Discourse on Inequality
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The searing indictment of man-made inequality in all its many forms that Rousseau offers in Discourse on Inequality is a must-read for philosophy buffs and supporters of social justice. This artfully composed argument sets forth the core elements of Rousseau's philosophical views, including his unique take on Hobbes' concept of nature and natural law.



Publié par
Date de parution 01 décembre 2009
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781775416951
Langue English

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Discourse on Inequality On the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men From a 1910 edition.
ISBN 978-1-775416-95-1
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Introductory Note Question Proposed by the Academy of Dijon Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men Discourse First Part Second Part
Introductory Note
Jean Jacques Rousseau was born at Geneva, June 28, 1712, the son of awatchmaker of French origin. His education was irregular, and thoughhe tried many professions—including engraving, music, andteaching—he found it difficult to support himself in any of them. Thediscovery of his talent as a writer came with the winning of a prizeoffered by the Academy of Dijon for a discourse on the question,"Whether the progress of the sciences and of letters has tended tocorrupt or to elevate morals." He argued so brilliantly that thetendency of civilization was degrading that he became at once famous.The discourse here printed on the causes of inequality among men waswritten in a similar competition.
He now concentrated his powers upon literature, producing two novels,"La Nouvelle Heloise," the forerunner and parent of endlesssentimental and picturesque fictions; and "Emile, ou l'Education," awork which has had enormous influence on the theory and practise ofpedagogy down to our own time and in which the Savoyard Vicar appears,who is used as the mouthpiece for Rousseau's own religious ideas. "LeContrat Social" (1762) elaborated the doctrine of the discourse oninequality. Both historically and philosophically it is unsound; butit was the chief literary source of the enthusiasm for liberty,fraternity, and equality, which inspired the leaders of the FrenchRevolution, and its effects passed far beyond France.
His most famous work, the "Confessions," was published after hisdeath. This book is a mine of information as to his life, but it isfar from trustworthy; and the picture it gives of the author'spersonality and conduct, though painted in such a way as to make itabsorbingly interesting, is often unpleasing in the highest degree.But it is one of the great autobiographies of the world.
During Rousseau's later years he was the victim of the delusion ofpersecution; and although he was protected by a succession of goodfriends, he came to distrust and quarrel with each in turn. He died atErmenonville, near Paris, July 2, 1778, the most widely influentialFrench writer of his age.
The Savoyard Vicar and his "Profession of Faith" are introduced into"Emile" not, according to the author, because he wishes to exhibit hisprinciples as those which should be taught, but to give an example ofthe way in which religious matters should be discussed with the young.Nevertheless, it is universally recognized that these opinions areRousseau's own, and represent in short form his characteristicattitude toward religious belief. The Vicar himself is believed tocombine the traits of two Savoyard priests whom Rousseau knew in hisyouth. The more important was the Abbe Gaime, whom he had known atTurin; the other, the Abbe Gatier, who had taught him at Annecy.
Question Proposed by the Academy of Dijon
What is the Origin of the Inequality among Mankind; and whether suchInequality is authorized by the Law of Nature?
Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men
'Tis of man I am to speak; and the very question, in answer to which Iam to speak of him, sufficiently informs me that I am going to speakto men; for to those alone, who are not afraid of honouring truth, itbelongs to propose discussions of this kind. I shall thereforemaintain with confidence the cause of mankind before the sages, whoinvite me to stand up in its defence; and I shall think myself happy,if I can but behave in a manner not unworthy of my subject and of myjudges.
I conceive two species of inequality among men; one which I callnatural, or physical inequality, because it is established by nature,and consists in the difference of age, health, bodily strength, andthe qualities of the mind, or of the soul; the other which may betermed moral, or political inequality, because it depends on a kind ofconvention, and is established, or at least authorized, by the commonconsent of mankind. This species of inequality consists in thedifferent privileges, which some men enjoy, to the prejudice ofothers, such as that of being richer, more honoured, more powerful,and even that of exacting obedience from them.
It were absurd to ask, what is the cause of natural inequality, seeingthe bare definition of natural inequality answers the question: itwould be more absurd still to enquire, if there might not be someessential connection between the two species of inequality, as itwould be asking, in other words, if those who command are necessarilybetter men than those who obey; and if strength of body or of mind,wisdom or virtue are always to be found in individuals, in the sameproportion with power, or riches: a question, fit perhaps to bediscussed by slaves in the hearing of their masters, but unbecomingfree and reasonable beings in quest of truth.
What therefore is precisely the subject of this discourse? It is topoint out, in the progress of things, that moment, when, right takingplace of violence, nature became subject to law; to display that chainof surprising events, in consequence of which the strong submitted toserve the weak, and the people to purchase imaginary ease, at theexpense of real happiness.
The philosophers, who have examined the foundations of society, have,every one of them, perceived the necessity of tracing it back to astate of nature, but not one of them has ever arrived there. Some ofthem have not scrupled to attribute to man in that state the ideas ofjustice and injustice, without troubling their heads to prove, that hereally must have had such ideas, or even that such ideas were usefulto him: others have spoken of the natural right of every man to keepwhat belongs to him, without letting us know what they meant by theword belong; others, without further ceremony ascribing to thestrongest an authority over the weakest, have immediately struck outgovernment, without thinking of the time requisite for men to form anynotion of the things signified by the words authority and government.All of them, in fine, constantly harping on wants, avidity,oppression, desires and pride, have transferred to the state of natureideas picked up in the bosom of society. In speaking of savages theydescribed citizens. Nay, few of our own writers seem to have so muchas doubted, that a state of nature did once actually exit; though itplainly appears by Sacred History, that even the first man,immediately furnished as he was by God himself with both instructionsand precepts, never lived in that state, and that, if we give to thebooks of Moses that credit which every Christian philosopher ought togive to them, we must deny that, even before the deluge, such a stateever existed among men, unless they fell into it by some extraordinaryevent: a paradox very difficult to maintain, and altogether impossibleto prove.
Let us begin therefore, by laying aside facts, for they do not affectthe question. The researches, in which we may engage on this occasion,are not to be taken for historical truths, but merely as hypotheticaland conditional reasonings, fitter to illustrate the nature of things,than to show their true origin, like those systems, which ournaturalists daily make of the formation of the world. Religioncommands us to believe, that men, having been drawn by God himself outof a state of nature, are unequal, because it is his pleasure theyshould be so; but religion does not forbid us to draw conjecturessolely from the nature of man, considered in itself, and from that ofthe beings which surround him, concerning the fate of mankind, hadthey been left to themselves. This is then the question I am toanswer, the question I propose to examine in the present discourse. Asmankind in general have an interest in my subject, I shall endeavourto use a language suitable to all nations; or rather, forgetting thecircumstances of time and place in order to think of nothing but themen I speak to, I shall suppose myself in the Lyceum of Athens,repeating the lessons of my masters before the Platos and theXenocrates of that famous seat of philosophy as my judges, and inpresence of the whole human species as my audience.
O man, whatever country you may belong to, whatever your opinions maybe, attend to my words; you shall hear your history such as I think Ihave read it, not in books composed by those like you, for they areliars, but in the book of nature which never lies. All that I shallrepeat after her, must be true, without any intermixture of falsehood,but where I may happen, without intending it, to introduce my ownconceits. The times I am going to speak of are very remote. How muchyou are changed from what you once were! 'Tis in a manner the life ofyour species that I am going to write, from the qualities which youhave received, and which your education and your habits could deprave,but could not destroy. There is, I am sensible, an age at which everyindividual of you would choose to stop; and you will look out for theage at which, had you your wish, your species had stopped. Uneasy atyour present condition for reasons which threaten your

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