Rousseau: The Man and his Context
• Geneva (Switzerland) 1712 - Ermenonville (France) 1778
• Writer, philosopher, musician
• Genius, sensible, possible paranoiac
• Travels, exiles, personal conflicts
• Some of his major works:
o Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts
o Discourse on the Origins and Foundation of Inequalities
o On Social Context
o Emile or Education
o Julie or the New Heloïse
• The French Enlightenment
• The Encyclopedia
Rousseau's Answer to Hobbes
"Man is naturally good"
• State of Nature is a state of Peace
• Society is the source of Grief, Conflicts and Violence
Man in the State of Nature
• Solitary, happy, healthy and peaceful
• Without unnecessary needs or desires
• Two passions:
o Self-love (amour de soi): the desire for self-preservation
o Pity: the "innate repugnance to seeing his fellow men suffer"
• Free - no domination
• FREEDOM, not intelligence or reason, distinguish human beings from animals
• PERFECTIBILITY is the faculty of self-perfection by which human beings develop
as a species and individuals
• Natural freedom is the POWER OF WILLING and "the feeling of this power"
The Social Origin of Inequality
• Inequality institutes conflicts, reputation (amour-propre), domination and human
grief - misery
• Two types of inequality:
o Moral & Political
• The problem:
o Privileges: Social, Political and Economical
Nature vs. Society
• "I conceive of two kinds of inequality in human species: one which I call natural or
physical, because it is established by nature and consists in the difference of age,
health, bodily strength and qualities of mind or soul. The other may be called moral
or political inequality, because it depends on a kind of CONVENTION and is
established, or at least AUTHORIZED, by the CONSENT OF MEN." • "This latter type of inequality consists in the different privileges enjoyed by some
at the expense of others, such as being richer, more honored…"
The first problem: The Right of Property
"The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say that this is
mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society"
"What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been
spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men:
"Do not listen to this imposter. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all
and the earth to no one!""
• The right of property is the first chain, which putting men in a state of
dependance toward each other, leads to Tyranny
• This right comes from the working of the land - agriculture:
o Division of land between men;
o Development of arts and techniques;
o Proximity: natural family and small villages;
o Development of unnecessary needs, relative passions, inequalities and
• Property thus implies the origin of laws and civil society - and the need of a
Rousseau, an idealist?
• A positive view of "human nature"
• The concept of perfectibility: the possibility to transform one's condition
• The hypothetical status of the "state of nature"
• A narrative, historical approach to knowledge
• The interaction of men and society
The first problem: Pro