Is it possible for the modern man to ever truly know the human being as it was in its primitive state? This is precisely the question that Jean-Jacques Rousseau explores in his "Discourse on the Origin of Inequality".
In order to learn of the "specifics" of a subject, one must first have a thorough understanding of the "subject" in its most basic concepts. Here, we can see that this "specific" is the question of inequality, as it relates to the subject of the human being. And thus, it is the human being that we must fully understand before delving into anything relating directly to mankind's inequalities.
Much like Rene Descartes had begun from the "ground" and worked his way up in order to make his points, Rousseau also philosophizes in a similar way, as be wants to start at the very beginning of mankind. He sought to understand man, not in his current state, but instead, in his most primitive state - before reason, knowledge, science, and civilization fueled man's decline, as he believed it to have done.
Rousseau believes that the most we apply our knowledge and reason to understand the primitive, natural man, the further we travel from the truths we are seeking to find. We cannot use the modern, civilized tools (reason) that has been instilled in us over the ages to explore primitive man; to try and use modern ways of thinking to understand concepts from man's natural, uncivilized days of existence would be like trying to fix a metal nail into a wall by using a hammer made of soft clay - utterly useless, and the mere notion of it concludes a great falsity.
At this point, Descartes had come to mind once more, as he distinguished between objects and perceptions, realizing that we cannot use one (perception), to understand the other (object) because of their complete lack of relativity. Similar to this, Rousseau claims that we cannot thoroughly examine and understand man in his natural state through the use of our modern reasoning and science. We must instead examine solely the natural laws; those laws that "speak directly by the voice of nature" (13). Abiding only to the natural laws by which primal man existed, Rousseau identified what we thought to be the two most simple operations of the human soul" (14): primarily, well-being and our self-preservation, and secondly, our natural repugnance toward seeing other being, especially humans, suffer. With only these two aspects of the natural, primal human soul, Rousseau believes we had little to no inner conflict. Reason was the element, that once introduced, smothered the true, harmonious, natural laws of man.
A great irony in regards to Rousseau's claim that the use of reason is that which hinders us from understanding mankind's natural state, is that he uses exactly this kind of modern and civilized reasoning throughout his entire essay. It makes me wonder if the use of reason was, indeed, a primal, natural aspect of the human being; if it was never learned, but ingrained in us from the very beginning. Maybe Rousseau is using his reasoning in such an overt way that he does not even realize the naturalness of himself using it, even when trying to focus on subjects he claims that reason can't understand. How can one philosophize about subjects that they claim cannot be understood by reason, when philosophizing is, in itself, using reason to make conclusions - it is a complete paradox.