Rousseau: Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Jean Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778
Emile- Book on how to educate
The Two Rousseau’s?
Authenticity has been threatened, perhaps destroyed by progress.
o Sentiment and passion
Reason tells us that we are fundamentally free and that consent is the only basis
of legitimate political authority
‘Know thyself’ was written over the portal of the antique world. Over the portal of
the new world, ‘be thyself’ shall be written- Oscar Wilde.
o Convention, is that really how you feel?
We live in a society of layers of manners; the social norms and conventions were
really complicated. Layering of artificial manners, and all our parts have been
written. Social relations are structured by these norms. This version of
authenticity, we are these people with passions and sentiments and we just
suppress them, for the sake of…?
We cannot live this way, this strand of the modern world is trying to get back to
who we really are, the story of the discourse is the story f the growing
disappearance of authenticity, ‘we live outside ourselves in the opinion of others.’
Discourse on the Origins of Foundation and Inequality
History of the human soul
It was an essay, written to be read easily and read by the general educated people.
In the first discourse he talks about themes that are common.
Science and art has led to a society morally corrupt. He is living pre-revolution in
France and it was a very corrupt place.
It set him as an anti-progress person.
The 2 nddiscourse people did not like as much. The economic system we live in, it
was an attack on commerce, property etc., It appears that he is saying we took a
terrible wrong turn and there is no recovery from this. He uses the method of conjectural history- he talks about the state of Nature (not
like Locke or Hobbes). It is this hypothetical static state. A state of nature is a
state without laws. Rousseau’s story is over a long time. He does not tell a
straightforward story, he is the history of human soul/character, of our identity.
‘Let us therefore begin, putting aside the facts, for they have no bearing on the
question, the investigations that may be undertaken concerning this subject should
not be taken as historical truth…’ pg. 38 Introduction
pg. 39 Preface ‘ like the stature of… that storms has disfigured so it looks less like
a god and more like a wild beast… by changes that took place in the constitution
of bodies… changed its appearance to the point of not being recognizable…’
it is about the shaping of human nature over time by the multiple forces shaping it
over time. Human nature is malleable. There is a story he tells but the way we
went is a gross distortion (but we could have gone the other way).
Part II- pg 70 ‘the first glance he directed upon himself stirred pride.’
Pg.44’ I can conceive of 2 kinds of inequality in the human species, ne which I
call natural or physical, the other may be called moral or political inequality, it
depends on a kind of convention, this latter type of inequality… richer…’