Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Society: The Origin of Inequality

In Part two of Rousseau's Discourse on the origin of inequality, Rousseau gives evidence that inequality was started once societies were formed. He begins by giving the example of a man claiming land as his own, when in fact it does not belong to him. From this, he goes further back to find out when this idea of property came into being (44).
Eventually Rousseau gets to the point in history when man starts forming society. Men started settling together and forming nations, united by characteristic features rather than regulations and laws (49). Within these settlements, public esteem became a value. When this happened, "the one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the most adroit or the most eloquent" were the ones who were held up high in public esteem (49). This is where jealousy and competition can be rooted to. According to Rousseau, "this was the first step toward inequality and toward vice." (49).
This desire to be highly regarded by others became a danger to happiness and innocence. Many philosophers state that it was in man's nature to be cruel, but Rousseau argues the opposite. He says that once men began to value one another, each man wanted to be the best, and terrible things such as jealousy and revenge came into being. It is because of this that men became "bloodthirsty and cruel." (50). He also says that there is nothing as gentle as a man in his primitive state, when he lived for self preservation. When men lived with only self preservation, they did not interfere with or harm others. At this point he praises the words once said by Locke, "where there is no property, there is no injury."(50). Rousseau uses Locke's statement to strengthen his argument against those that say men are naturally cruel, and that civilization is needed in order to soften him.
All of these factors, mainly the creation of society, together form the basis for inequality among humans. The desire to be highly regarded by others causes jealousy which then leads to violence. If society had not been formed, there would not be any competition among men, and therefore there would be no cruelty because without society, everyone is equal.


Mike Rossi said...

I agree with the amin points on how society is the ultimate cause of all human inequality. It is a provocative theory that Rousseau has that man, in his natural state, has only what he needs to survive, and lacks any sense of self awareness. Michael Raganella points out that as a result of public esteem, many of the problems of society today are born.

TD said...

I believe that the corruption of man in the state of natures pity is the main reason we cannot understand human nature. In the state of nature man's compassion drove him to interact, learn and help man evolve. In civil society we have developed the ability to argue with our compassionate instincts, and ignore others pleas for help. This warped sense is 1/3 of the characteristics we still share with man in the state of nature. Without this quality intact, there isn't much hope to connect with our true nature. I think the exact warp in compassion happened around the time man developed the idea of public esteem, and corrupted self love into the need to have a favorable perception by others. What do you guys think?

Jane Tsui said...

After trudging through the second essay on Rousseau, I thought that perhaps the lost freedom has played a part in the creation of inequality. In the state of nature, Man was free in one sense because he wasn’t bound by inner desires or the opinions of those around him, but was also free in another sense because he wasn’t bound to act on instinct alone. With the rise of civil society and property, Man’s has supposedly lost natural freedom because he is now a slave of his desires and acts accordingly. Man lost freedom because he gained passions, and those passions and pride played a huge role in creating inequality in society. However, if we had still held on to freedom and never gained desires, we would probably still be unequal, because we had entered the point of no return (state of war) and Man had already developed traits that were the foundations for inequality (reason, pride, property).