Human Nature and Inequality
• "I conceive of two sorts of inequality in the human species: one, which I call natural or
physical, because it is established by nature and consists in the difference of ages,
health, bodily strengths, and qualities of mind or soul; the other, which may be called
moral or political inequality, because it depends upon a sort of convention and is
established, or at least authorized, by the consent of men . . ."
1. Natural or physical
2. Moral or political
Natural vs. Political Inequality
• Unlike Aristotle, notion of "The Great Chain of Being" and much of Medieval thought,
Rousseau says there is no essential connection between natural and political
• His goal: to explain origins of political inequality by inquiring into "the moment when . . .
nature was subjected to law" or when general natural equality was replaced by political
(and social and economic) inequalities that would continue to deepen over time and
with the "advance" of civilization
Rousseau's Hypothetical Account of the State of Nature and "real" pre-political man:
A tool for explaining and critiquing political inequality
• "The philosophers who have examined the foundations of society have all felt the
necessity of going back to the state of nature, but none of them has reached it . . . All
of them, finally, speaking continually of need, avarice, oppression, desires, and pride,
have carried over to the state of nature ideas they had acquired in society: they spoke
about savage man and they described civil man."
• Suggest no other theorist (such as Hobbes or Locke) has gone back far enough or
theorized the right way; offered skewed portraits of human nature
Challenges Assumptions of Inequality in the Great Chain of Being
• Long-standing views that inequality among men, as well as among species, was
natural and just
• Rousseau argues that social, political and economic inequality are not natural, but
products of human interactions and activities
◦ As such, might be changed by human choices and actions?
How can we possibly see our Natural Selves?
• "How will man manage to see himself as nature formed him, through all the changes
that the sequence of time and rings must have produced in his original constitution,
and to separate what he gets from his own stock from what circumstances and his
progress have added to or changed in his primitive state?"
• Offers this as a hypothetical account, but says that as with physics, this type of account
is actually well-suited to revealing truths
Rousseau's "Noble Savage"
• "First glance" reading: man is a "noble savage" when in the state of nature but made
unhappy and corrupt by processes leading to society and by experiences in European
◦ Rousseau offered variations of this argument in several early works
• "Let us conclude that, w