Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality among Men
Main Question for Rousseau: What is the source of inequality among men?
The intention of the discourse was to discern which inequalities were natural and which were
unnatural, so as to be prevented.
Part I Summary
: Men are inherently equal and free in the state of nature.
Men in the state of
nature, is like any animal, driven by the two principles of pity and self-preservation.
two kinds of inequalities in the human species: the first is physical/natural and the second is
Physical or natural inequality is differences in age, health, strength, qualities of
mind and or soul.
Moral or political inequality is dependent on inequality of privilege, which is
purveyed by societal institutions.
To Rousseau, the Savage man, or man in its state of nature, is much more physically capable
than the civilized man, who is much cleverer and can incorporate inventions. The savage man is
driven by instinct, such as animals.
Illnesses and conditions of health are purveyed by the civil
man’s lifestyle, bad food and excess lead to poor health.
What separates civilized from savage man is the faculty of perfectibility. It is civilized man’s
strive for perfection that jeopardizes his initial content with instinct. Perfectibility is what allows
civilized man to change with time. The existence of the savage man is limited to food, female,
The development of language can be attributed to the child’s needs leading to
communication with the mother.
The only words must have been proper nouns, as adjectives
were abstract ideas that could not have been manifested with the beginnings of language. Man is
not wicked because he has no idea of good.
Pity is the source of other values such as generosity,
clemency, and humanity. Pity leads to the feeling of mutual preservation of the species. Love is
the greatest of all passions that stirs in men.
Love precedes violence and discord among civilized
Part II Summary
: It is through things such as changes in the earth’s continents and the creation
of islands that lead to the creation of societies. Differences in climate and environment lead to
differences in ways of life and subsisting. Repeated interaction with one another in these locales
lead to the creation of perceiving relations and relative notions (great, big, small, strong, weak,
fast, slow). As new interactions are formed, new needs are created and men begin to move out of
the state of nature. The development of language leads to the development of reason.
begins the notion of rank as he begins to compare himself with others. This is what Rousseau
calls, amour proper. Comparison drives men to seek domination over his fellow beings as a way
of augmenting his own happiness.