing on humanity in a primitive state. He's full of wondrous examples and beautiful delineations in which he presents a view of nature that runs counter to Hobbes (and in some respects to Golding), yet how relevant such an analysis to civilized man is, I am not sure. We are born into society, born into inequality, from which there can be no hope of return. Judging from Rousseau's quoting of Locke, I think it is fair to assess that he would agree that a return is Rousseau is rather convincing on humanity in a primitive state. He's full of wondrous examples and beautiful delineations in which he presents a view of nature that runs counter to Hobbes (and in some respects to Golding), yet how relevant such an analysis to civilized man is, I am not sure. We are born into society, born into inequality, from which there can be no hope of return. Judging from Rousseau's quoting of Locke, I think it is fair to assess that he would agree that a return is impossible. Can social and political structures be re-structured in such a way as to allow humanity to live closer to the way Rousseau describes humanity to be in a primitive state? Without eliminating property, differentiated societies, and equalizing the labor needed to sustain mankind's subsistence, the plain and simple answer is, No. What is gained from a discourse on human nature is the fact that it is the social forces and the social organization of society that corrupts society, rather than, as Hobbes and Schopenhauer would have it, human nature in-itself. So, to be more modern, "existence precedes essence," and given Rousseau's analysis, the environment will determine the shape that the essence will take on. Absolutely!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Hochstetler

    This book is a foundation for many more to come that address the idea of inequality. From our origin, birth, inequality springs; some are born to wealth, some are born with sickness. Following that, some are fortunate with a good education, while others never learn to read. What I took from the book is this - inequality is easy to see, but much harder to address. How does a state fix natural inequality? Through public education, and public health care? Well, this seems to create more problems This book is a foundation for many more to come that address the idea of inequality. From our origin, birth, inequality springs; some are born to wealth, some are born with sickness. Following that, some are fortunate with a good education, while others never learn to read. What I took from the book is this - inequality is easy to see, but much harder to address. How does a state fix natural inequality? Through public education, and public health care? Well, this seems to create more problems then it solves. Rousseau lays many questions, and has many insights.. However, the solutions drawn from authors to come is staggering. Two conclusions are almost never the same. I found myself confused at times, for I didn't see I clear path to fixing natural inequality. Nevertheless, this disposition on the origin of inequality is the root for even trying to understand why some are naturally endowed with fortune, while others never seem to have a chance.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    I've never understood the attraction of Rousseau but then, up to now, I'd only read extracts and synopses of his work. My book group (which is more serious than I am) decided to read both his discourses, The Social Contract and his letter to Letter to d'Alembert. In this book his passion for thinking and feeling is palpable, although I'm with most of the skeptics in being unpersuaded by either. Still, with the assistance of Ernst Cassirer and the entertaining The Philosopher's Quarrel, I'm I've never understood the attraction of Rousseau – but then, up to now, I'd only read extracts and synopses of his work. My book group (which is more serious than I am) decided to read both his discourses, The Social Contract and his letter to Letter to d'Alembert. In this book his passion for thinking and feeling is palpable, although I'm with most of the skeptics in being unpersuaded by either. Still, with the assistance of Ernst Cassirer and the entertaining The Philosopher's Quarrel, I'm gaining a new appreciation for (perhaps) the most original thinker of the eighteenth century.

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