Thursday, November 12, 2009

Discourse on the Origin on Inequality

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.

6 comments:

Nick said...

Overall Rousseau's arguments of inequality make sense, but I personally wonder if it is true that at one point inequality never truly existed. I find it hard to believe that inequality is a result of society because you cannot have a society with only two people, yet you can have differences and inequalities between two people regardless if there is society or not. One person may be still be stronger than an another person with or without society. Would one not think that society only reveals our inequalites to the fullest as opposed to actually creating them? Although society does provide oppurtunites for there to be more inqualities such as money, jobs, education, etc. but ultimatley the essence of the inequality already exists before because people are not naturally exactlly the same and from the start inequality exists. I think Rousseau is trying to seperate this idea of natural man with details that exist in natural man, maybe inequality is one of the details of "natural man" but he thinks because we have progressed so much that natural man seems so simple compared to modern day that inequality must not have existed for the natural man.

DomPlav said...

I believe that inequalities between two or more humans have always existed, and always will continue to exist, regardless of what Rousseau has philosophized. I feel that as long as differences between humans do not cease to exist - whether those differences include, gender, heritage, or country of citizenship - it is natural for people to reason, and from that reasoning comes explanations and judgments about those differences. And it is precisely these judgments that are at the root of any type of inequality. And as long as differences remain between people, these judgments will continue to be made, and thus, inequality will pursue.
I am by no means saying that it is "right" or "ideal" in any way when speaking of a never-ending cycle of inequality, however, it is what I feel is the reality of the human situation.

Carolina said...

I do not agree completely with Rousseau's argument on inequality. In my opinion society has contributed to the inequality between humans, and it has made this inequality visible to the human race that there is a difference between humans. I believe that natural man still had to compete for their survival. Even though natural man and modern man live differently socially, politically and economically both have to strive to continue their existence. Both these mens live to eat, rest and reproduce. Rousseau sees this as how over time modern man has evolved from their natural state. What he does not see is that you still interacted in the natural state but the difference was that once natural man obtained what it needed it would continue on with their life course, survival of the fittest. This motto continues on with modern man with a more complex lifestyle since their lifestyle reflected social order. The main inequality between these men is reason and their use of it.

M. said...

I agree with Dom on this, inequalities existed far before Roussea chose to point them out in his writings. From the wide range of different cultures that have existed in civilized society, the differences and inequalities within each of them respectively has grown, which would only cause these cultures as wholes to grow exponentially apart from the other cultures. I believe that no one is original, and that we are just a combination of everything we have ever come to know. So the more post modern our society becomes (the farther we drift from a grand design idea) the more these differences stray from inequality, and press more towards coming back full circle to bring us together.

Alex MacLeod said...

I believe the general consensus is that such inequality has always existed. However, it is only through reason that humans may notice and act in response to such inequality. The root of Rousseau’s argument is not whether inequality happened to spontaneously appear one day, it is when exactly this inequality started to matter in such a matter as people began to treat each other differently in response to a perceived inequality. Also, it is claimed that by studying ourselves, we are getting further from what it means to truly be human. Does this mean that even Rousseau himself is contributing to the degradation of human nature?

TD said...

Through my paper I discussed that man's ability to reason is bittersweet. Reason allows us for a greater capacity to evolve, but through this evolution we have developed the ability to fight our compassionate instinct. Man in the state of nature would not be able to do this, giving in to his compassion for others. Yet our ability to ignore the weak, and develop such ideas as slavery only adds to argument that we are not as compassionate as early man. We have irreparably damaged human compassion, and thus moved away from our human nature. If we stayed as compassionate as early man, we would have never taken inequality to such extremes.