Rousseau: Origin Of Inequality Essay, Research Paper
The Origin of Inequality
In Rousseau s Discourse on the Origin of Inequalities , Rousseau tries to explain the birth and evolution of inequality between humans dating back to savage man in the pure state of nature. Rousseau proposes that it was not man that progressed toward inequality as much as it was the state of nature itself. In his own words, Rousseau says, the state of nature develops and gives rise to pride, shame, and envy (91). He believed that in the pure state of nature no conflict was present because humans were compassionate and showed pity toward other members of the human race; however, the cooperation between people lead to more free time which was used to think and invent. Inventions sprung up and people for their own use created luxury items. These luxury items caused conflicts and corrupted needs for people of the human race (88). Rousseau is basically stating that our virtues as savages in the pure state of nature were corrupted by the change in the state of nature as they knew it.
Jonathan Wolff, author of Intro to Political Philosophy, has a few beliefs that parallel those of Rousseau. Wolff agrees with Rousseau in that natural humans have free will and the ability for self-improvement (30). However, Wolff believes that these two traits conflict each other. He argues that if humans have both free will and self-preservation, that when a human finds that he needs something that another one owns, the two traits come into conflict. At this point, man must decide whether to further himself by taking what he needs or feeling pity and compassion for the other human and continue to suffer (28). According to Wolff, these traits are the source of human progression as opposed to the progression of the state of nature.
Eli Freidlander has serious questions regarding the validity of Rousseau s Discourse and his findings. Freidlander ponders how Rousseau found a true description of the state of nature when so many had failed before (1). Freidlander, speaking of pity, touches on ancient theater where Alexander of Pherea did not dare attend the performance of any tragedy, for fear of being seen weeping (6). This shows his belief that man still shows pity for fellow man in society today; however, he also believes that our return to the true state of nature is as monumental a challenge as that faced by primitive man (7). This shows his doubt in Rousseau s ability to give as clear of an insight to the true state of nature as he insists. Freidlander also believes that, in contrast to Rousseau, the individual s will would have no direct influence in such events [changes in society] (4).
I believe that Rousseau s theory of the origin of human inequalities is true. Man today feels compassion and pity for fellow man: traits, which I believe, date back to prehistory. This is why humans are non-violent creatures by nature. However, I believe that it was necessary for the true state of nature to evolve for man, because the state of nature will never be a condition in which humans can flourish (Wolff 36).