The first notable aspect I found about Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality is that it essentially conceptually counters Hobbes’ ideas about the power of society. In Leviathan, Hobbes’ concepts of natural right, states of nature in which life is nasty, brutal and short, and that the strong have complete power over the weak but that society exists as a way to remedy this. However in Discourse, Rousseau argues that it is society and social relations that spawn inequality, essentially turning Hobbes’ concept on its head. Rousseau states later that society teaches us to be self-aware and reflective, and whilst this can lead to improvement and advancements in technology , it also leads to pride and our realization of strength and weakness.
The argument he sets forth in Discourse is that modern moral inequality, which is spawned by agreement between men, is unnatural and dissimilar to the real nature of man. Throwing Biblical reference out of the picture, Rousseau attempts at guessing what a state of nature for man would look like. He finds very few discrepancies between man and animal, seeing as they are motivated by two key principles: self-preservation and pity. The one thing that does separate man from animal, however, is perfectibility.
It is one thing to have natural abilities in the state of nature; it is another to be aware of them; and it is another to be aware that others are aware of them and that you can use them for mutual assistance or personal gain.
By the end of the discourse, I felt a little disapointed by the fact that the essay didn’t even get into the discussion of inequality until the second part. Mind you, not too big of an issue since I intended on talking more on the conceptions of the body (which is more relevant in the first part). It is unfortunate that Rousseau was a few generations older than Hobbs; after reading both these (Leviathan and Discourse) I would have loved to see some rebuttle of ideas.
If anyone here watches NBC’s Community I think it’d be worth re-watching the “Debate 109″ episode after reading both these texts, as the subject of the episode has to do with man being fundamentally good versus evil. Personally, I am more inclined to believe that society does more good than it does evil, but I disagree with Hobbes on our monstrosity in natural state and tend to side with Rousseau’s ideas of being perfectly self-preservable in our natural state. What are your thoughts?