In A Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau does bring up some good points regarding the natural man and is able to point out some flaws in Rousseau’s argument. However, some of Rousseau’s argument is based on a very romanticized version of Native American culture, leading me to find it difficult to agree with all of his points.
One of the things Rousseau does is that he refutes Hobbes argument. He points out that Hobbes says that man is “naturally evil because he has no sense of goodness.” Rousseau counters this point with the point “one could say that savages are not wicked precisely because they do not know what is to be good.” This ties in back to our discussion on what makes a monster. Some definitions in class have us discussing how society has no monsters, but defines monsters through a mixture of cultural values and socialization. This perspective makes sense if we look at cultural relativism and ethnocentrism. If we look at cannibals from our own western values, we’d say they are evil, but a cannibal would look at our values are evil. Additionally, if we look at The Tempest it could be said Caliban only became a monster after he met Prospero and that from our society, Caliban’s urges are monstrous, but they were brought forth by Miranda. So in a sense, Rousseau has a point here
However, there are also times Rousseau is wrong. Downright wrong. He makes some references to the Native Americans as noble savages, independent people without society. But, contrary to belief at this time, Native Americans such as the Iroquois, the Souix and the Inuit, actually have very highly developed societies. The Iroquois were actually very advanced and created a treaty that is thought to have been the forefather of the constitution used by the United States. Additionally, one of the greatest aspects of Native American life, WAS it’s community, was how man and women depended upon each other and how their traditions (essentially laws) regulated their actions. So if Rousseau argues laws create passions that prove detrimental to man, explain those societies, that were working perfectly fine until the Europeans came over. Who knows if they would have failed later on, but they were working fine.
I look forward to comments and the lecture.