Better Study Guide
Discourse on the Origins of Inequality
1. In the state of nature what are the two main impulses that guide human action? Given
these two impulses how would you describe the way in which individuals interact in the
state of nature?
Pity and Selfpreservation
2. Rousseau claims the Discourse is a history. What type of history is it?
History of human nature?
3. Rousseau makes a distinction between natural inequality and moral or political inequality.
What is the difference between these two? Which is Rousseau interested in and why?
The difference between the wealthy and poor. Natural inequality is physical
differences (big man vs. short man)
4. Why is there no war in the state of nature?
People are independent and selfsufficient
5. What sort of life does the savage lead in the state of nature?
A life of selfsufficiency and absolute independence
6. What does Rousseau have to say about gender relations in the state of nature?
Women can leave their children once their child is able to look after themselves, men
and women are equal because everyone is selfsufficient.
7. What role does reason play in Rousseau's description of the origins of inequality?
Shouldn’t overthink or overdo reason because it takes away human empathy. We
should all have the same political religion (Herder also mentions this). Reason in
politics is essential
8. Why did humans not stay in the state of nature?
The introduction of technologies and machinery led to the creation of more goods.
9. In what way do people's attitudes towards each other change when they move from the
state of nature to prepolitical society?
Having power over each other and has led to social inequality.
10. How does the invention of metallurgy and agriculture affect the members of the first
11. What role does property play in Rousseau' account human history?
There can be private property but it must be in check or radical inequality will
12. How is government first instituted, by whom, and for what reason?
The people to allow for more equality implement the government. We instill gov’t
1 because we all believe that we ought to do it – everyone has to agree that it’s for the
greater good! (Kant also believes this –everyone has the same idea).
13. What is the final stage of the civilizing process? Why does R call the whole process a
circle yet not a circle?
Terms to thinks about: equality, state of nature, savage, pity, perfectibility, nature/natural,
reason, reflection, sentiment, property, artificial man, happiness
On the Social Contract: Book I. II, III: c. 15, Book IV: cc. 1, 2, 8.
1. What do you think R means in the famous phrase “Man is born free, and everywhere in
When you’re born, you are free and when you enter society, you become trapped in
the social binds of comparing yourself to others and others having power over you.
Government and laws as well. Society has kept you entrapped.
2. What are R's arguments against those who claim that might makes right?
Nor is legitimate political authority founded on force. The maxim that "might make
right" does not imply that the less strong should be obedient to the strong.
3. What do individuals give up in the social contract and to whom do they give it?
They give up natural liberty, they give it to society.
4. What does R mean when he says that people "shall be forced to be free"?
5. What is the difference between the three types of liberty R refers to (Book I: c. 8)?
Natural, Moral, Civil
Natural – the freedom you’re born with everything you’re born with
Moral – Self prescribed laws (Kant, being guided by your own personal code)
Civil – only what’s permitted under the social contract by the society.
6. How strong (or weak) are a citizen’s property rights under the social contract?
He says that might does not lead to right, therefore there are weak property rights
under the social contract, where property can be constantly in check for the
7. What is the difference between the private and general will?
General will is when society all agrees to the same idea, private will is the individual
opinion. Or General will is when society doesn’t have all the same ideas, will of all is
more of the majority.
8. What does it mean to say that the general will can never be mistaken?
Everyone has already consented to the general will, which is for your own benefit.
9. What is the difference between the general will and the will of all?
General will is what everyone has agreed to, to be best and will of all is private will
and general will.
10. What does R mean by "partial associations" and what is wrong with them?
However, when there are partial associations in society, each develops a particular
set of interests that differ from that expressed by the general. The sum of the
competing opinions. They may have the same social interests but different political
2 11. Why is a Legislator necessary and what is his relationship to the general will?
The enforcer of all the rules the social contract has established. Also makes laws,
shapes human nature.
12. Why can the Legislator use neither force nor reasoning? How does he rule?
If the legislator uses force then they’re overthrown since they’re not the sovereigns.
Can’t use reason because leads us astray.
13. What characteristics must a People possess in order to receive good laws? I count 6.
1) No laws but form a society
2) no rooted customs
3) no external threats
4) each member known to all
5) Selfsufficient – neither rich nor poor.
6) Stability of the ancients and docility of the young
14. What are the four types of Law? Which is the most important and why?
(1) Political Laws, or Fundamental Laws, which are the main subject of The Social
Contract. These determine the relationship the body politic has with itself, the fundamental
structure of the state. (2) Civil Laws, which deal with individuals in relation with each
other or with the body politic as a whole. (3) Criminal Laws, which deal with cases where
the law is broken. And most importantly, (4) the morals, customs, and beliefs of the people.
These determine the quality of the people and the success of the more rigid, written laws.
14. What relationship should prevail between public and private interests in a healthy state?
Where do economic interests fit in this equation?
For the good of the people, maintain private interests but vote for what is good for
society because what is good for society is good for you. (Kant’s moral law, for the
betterment of the society). YOU CAN BUY INEQUALTY
15. What is the difference between a deputy and a representative?
The representative makes choices for the citizens and deputies are a direct tool of
16. Why is finance a slave’s word”
Business = slaves = money has you to buy things and money rules instead.
17. According to R, do Christians make good citizens?
No, Rousseau believes in a civil religion? Decentralizing state because society
should come first rather than second. (Kind of like Herder)
18. What role ought religion and toleration to play in the life of a wellordered political
community? Pro Civil anti any other specific religion.
Terms to think about: (NB R does not always use these terms in the same way as he did in the
2nd Discourse) state of nature, state of war, social contract, sovereignty/sovereign, liberty,
equality, general will, private will, will of all, Legislator, the people, deputies, representatives,
READING GUIDE: POL320
Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. First Section: 393405; Second
(Page numbers refer to the numbers in the margins so that anyone, regardless of the edition, can
In this reading guide,
1. An outline of the barebones of Kant’s argument. This is not an explanation of the
argument, only a simpler restatement of the argument. We still need to figure out what it
2. Some Kantian terminology that is not essential to the argument but might be of interest.
3. Some questions to think about
Method: the method of the first two sections is what Kant calls analytical. Kant begins with
what he considers to be commonly held beliefs about morality then analyses the meaning of
these beliefs through the question, ‘what would have to be the case if these beliefs were true?’
Thus, it is a reconstruction of the moral law given what we know about ordinary moral intuition.
Note: it is not a proof of the existence of the moral law.
First Section: Transition from the Ordinary Rational Knowledge of Morality to the
Everyday moral understanding holds that the only thing that can be good in itself is a good
What do we think of as a good will? In the case of the man who saves the child for a reward
and the one who saves the child out of duty, we think of the second action as being done by a
good will. If we take this intuition to its logical conclusion it reveals that acts motivated by
anything other than pure duty cannot be said to be done by a good will thus cannot have moral
Thus a good will is one that acts out of duty and not inclination, interest, or any other
empirical motive. A good will is one that always acts on the principle of doing one’s duty
whatever that duty may be. (399).
If we look deeper into the principle of ‘doing one’s duty whatever the duty may be’ we see
that what is important about it is not the content of the principle (it has no content, it does not
actually tell you what to do) but simply its form, or the fact that it is a rule. To have a rule (or
law as Kant says), whatever that rule is, is to commit yourself to some course of action
4 regardless of how you will feel tomorrow, the next day or the next or how circumstances in the
real world will change; it is to act upon a principle that stands above the contingencies of the
It is the idea of law its meaning and not a particular law that is embodied in the empty
principle of doing one’s duty whatever that duty may be (pp. 400 402).
But how can we act according to the idea of a law and not a particular law? Acting according
to a law is acting according to a principle that stands above contingencies, that is acting
according to a principle that could hold in all times, places and circumstances. What do we call a
principle that could hold in all times, places, and circumstances? We call it a universal law.
Thus Kant arrives at the first formulation of the moral law: ‘I ought never to act in such a way
that I could also will that my maxim should become universal law’ (p 402).
Second Section: Transition from Popular Moral Philosophy to Metaphysics of Morals.
Kant does not really renew the argument until halfway through 412 (“Everything in nature
works...”). The first six pages of the second section argue once again for a metaphysics
of morals (i.e., a purely a priori ethical law) that takes place at a higher level than popular
philosophy and then furnishes a review of the arguments in section one
Objective principles of reasons: principles upon which a perfectly rational being would
necessarily act (e.g., God, angels, an android)
Subjective principles of action (maxims): principles upon which we in fact act. If reason were
our only guide, then the objective principles of reason would also be subjective principles of
action. But no human being is perfectly rational. We all have inclinations, desires, etc. which
also influence our will. Therefore, what would be a necessary law for perfectly rational agents
becomes contingent in us because it depends on our choosing it over our inclinations as the guide
to action. Thus, what would be objectively necessary for a perfectly rational being is for us,
e.g.: the proposition, ‘A cannot be in two different places at the same time’ is an objectively
valid truth. However, it is not difficult to imagine some particular person promising to
visit her mother and go to a movie with a friend on the same day at the same time (Could
a perfectly rational being do this?).
Objective principles when formulated into commands are imperatives.
e.g.: Objective principle: A cannot be in two different places at the same time.
Imperative: I ought not to promise my mother and my friend to be with them in two
different places at the same time.
5 Hypothetical imperative (HI): a command that is rational given a particular end; e.g., ‘If I want
x and I know that y is the only way to get x then rationally I should do y’, ‘If I want a PhD then
the only rational thing for me to do is go to graduate school’. The rationality of the command can
be judged only in relation to the end. It would make no sense to say that going to graduate school
was rational in itself (!) And it would be irrational to go to graduate school if you were interested
in becoming a world famous race car driver. Thus, the command ‘I should go to graduate school’
is rational only in so far as it is a means to a particular end. Another way to say this: hypothetical
imperatives always have hidden if clause: ‘I should go to graduate school’ (if I want a PhD).
Categorical imperative (CI): a command that is an end in itself. There is no hidden clause. There
is no conditional (if...then...) involved in such commands. They are selfcontained and
unconditional. For example, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, might be understood as a CI (although not the
CI as it is articulated in Kant) if it is not justified by appeal to some further good or end that will
come about if it is followed. Killing is wrong and that’s that says the Lord! (although even here
you might want to say that it is a command only if God exists and therefore has a hidden clause
after all) If the CI must be unconditionally valid (being based on an objective principle of reason
and thus valid regardless of anything that happens in the world) then it must be a universal law.
Therefore, if I am to act according to the CI, I must take as the maxim of my action something
that could be made into a universal law.
The first formulation of the CI (universal law formulation): “Act only in accordance with that
maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law,” (421)
Universal laws which govern events in the world are usually called natural laws hence the
Second formulation of the CI (natural law formulation): ‘Act as if the maxim of your action
were to become by your will a universal law of nature,”(421).
These then, become the test for moral action. When you want to do something, you formulate
the desired action into a principle (maxim) and then you imagine that principle being a universal
law or a law of nature. If there is something contradictory about willing the principle or in a
world governed by it then it should not be the maxim of your action
Following these first two formulations, Kant runs through four illustrations of how such a law
would work (pp. 422444).
Kant then argues (pp. 427429) that every action has two parts, the principle or maxim that
“motivates” (determines) the action and the end to which the action strives. Now, if in moral
action the principle must be a priori and purely rational so too must the end. That is, the end
pursued by morality cannot be something contingent; it must be an end in itself an end worth
achieving for its own sake. There is only one thing that can be considered an end in itself and
that is humanity itself. This means that each human being has immeasurable worth and all
morally valid action must respect that worth. This argument leads into the next formulation of
6 Third formulation of the CI (end in itself formulation): “So act that you use humanity, whether
in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the one time as an end, never merely
as a means” (429).
Again, Kant runs through the illustrations to show how this would work (pp. 429430)
Dignity: Kant argues that humans have dignity by which he means that their worth is
immeasurable. One cannot put a price tag on a human life (434435). One scholar has described
Kant’s defence of the dignity of each person as “One of the truly sublime passages in the corpus
of Western moral philosophy.” What do you think?
Giving a law to ourselves: the idea that we are all ends in ourselves leads Kant to the principle
that we are free and autonomous agents bound only by laws that we give ourselves. Further, in
putting ourselves in the position of universal legislators, having to make laws which everyone
(including ourselves) could and should follow and which do not violate the ‘end initself’
dictum, we are taking up the complete moral point of view. This leads to the final formulation of
the CI (pp. 431436)
Fourth formulation of the CI (kingdom of ends formulation): “A rational being must always
regard himself as lawgiving in a kingdom of ends possible through freedom of the will, whether
as a member or as a sovereign.” (434). In the text this formula is not explicitly acknowledged as
a distinct formula but most people think Kant meant it to be.
The next six pages contain, first, a review of the different formulae of the CI and then a review of
the whole argument (pp. 436440).
Analytic statements: a statement the truth of which can be determined solely by an analysis of
the meaning of the words in the sentence. For example, ‘Mothers are female’ can be seen to be
true simply by looking at the definition of the subject of the sentence (mother = female parent)
and seeing that the predicate (female) is already contained in the meaning of the word ‘mother’.
One need not go out into the world and check if all mothers are in fact female because they are
so by definition. Thus, another way to define an analytic statement, and one that is closer to
Kant’s formulation, is a statement in which the predicate repeats the subject in whole or in part.
e.g. predicate repeats in whole: ‘Bachelorettes are unmarried women’ predicate repeats in part:
‘Bachelorettes are unmarried’.
Synthetic statements: all statements that are not analytic or statements the truth or falsity of
which cannot be determined while simply sitting in an armchair analysing the statement itself.
e.g. ‘It is raining’
‘The cat is on the mat’
‘Canada is a nation of 34,500,000 or so people’
7 The vast majority of the statements we make in ordinary as well as scientific discourse are
synthetic. This is not surprising as analytic statements cannot tell us anything new about the
world, in fact they cannot tell us anything: they contain no information.
A priori truth: a truth that can be known prior to experience. This does not mean
chronologically prior to experience, it means without any reference to the world of experience.
A priori truths are necessary truths they are true independent of anything that happens in the
e.g. ‘If A is bigger than B and B is bigger than C then A is bigger than C’
‘You cannot be in Saskatoon and Paris at the same time’
These truths hold in all times and places and could be figured out while sitting comfortably in
an isolation tank, that is, the empirical world does not tell you they are true your rational
faculties tell you they are true. Nothing that happens in the empirical world can prove an a