Essay: Discourse on Inequality – Jean-Jacques Rousseau

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  • Published on: January 15, 2020
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  • Discourse on Inequality - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
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If she intended for us to be healthy, I almost venture to affirm that the state of reflection is a condition contrary to nature, and that the man who meditates is a depraved animal” (Rousseau, Second Discourse 113). Discuss.

In his Discourse on Inequality Jean-Jacques Rousseau presents the current state of the enlightened man as depraved, sick and unnatural. The writings of Rousseau reflect a man struggling to understand his own nature and how to be good. Through these writings he expresses his dissatisfaction and disappointment in what modern society and he himself have become. He works through his own wickedness, which plagues all men, in an attempt to bring himself and the whole of society out of depravity, loathing the need within humans for admiration and validation from others. Wholly unhappy with his current state Rousseau attempts to find a cure for his sick society. I will argue that what Rousseau truly craves is to return to the innocence of childhood, the happiest state he can imagine, but is aware this is impossible. Recognizing this he reconciles himself by outlining a future comprising parts of both his past and present self and a society functioning with both amour de sois-meme and amour-propre.

Rousseau outlines what he believes to have been humans natural state as a prehistoric existence motivated only by the most basic of needs. Rousseau writes that what distinguishes the human from all other animals is his capacity for perfectibility and says,
It would be sad for us to be forced to concur that this distinctive faculty, which is almost boundless, is the source of all the misfortunes of man, that it is what pulls him by the power of time out of this original condition in which he would flow through quiet and innocent days, that with the passage of centuries it is what hatches his enlightenment and his errors, his vices and his virtues, and makes him at length a tyrant over himself and nature. (Rousseau 187).
In an attempt to perfect himself man left the state of nature unknowingly corrupting himself. Rousseau does not theorize that those in the state of nature were good or moral humans. They were humans without a social contract thus had no conception of morals or of good and evil. Those in the state of nature still acted in their own self-interest but were unable to do so maliciously. Rousseau portrays these people as naturally innocent in the same way he understood children to be. An infant, having no sense of right or wrong cannot act out of spite.

Rousseau maintains humility in his arguments, never claiming certainty for his theories. “Let my readers not imagine therefore that I dare to flatter myself with having seen something which appears to me so difficult to see […]it is nevertheless necessary to have some accurate notions in order to assess well our present condition” (102).He makes it clear this is a personal argument, what he personally judges to be true and hold value. He makes no claim of absolute knowledge on the subject but affirms that in order to regain any happiness his argument is worth exploring. He has difficulty understanding his own self and is aware his readers will encounter

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