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Jean-Jacques Rousseau - Essay Example

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Natural inequality involves differences between one man's strength or intelligence and that of another - it is a product of nature. Rousseau is not concerned with this type of inequality and wishes to investigate moral inequality. He argues this inequality is endemic to a civil society and relates and causes differences in power and wealth. This type of inequality is established by convention. Rousseau appears to take a cynical view of civil society, and refers to times before the current state of civil society, when man was closer to his natural state, as happier times for man. To Rousseau, civil society is a trick perpetrated by the powerful on the weak in order to maintain their power or wealth. But this is Rousseau's end product. He begins his discussion with an analysis of a natural man who has not yet acquired language or abstract thought.
Rousseau's natural man possesses a few qualities that allow him to distinguish himself from the animals over a long period of time. Of extreme importance is man's ability to choose, what Rousseau refers to as the "free-agency" that differentiates him from other animals. Man's ability to refuse instinct pushes him along the path out of his natural state. In addition, Rousseau argues that "another principle which has escaped Hobbes" is man's compassion. This quality of man also motivates him to interact. And finally, man possesses the quality of "perfectibility" which allows him to improve his surroundings. Man's contact with other men leads him to develop "amour propre" which is in a sense a "moral me" that creates concern for how others perceive him. Amour proper has four consequences: (1) competition, (2) self-comparison with others, (3) hatred, and (4) urge for power. These all lead to Rousseau's cynical civil society. But amour proper already suggests a significant step out of the state of nature (http://www.radicalacademy.com).
Perhaps Rousseau's most important work is The Social Contract, which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order. Published in 1762 it became one of the most influential works of abstract political thought in the Western tradition. Building on his earlier work, such as the Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau claimed that the state of nature eventually degenerates into a brutish condition without law or morality, at which point the human race must adopt institutions of law or perish. In the degenerate phase of the state of nature, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men while at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free. This is because submission to the authority of the general will of the people as a whole guarantees individuals against being subordinated to the wills of others and also ensures that they obey themselves because they are, collectively, the authors of the law.
In the words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the general will is different from the will of all; the general will considered the common interest, while the will of all considered the private interest, a sum of ...Show more

Summary

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (June 28, 1712 - July 2, 1778) was a Franco-Swiss philosopher, writer, political theorist, and self-taught composer of The Age of Enlightenment. Rousseau's political ideas influenced the French Revolution, the development of socialist theory, and the growth of nationalism…
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