Thursday, November 21, 2019

Jean-Jacques Rousseau - The Origins and Effects of Inequality Essay

Jean-Jacques Rousseau - The Origins and Effects of Inequality - Essay Example The Dedication to the Republic of Geneva summarized the essence of Rousseau's views in the following statement: "If I had had to make choice of the place of my birth, I should have preferred a society which had an extent proportionate to the limits of the human faculties; in which every person is equal to his occupations, no one should be obliged to commit to others the functions with which he was entrusted; a State, in which all the individuals being well known to one another, and in which the pleasant custom of seeing and knowing one another should make the love of country rather a love of the citizens than of its soil"(Rousseau, 1993, pp.32-33). The Republic of Geneva was perfectly lining with Rousseau's understanding of an ideal state: a moderate democracy occupying an adequate territory, governed mostly by the laws based on traditions with citizens living relatively plain and calm life. The main paradox emphasized by Rousseau is the following: people prescribe laws to other people without proper knowledge about the natural state of human being. However, this natural law did not exist in contemporary European society that "offered a corrupt form of the species and the inequality inherent in its societies should not be taken as a standard for assessing either other cultures or other species" (Moran, 1993, p.140). For Rousseau who believed that human character was "deeply shaped by society" (Divine, 2000, p.291) it seemed impossible to unveil the true nature of humans in the European context where people had been squeezed by unfair laws and customs for centuries. The philosopher argued that the true measure of a man that would not depend upon contemporary laws and customs could be found only in 'natural' places such as African jungles. Rousseau drew strong parallels between the natural state of human beings and the state of animals. Human beings began as animals having no potent mean of communication such as language, and could not convey much of their knowledge and experience to their offspring, lacked foresight and history. These seemingly disadvantageous features gave the natural men one essential benefit: they did not suffer from the fear of death while contemporary humans feared death virtually every moment of their life (Rousseau, 1993, p.52). Rousseau positioned the natural man "at equal distances from the stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil man" (Rousseau, 1993, p.53). For Rousseau the fatality of enlightenment or civilization meant that it deprived man of the natural desire to exploit the potential of his body to full extent making it an instrument in achieving the balance with nature: "The body of a savage man being the only instrument he understands, he uses it for various purposes, of which ours, for want of practice, are incapable: for our industry deprives us of that force and agility" (Rousseau, 1993, p.53). Civilization brought the understanding that cooperation and mutual help would improve the results of labour, and in the process of such cooperation humans came to realize that some men were better hunters, some were better thinkers, some were stronger, etc. The understanding of inequalities between human beings was, in Rousseau’s opinion, the crucial point: â€Å"†¦from the moment one man began to stand in need of the help of another; from the moment it appeared advantageous to any one man to have enough provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, work became indispensable, and vast forests became smiling fields, which man had to water with the sweat of his brow, and where slavery and misery were soon seen to germinate and grow up with the crops† (Rousseau, 1993, p.74).     

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