Rousseau, a major critic of civilization shows that a major problem in modern man is inequality. The main concern of said inequality is civil, political, and social inequality clearly existent in society today. What does this inequality root from? Has inequality always existed? Rousseau answers this complex question by using conclusions about the past. He explains that through studying ourselves as human beings we become farther away from how we were as original human beings. But, we must have some notion or concept of the past to know the present. By this philosophy, Rousseau can make theories about the past; specifically the change in natural man, and the possible of inequality in natural man.
A major advancement in Rousseau’s Discourse on the origin of Inequality is the understanding of man in his natural state. Man was guided by one thing…impulses. He lived for, and just enough time (similar to animals) for self-preservation; specifically, food, sex, and rest. Because of these basic needs, man had one tool, his necessary robust senses. He had everything he needed to survive. Rousseau states, “In instinct alone, man had everything he needed in order to live in the state of nature; in a cultivated reason, he has only what he needs to live in society” (34). Without these, he would not be fit enough to advance in life and reproduce. According to Rousseau, natural man does not have reason (37). Reason is something we learned or acquired. Thus, the knowledge of man is through perception and experiences. Natural man was significantly stronger than modern man because of the sheer lack of reliance on technology associated with modern man. Original man was prepared for any task because all he needed were his own forces, not tools (20). Natural man according to Rousseau was harmless. He, unlike the competitive civil man, is “gentle.” Rousseau writes, “When placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man….he is restrained by natural pity from needlessly harming anyone himself, even if he has been harmed” (50).
In respect with the existence of inequality, it has not always existed. Descartes essentially blames inequality on the existence of society. Man in his natural state, was completely different from the modern man in many aspects. Modern man according to Descartes is flawed. We have gone through “revolutions” as became farther from natural freedoms of man. As men developed, and changed from natural original man, he began to depend on many more things; namely, other people. The change first started in mans acquisition of pride. When one man is stronger than another in any aspect, he develops pride. This is all a result of unequal association. Eventually mankind became settled. A direct result of this, are laws of justice. Without these laws, clearly man free from any higher power, and is the judge of himself. Thus, in this state man is more free. Eventually, the establishment of the artificial institution of family came (47). Family is like a small society. Unlike original man, modern man in this society is now dependent on other people, and tools and different technology. Thus, original man was more free in a sense that he did not rely on anything but the tools that he was born with. He did not concern himself with anything besides self preservation which he spent all of his time doing. The ultimate move toward perfection of an individual seems to be great. Although according to Rousseau, is it “the decay of the species” (50).
Man was clearly free in his natural state. On the contrary, modern man has far less freedoms, one constraint is law. According to Rousseau, with the rid of law and the state, man would return to a state of natural freedom. The ultimate and direct cause of inequality, which is the predominant problem with society, is society itself. Rousseau uses an example with a blacksmith and a farmer both, who do an equal amount of work, one rendered far better off than the other (53) Thus, Rousseau concludes that, “it is natural inequality imperceptibly manifests itself together with inequality occasioned by the socialization process” (53). Therefore all problems such as thefts, poverty, violence, is a result of socialization in the eyes of Rousseau. And the major flaw of modernity; inequality, is legitimized and secured, with the establishment of property and its laws associated as a direct result (71). The existence of inequality was nonexistent in original natural man.