Discourse On the Origin of Inequality
Role of Reason in Society
The state of nature and the emergence of the human capacity to reason has been a common interest for writers throughout history. John Stuart Mill, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke, all address these issues in their works, “On Liberty” , “Discourse On The Origins of Inequality” and the “Second Treatise of Government”, respectively. While all three of these authors agree that the state of nature is the era before civilization and government, they all differ in their ideas of the importance of reason in the state of nature. While Mills and Locke adopt a positive outlook on the role of reason in society, Rousseau believes that it is the basis for the corruption of morals.
In John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, he asserts that the “natural” human capacity to reason is dependent on debate with those of opposing ideas. According to Mill, the goal of debate is not to persuade the other side to convert its way of thinking, but rather to justify one’s own views while disproving the opposition. Only through this process, can someone truly understand and construct an opinion. Throughout his work, Mill continually asserts the importance of the individual. Every individual is free to form his or her own opinions about life; however, Mill believes that it is necessary to understand the arguments of the opposing party in order to truly understand one’s own opinion. By using reason to establish one’s opinion and refute the ideas of another, one effectively utilizes his “natural” human capacity to reason in order to form an educated opinion. Without considering the alternative views on a position, the meaning is insufficient to justify one’s claim. Mill stresses that one should not believe anything unless he or she can justify the reasons why the opinion is correct. In order to understand the truth, one is required to use reason to refute all alternative possibilities. If an opinion is not debated thoroughly, then the meaning is lost.
While Mill adopts a positive outlook on reason, Rousseau’s assertion about reason is negative. He believes that reason is responsible for many of the problems that plague civil society. In Discourse on the Science and the Arts and Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau describes man’s fall from the state of nature. He describes this state as the condition of man before the development of society and reason. All humans are naturally good and compassionate; therefore, in the state of nature, there is no need for morals or reason. People will do the right thing out of compassion. As reason develops, man is corrupted and experiences a fall from his initial position. Man’s compassion eventually evolves into competition, leaving morality out of the equation. Institutions of reason, such as education, are responsible for this need to distinguish oneself form others. The need to be better in comparison to others eventually becomes the motive for one’s actions, rather than compassion. This demoralization of humanity is a step that Rousseau does not believe can be reversed. Reason has been corrupted and used to the advantage of self-interest; therefore, its institutions, such as education, cannot be used to restore humans to their natural state.
Locke believes that reason is the governing force in the state of nature, which is expressly different from Rousseau’s point of view, who believes that compassion is the governing force in the state of nature and reason is what brought people out of the state of nature. Like Mill, Locke takes a positive look at human’s natural capacity to reason. In the state of nature, there is perfect equality. Everyone has the same advantages and capacity for reason; therefore, Locke believes that everyone should have the same ideas for the Laws of Nature. One example of a natural law that Locke believes everyone should understand and follow is that of self-preservation and the preservation of mankind. “And Reason, which is that Law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty or Possessions” (271). These limitations to perfect liberties are in interest of preserving individual liberty and justified through reason. In Locke’s state of nature, every individual has the capacity to use reason to choose the correct moral path. Reason is responsible for mankind’s ability to morally regulate himself in accordance with the Laws of Nature, without the need for a central authority.
Mill, Rousseau and Locke all address the issue of man’s natural capacity to reason and its effect on society. All three authors agree that reason is an important concept, both in the state of nature and in civil society; however, the scope of reason’s influence differs from author to author. Mill and Locke both believe that reason is beneficial to society, but for different reasons. Mill asserts that reason is necessary in order to understand truths about the universe, while Locke believes that reason is the law in the state of nature. Rousseau, on the contrary, believes that compassion is the ruling body in the state of nature and reason is accountable for man’s corruption. While these authors may not agree on the role that reason plays, the fact that they all three address it in their works shows its general significance.
The Possibility of Perpetual Discontent: Rousseau’s “Inequality”
Can a man living in society be content? In the essay, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, author Jean-Jacques Rousseau addresses this very question. Man first originated in the state of nature, where he was alone and only dependent on himself. Over time, natural man started to deviate from the system and evolve into a social man where he lives in a community surrounded by other men. Through exposure to others, natural man grew envious of others mans abilities and possessions. These qualities which seemed better than their own sent man on the pursuit of them, ultimately creating the desire for perfection. Man is also taught what it means to be moral and is then in turn obligated to be virtuous. Reason is introduced to men in societies and they are then required to obtain as much of it as possible. Rousseau states that, “… nothing would have been so miserable as savage man, dazzled by enlightenment tormented by passions, and reasoning about a state different from his own.”(Rousseau 34). Although the transition of man from his natural state into society is savage man in a state much different from the state of nature. The disconnect between desire and ability prevents man from being content. The social man’s yearning for perfection, his inability to be completely virtuous, and his inability to be fully reasonable inhibits him from being content.
Social man’s endeavor for perfection prevents him from being content. In the state of nature, savage man lives alone and rarely ever comes into contact with another person. If natural man ever did meet another, they would either reproduce or pass one another. He is not exposed to the natural talents of others, therefore according to natural man, he is not inferior in any way because he cannot be of any public value. Natural man is content with himself because he does not have anyone to compare his skills to. Then “they eventually die without anyone being aware that they are ceasing to exist” and are from birth to death they are by themselves (22). However, social man is exposed to many other people and is able to observe different talents from a variety of peoples. Social man came to the conclusion that “the one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the most adroit or the most eloquent became the most highly regarded”(49). Social man noticed the correlation between excelling in one aspect and underachieving in the same thing, he also observed how others responded to the man who excelled rather than the man that did not do as well. This created jealousy, a feeling never expressed in the state of nature. The want for oneself what another had. Social men are plagued “From these first preferences were born vanity and contempt on the one hand, and shame and envy on the other”(49).Vanity from being proud of what he is able to do well, but contempt for what others are proud they can do. Shameful for the talents he does not possess and envy of those that have the talents he desires. Social man is never able to achieve total perfection which renders him incapable of being content.
Social man also lacks reason which prevents him from being content. In order for a man to be part of society he must have reason, which is obtained through other people. Natural man does not have reason because he is alone for his entire life, where as social man is not. In the state of nature “Pity is what… takes place of laws, morals, and virtue, with the advantage that no one is tempted to disobey its sweet voice”(38). Natural man is guided to do the right thing by pity alone. In the state of nature “With passions so minimally active and such a salutary restraint, being more wild than evil, and more attentive to protecting themselves from the harm they could receive than tempted to do harm to others”(38). Natural man has no reason to harm another person because he is not tempted by his passions to do so. For social man, he is not ruled by pity alone, but rather by reason. Reason exists to satisfy the passions of man in society, such as “love itself, like all other passions had acquired only in society that impetuous ardor which so often makes it lethal to men”(40). For love is a passion that originated in society and only exists within it. It is considered a passion because it is not necessary in the state of nature and causes social man to be further away from that original state. Except for when man satisfy his passions using his reason, it diminishes his reason simultaneously. Therefore, the more reason he has, the more passions he has. This means more passions he has to satisfy leading to the loss of reason. It becomes a cycle that the social man has to go through. Social mans needs to obtain more reason, yet it is impossible for him to do so. Therefore social man is unable to become content because he is unable to be completely reasonable. Yet the natural man has no reason at all and is unaware that reason exists and he is content knowing nothing.
The inability of man in society to be virtuous prevents him from being content. A man in the state of nature knows nothing other than himself. He is not taught about morals nor right from wrong, “it would seem that man in the state [of nature], having among themselves no type of moral relations or acknowledged duties, could be neither good nor evil, and [have] neither vices nor virtues”(35). Natural man is unaware of what morals are and how to follow them. As a result of this, if natural man does something that social man would consider not to be virtuous, he could not be faulted for it because he does not know anything different. However, social man is taught by society, piers, and family right from wrong and is obligated to to follow the moral stature set forth. As a result of this for “every voluntary wrong became[s] an outrage”(49). Meaning that because a man who lives in a society and has been taught to act a certain way has to abide by it, or it is unacceptable. Although the problem is that man can never be perfected, which means that man can never be completely virtuous. This can be seen through how society works, “thus the usurpations of the rich, the acts of brigandage by the poor, the unbridled passions of all, stifling natural pity and the still weak voice of justice, made men greedy, ambitious and wicked”(55). The actions of being greedy, ambitious, and wicked are not moral and contradict what society asks of its citizens. If society sets standards for morality and virtue, but also created a circle of injustice, can men have the expected virtue? Men that are products of a society can never be fully virtuous and therefore cannot be content.
Overall, natural man will never be content if introduced to society. In the state of nature he is able to live on his own, where there is so competition. There is no obligation to achieve an ultimate state of perfection that is seemingly unattainable. Man is already the perfect version of himself as a result of not having any standards to live up to. Natural man is not taught virtues, therefore, in the state of nature, is not obligated to always do what is morally right. He will not know the difference between right and wrong and because of this will not be continuously striving for perfect morality that cannot be achieved. Lastly, if reason exists to satisfy passions, but natural man has no passions, he will therefore not need any reason and will be content living without it. Social man however has the pressure to be perfect, the obligation to be virtuous, and the continuing pursuit of obtaining the utmost reason. All of these factors prevent man living in society from being content and allow natural man to truly know the peace of contentment.
The Divergent Opinions of Smith and Rousseau: Natural Sociability and Criticisms of the Division of Labor
Although Adam Smith is considered a great defender of commercial society and Jean-Jacques Rousseau one of its prominent critics, both thinkers share certain criticisms of the division of labor. The two acknowledge that splitting tasks among people leads to the creation of social distinction and to the futile pursuit of happiness in luxury. For Rousseau, the division of labor causes moral inequality- difference established by social convention. Cooperation with others enslaves the modern man by creating the right to property, which allows for the domination of the rich over the poor. Furthermore, the division of labor gives man new needs, those for other people and for material objects, that are meaningless compared to his natural needs (Rousseau 67). For Smith, the division of labor also creates frivolous needs, giving expression to human egoism. He finds it imprudent that people pursue luxury although the poorest members of society have enough to survive (Theory 181). In addition, Smith asserts that division of labor diminishes intellectual and physical competence because of its highly specialized nature (Wealth 782). Yet, despite his misgivings, Smith regards the division of labor as a beneficial economic mechanism. Thus, it appears unusual that while Smith and Rousseau present powerful criticisms of the division of labor, these criticisms lead them to different views on its place in commercial society. The conflicting views of Smith and Rousseau stem from their different assumptions about human nature. Their beliefs on whether man is naturally solitary or social affect their definitions of inequality and the ways in which the division of labor contributes to inequality. Their assumptions also determine how the splitting of tasks affects the individual. Rousseau in Discourse on the Origin of Inequality presents man as naturally solitary- lacking an emotional or practical need of others. He asserts that man in the state of nature was happy, because he had few needs and little contact with those around him (Rousseau 57). Conversely, Smith in the Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations presents man as social or as having an innate need for others. He argues that the division of labor is derived from a natural propensity to exchange goods (Wealth 25) Smith also asserts that man has natural sympathy and thus yearns for others to share in his pain and in his joy (Theory 22). Thus, the relationship between natural sociability and human satisfaction determines how Rousseau and Smith evaluate the splitting of tasks among people. Whereas Rousseau views the division of labor as antithetical to solitary happiness, Smith considers it a mostly positive result of natural sociability and proposes solutions to its ill effects. The decision to make man social or solitary by nature provides the driving force behind both writers’ criticisms. Rousseau uses his assumption that man is solitary to explain his views on inequality and to show later how the division of labor contributes to inequality. He emphasizes that in the state of nature, solitude is essential to human happiness. Rousseau claims that man had few needs except those for food, rest and sex. Even sex, which requires contact with others, does not create emotional attachment in savage man. He argues that it is merely a tool to propagate the species (56). Rousseau also claims that man had no temptation to dominate others because of his natural pity- repugnance for seeing others suffer. He claims that “pity is what, in the state of nature, takes the place of laws, mores, and virtue” (55). Thus, in thinking about man before commercial society, Rousseau finds that he has a simple system of needs and has no tendency toward conflict. In Rousseau’s view, the division of labor changes this situation by requiring unnecessary cooperation with others and establishing a new set of meaningless needs that destroy solitary happiness When man makes a part of his happiness dependent on others, social comparison begins and the first vestiges of moral inequality appear (65,67). Although Rousseau acknowledges that social associations may have formed in response to natural obstacles such as climate, it is not until the division of labor that these associations become concrete and place restrictions on natural freedom. He claims that once humans stopped doing one-person tasks, “equality disappeared, property came into existence, and labor became necessary” (65). Thus, Rousseau views the division of labor as running counter to human nature whereas Smith takes a different view. In contrast, Smith employs his hypothesis on man’s inherent sociability to justify the division of labor. He claims in the Theory of Moral Sentiments that man is born with natural sympathy and thus has the tendency to share in the pain or joy of others (9). This concept is similar to Rousseau’s idea of natural pity. However, Smith differentiates himself from Rousseau in that he argues that man also has a natural desire to be the object of others’ sympathy. He asserts that the person primarily concerned by an event will put himself into the position of a spectator just as the spectator performs the same act of emotional substitution (Theory 22). Smith believes this desire to be so strong that the person concerned will abate his suffering so that the spectator can sympathize with him more easily. In The Wealth of Nations, Smith extends his thinking on natural sociability and provides the motivation behind the division of labor. He argues that the division of labor arises from a natural “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another” (Wealth 25). Because of natural sympathy and an inclination to trade, Smith thus conceives that humans fulfill a part of their happiness through social associations. Furthermore, the degree of man’s natural sociability affects how Smith defines inequality as it relates to the division of labor. Smith does not propose, “equality disappeared” with the splitting of tasks as Rousseau insists (Rousseau 65). Although the division of labor creates property, Smith regards the basis for social comparison and distinction to be natural. He claims that inequality arises from the natural inclination to share in the success of others: “upon this disposition of mankind… is founded the distinction of ranks and the order of society” (Theory 52). Because he views human nature as leading to inequality, Smith sees the ill effects of the division of labor in a more sympathetic light. Thus, the different assumptions of Rousseau and Smith on human nature provide the greater implication of misgivings. The magnitude of both thinkers’ criticisms depends on how they define happiness in relation to man’s natural state. Both Rousseau and Smith argue that the division of labor distorts natural needs. Yet, for Rousseau this ill effect presents a larger problem, because it opposes essential components of human happiness. Because the division of labor requires splitting complex tasks among people, it increases dependence on others. The shift from independent to group work creates a need for social association that is separate from the natural needs of food, rest, and sex. This makes man no longer self-sufficient and happy in his own right. Furthermore, Rousseau argues that when a man requires others to fulfill his needs, another can dominate him. The division of labor creates the means for social domination in creating property (68). Rousseau provides metallurgy and agriculture as two examples of the division of labor. He proposes that once man used tools to cultivate the land, the right to property developed (66). The desire to protect property caused the rich to devise the social contract and the poor to enter into it. Rousseau claims that the social contract destroyed natural freedom, fixed moral inequality, and made the fruits of labor the profit of a few. Thus, because he assumes that man is solitary and therefore happy, the division of labor violates Rousseau’s concept of natural need. Whereas in the state of nature man’s needs contribute to his happiness, the division of labor causes modern man to become a slave to his own passions (67). Because Smith views the false needs of commercial society as having a natural cause, he takes a more favorable attitude toward the division of labor. Like Rousseau, Smith claims that the division of labor creates imaginary needs. He asserts that the splitting of tasks allows the poorest laborers to “enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniences of life than it is possible for any savage to acquire” (Wealth 10). Furthermore, in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith like Rousseau criticizes the vanity of man in commercial society. He finds it somewhat illogical that people toil in the pursuit of riches when the poorest members of society can survive (50). Later in the text, Smith describes the discontent of the aspiring man in commercial society: “He serves those whom he hates…. Through the whole of his life, he pursues the idea of a certain artificial and elegant repose that he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real tranquility that is at all times in his power” (181) Yet, it is the division of labor that allows man to go beyond single-person tasks and to produce goods that are unnecessary to his survival. Thus, it appears illogical that Smith condemns luxury when the division of labor is the mechanism that allows for its pursuit. This seeming contradiction arises from the fact that Smith believes that man naturally desires to be the object of sympathy. In addition, Smith argues that mankind is more apt to celebrate in another’s joys than to share in his sufferings (Theory 51). Thus, he asserts that people pursue riches and avoid poverty to receive natural sympathy. Whereas Rousseau limits true human needs to food, rest, and sex, Smith cannot see this definition of need as permanent due to his assumptions on human nature. Because Smith argues that man has a natural desire to obtain the approbation of others, the scope of man’s needs must always be expanding. Although the division of labor allows for the pursuit of luxury, Smith proposes that the false needs of man have a natural, more legitimate cause. Thus, unlike Rousseau, Smith’s most important misgivings are not about the creation of false needs, but about the effects of the division of labor on physical and mental competence. Smith’s assumptions on human nature cause his major criticisms to focus on the individual. Whereas Rousseau’s primary concern is that the division of labor expands natural need, Smith analyzes its consequences on mental and physical ability. He argues that the simplicity of tasks, crucial to the division of labor, makes workers intellectually numbed. Because each worker has no reason to contemplate anything but his menial tasks, he loses his ability to take part in intelligent conversation and to form analytical judgments. Smith suggests that the working poor fall into this state of intellectual malaise more easily than other social classes, because they have the most simplistic jobs (Wealth 781-2). Rousseau in the Discourse also discusses how social forces may influence differences in mental abilities. He claims that “prodigious diversity of education and lifestyles” in civil society help to create disparities in mental acumen (58). While Smith recognizes the negative influences of the division of labor, he still regards it to be a useful economic mechanism. In addition, because Smith assumes the division of labor to be the consequence of human nature, he advocates ways of fixing its ill effects rather than simply criticizing it. Smith thus proposes a system of public education to combat its deleterious effects on the abilities of the common people (Wealth 785).Smith argues that the division of labor has a similar degenerating effect on physical ability. Due to the inactivity of the workplace, the division of labor reduces the physical strength of the common people. Smith asserts that this sedentary lifestyle threatens the security of the state, because the population cannot meet the physical demands of defending itself (Wealth 782). Rousseau also discusses the physical weakness of man in civil society. Because savage man needed to do all that was necessary for his survival, Rousseau asserts that he was of robust constitution. A division of labor that teaches workers to focus on one specialized tasks makes civilized man “effeminate” in Rousseau’s terms (40, 43). Again, whereas Rousseau praises a time before the division of labor, Smith searches for a way to remedy its negative consequences. He suggests that government should maintain the physical strength of the common people by physical education. To provide a useful example, Smith praises the physical education programs of ancient Greece and Rome and their role in fostering a “martial spirit” in the general populace. Smith claims that by bolstering the physical and mental abilities of the common people, the state becomes more stable. He argues that a nation comprised of informed and capable people is less prone to upheaval and the divisiveness of factions (Theory 781, 786-8). Thus, because Smith believes that division of labor is a mostly beneficial consequence of human sociability, he argues that government should take a role in mitigating its negative side effects. While natural sociability explains the divergence of Rousseau and Smith on the division of labor, it is important to consider their other views on human nature. Although the two have contrasting views on whether man is social, in particular moments they take similar positions on whether the division of labor is a natural occurrence. In the Discourse, Rousseau asserts that man has perfectibility, a natural inclination to improve over time. He proposes that perfectibility causes man to leave his original condition and “makes him a tyrant over himself and nature” (45). Thus, because the division of labor improves the productive powers of man, it may be the effect of human perfectibility. Whereas Smith views sympathy for others and the propensity to exchange goods as the natural causes of the division of labor, Rousseau may find its source in a natural desire to improve oneself. Thus, their contrasting views on commercial society may not depend on whether they believe the division of labor runs counter to human nature. Although Rousseau may account for the division of labor in his idea of perfectibility, his thoughts on natural sociability provide a stronger motivation for his criticisms. First, if perfectibility were the ultimate cause of false needs, then Rousseau would weaken his own criticism of the division of labor. The problem would not be that the division of labor separates man from solitary happiness, but that humans are incapable of finding happiness in the long run. Second, Rousseau asserts that the moment “equality disappeared” was when people started to divide tasks (65). Thus, his discomfort with the division of labor focuses on the individual going beyond himself and associating with others. The assumption of whether man is solitary or social not only determines how Smith and Rousseau form their criticisms, but also how they react to them. In the Discourse, Rousseau spends time criticizing the effects of the division of labor, but does not provide a viable remedy to this situation. It would appear that the only way to recapture true human happiness would be to regress and to dismantle commercial society, but Rousseau asserts the impossibility of doing so (39). Thus, for Rousseau the division of labor was the step that cemented human need for others and forever separated man from his true sources of happiness. Rousseau then views commercial society as having an irremovable flaw, because its foundation rests on imaginary needs and inequality. Because Smith accepts the ill effects of the division of labor as developing from natural sociability, he devises methods such as education and government programs to fix its ill effects. Furthermore, Smith does not lay out a progression of human history from the state of nature to the present as Rousseau does. As a consequence, he does not provide a description of happiness in the state of nature to compare to the situation after the division of labor. Whereas Rousseau defines happiness in relation to a primitive isolated state, Smith can only conceive of happiness as it relates to other people. It thus becomes difficult for him to criticize the division of labor and commercial society to the extent of Rousseau. Works CitedJean-Jacques Rousseau, The Basic Political Writings, trans. and ed. Donald Cress (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987). Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1981). Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1982)
Love in the Passions
There exists a debate between Rousseau, Plato and the philosophers of the Encyclopedia over the experience of the passions. While Plato and the philosophers choose to philosophically debate over the reasons behind love and sexuality, Rousseau, who insists that “imagination wreaks so much havoc,” unfastens philosophy from the passions and argues that they are independent ideas that need not be interconnected. One could delve in to this dispute from two sides; one being that love is a difficult concept who’s reasons need high levels of inquiry to achieve understanding, or that the passions are straightforward and do not need an in-depth exploration. These two opposing sides are not only battling for and against segregation of thought and reason, they are also at odds on the definition of love itself. In Rousseau’s “The Basic Political Writings,” he claims that “the more violent the passions are, the more necessary the laws are to contain them.” Noting that the passions are ‘violent’ already offers them a negative overtone, which is only enhanced by Rousseau’s insistence that “even if [the laws] were capable of repressing [the passions], the least one should expect of them would be that they call a halt to an evil that would not exist without them.” (Rousseau, p. 56) It seems that Rousseau fears going further with the idea of love; one which supposedly brings about the existence of evil by being active. So what exactly does he believe ‘repressed’ love is, and why does love need to be held back at all? Rousseau writes about love like it is an animal of sorts that should not be allowed to run wild; perhaps he sees it as an unnatural distraction, reserved for nearly savage beings. Besides the fact that it seems that Rousseau believes that the passions should be separate from activities of thought or internal investigation, it appears that he also views the exaggeration of love as an interference with the natural order of things. Rousseau brings in an example of the Caribs, an ancient people who “of all existing peoples, are the people that wandered least from the state of nature…least subject to jealousy, even though they lived in a hot climate which always seems to occasion greater activity in these passions.” (Rousseau, p. 56) Therefore, from this statement, it is possible to sense that Rousseau views the emotion of jealousy as straying from “the state of nature.” The Caribs are acting righteously, according to Rousseau’s opinion, because of their removal from temptation i.e. love, etc. (especially considering the climate conditions). According to this evidence it can be said that Rousseau sees jealousy as an abstract idea (whereas love should not be), and as being a reaction to succumbing to the passions. In addition, by stating that although enticement was present for the Caribs, and that they were able to suppress their ‘vulgar’ emotions, so to all man has the ability to resist desire. Rousseau seems to operate in a different way than he admits. It seems that all of his justifications as to why love is an unnecessary evil and should not be left for the imagination, actually counteract their initial purpose. Philosophy is the attribution of a set of beliefs towards ideas; it is in some sense a way of thinking and an attitude one possesses towards life. It seems that Rousseau tries to separate the passions from philosophy but rather ends up connecting the two by offering insights. One other possible idea involving Rousseau is that his objection may not stem from the idea of love at all, but rather violence; he views violence as unpleasant. However, he associates the two in that they coexist as one. “What would become of men, victimized by this unrestrained and brutal rage, without modesty and self-control, fighting everyday over the object of their passion at the price of their blood?” (Rousseau, p. 62) It seems that he has pre-constructed an image of what love is; a battlefield. Because of his accepted definition he explores from this angle alone and sees no reason to leave his sphere of personal understanding. Having undergone much gender debate over the years has raised various important questions on the roles of men and women. However, there has always been agreement in one area; one sex cannot exist without the other. The passions motivate uncommon actions and helps arouse new emotions and ideas. Yet if these bonds are a ‘necessity’ to the human race then why are we so disconnected from its true meaning? There has yet to be a one universal explanation of love and there has yet to be one who understands its powers fully. As in Plato’s Symposium, when the enlightenment influenced the exploration of thoughts, even to the wisest of men love was still a concept that was bewildering. Rousseau understood love as an opinion, whereas Plato and the philosophers understood it as a question. Plato’s “Symposium” serves as a text that depicts some of the guidelines of love as seen by the philosophers of Plato’s time. One of these philosophers, Diotima, speaks of her interpretation of love and its effects on those swayed by it. She connects physical attraction (physical love) to the creation of new ideas (intellectual love). By interweaving these two forms, she actually proves that if one exists it reawakens the other. “The result is that our lover will gaze at the beauty of activities and laws and to see that all this is akin to itself, with the result that he will think that the beauty of bodies is a thing of no importance.” Thus, the initial physical attraction ultimately leads to an enlightening state; opposing Rousseau’s notion of detachment. Furthering her elucidation, Diotima adds that “gazing upon this, he gives birth to many gloriously beautiful ideas and theories, in unstinting love of wisdom, until, having grown and been strengthened there, he catches sight of such knowledge, and it is the knowledge of such beauty.” (Plato, p. 58) The speech of Pausanias sheds light on another matter. Pausanias insists that, “the plain condemnation of Love reveals lust for power in the rulers and cowardice in the ruled, while indiscriminate approval testifies to general dullness and stupidity.” (Plato, p.15) By this observation Pausanias implies that love has the ability to weaken those defeated and those who succumb to it in its entirety. In some way this statement insists that it is impossible to be correct by neither the approval nor disapproval of love. So what is left if not these two options? It would seem that Pausanias insists not on choosing a side, but rather on that love should be interrogated.If “Symposium” is a drunken discussion with various ideas protruding from all sides, what makes the idea of a chaotic dialogue on the passions more comprehensible than Rousseau’s opinion that they should be aimed at disjointedly? I believe it to be that no one is very sure of how to identify the passions, and there is no need to. It is a subject that should be open to many individual impressions. One who experiences love does not experience the same love as his neighbor; you have to take into consideration the idea of personal experience intruding on every separate personality. Therefore, regarding the passions, they not only should be combined with philosophy, rather it is necessary they do so for the sake of defending the passions for what they are; nothing in particular or open to interpretation.
The Purpose of Language
Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his predecessor, Thomas Hobbes, both encounter the issue of language while constructing a concept of the state of nature and the origin of human society, a favorite mental exercise of seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophers such as themselves. The two agree that language elevates – or, perhaps more appropriately in regards to Rousseau, separates – man from beast, and facilitates man’s departure from the state of nature. Their differing notions regarding the state of nature and those of civil society in turn reflect their divergent judgments of the value and consequences of language. Thomas Hobbes, in his Leviathan, describes the natural state of man to be in constant conflict and misery, that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is call war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man…wherein men live [in] continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, 84). One premise behind Thomas Hobbes’ notion of the state of nature is the right of nature, “which writers commonly call jus naturale…the liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature” (Hobbes, 86). According to Hobbes, this jus naturale will cause the generation of a commonwealth “to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another” (Hobbes, 114). The commonwealth is created by a covenant “when a multitude of men do agree…every one, with every one, that to whatsoever man, or assembly of men, shall be given by the major part, the right to present the person of them all” (Hobbes 115). Only then can man live in peace. Interestingly, Hobbes’ discussion of language precedes his discussion of the state of nature in Leviathan. In Chapter 4 of Book I, a chapter entitled “Of Speech,” Hobbes defines speech as “consisting of names or appellations, and their connexion” (Hobbes, 20), and cites the four main uses of speech: firstly, “to transfer our mental discourse into verbal,” secondly, “to show to other that knowledge which we have attained,” thirdly, “to make known to others our wills, and purposes, that we may have the mutual help of one another,” and lastly, “by playing with our words, for pleasure or ornament” (Hobbes, 21). According to Hobbes, speech was first given to humanity by God, who “instructed Adam how to name such creatures as he presented to his sight,” thus first establishing “names and their connexion.” For these reasons, Hobbes extols speech as “the most noble and profitable invention of all other…without which, there had been amongst men, neither commonwealth, nor society, nor contract, nor peace, no more than amongst lions, bears, and wolves” (Hobbes, 20). With communication comes the possibility of mutual understanding among men, and thus only with speech can men leave the state of nature. Besides the critical capacity for communication that language provides, Hobbes also proposes a more debatable function of language in his ideal commonwealth. According to Hobbes, truth and falsity consists in either affirming or denying the connection between two names, and thus, “where speech is not, there is neither truth nor falsehood” (Hobbes, 23). Furthermore, he questions the entire foundation of knowledge and philosophy. Hobbes argues that we cannot rely upon nature to reveal true reality because the only way we can experience the world is through our senses, so “though the nature of that we conceive, be the same; yet the diversity of our reception of it, in respect of different constitutions of the body, and prejudices of opinion, gives every thing a tincture of our different passions” (Hobbes, 27). Instead, Hobbes suggests the establishment of first definitions by the sovereign, upon which all members of society must agree. All conclusions that ensue follow from logical syllogisms based upon these first principles. Thus, Hobbes provides a deductive grounding for knowledge, much like in geometry, which Hobbes praises as “the only science that it hath pleased God hitherto to bestow on mankind” (Hobbes, 23) where everyone has accepted certain definitions and basic principles, after which geometric truths logically follow. When philosophical reasoning is thus reduced to mathematics, all truths and knowledge derived from these accepted first definitions become irrefutable, in the same way geometric proofs are irrefutable. In this manner, Hobbes boldly bases the entire nature of truth and epistemology upon language, a human construct. Jean-Jacques Rousseau sets forth in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality an exhaustive diatribe against modern society and the entire history of human progress. He begins by describing the state of man before his entrance into society, a conception commonly regarded as diametrically opposed to that of Hobbes. According to Rousseau, the “savage man” is in an idyllic, peaceful state, produced in part by his ignorance and simplicity of mind. Rousseau argues that since the savage man is naturally unsociable and since there are unlimited natural resources, the savage man largely remains solitary and has very little contact with others, thus very little chance of conflict, much opposed to Hobbes’ idea to the perpetual state of war in nature. Furthermore, Rousseau believes that two natural laws, which existed prior to reason, govern the interaction between humans in the state of nature: self-preservation and pity. The first we are already familiar with, but the second suggests a softer view of human nature than that of Hobbes’. Rousseau describes pity as “a natural repugnance to seeing any sentient being, especially our fellow man, perish or suffer” (Rousseau, 35). Pity, which moderates self-preservation, “contributes to the mutual preservation of the entire species…takes the place of laws, mores, and virtue” (Rousseau 55). Thus, the state of nature was harmonious, even if crude and primitive. In fact, man in Rousseau’s state of nature differs not much from animals. However, the faculties unique to man are sufficient to propel him out of the state of nature. First, whereas animals act upon instinct, man acts upon choice. Man’s ability to choose makes him less susceptible to nature than other animals might be. More importantly, Rousseau attributes to man the faculty of self-perfection, the ability to adapt, to change according to his environment. He argues that it is precisely this perfectibility in man that is the source of his downfall from the state of nature. One aspect of man’s perfectibility is his development of language. Here Rousseau points out an apparent paradox regarding the origin of language: “for if men needed speech in order to learn to think, they had a still greater need for knowing how to think in order to discover the art of speaking” (Rousseau, 49). Instead of addressing this issue, however, Rousseau adds upon it another paradox: the vocal articulations of things must be arrived at by “unanimous consent” but language is needed to voice consent, thus “speech appears to have been necessary to establish the use of speech” (Rousseau, 50). Whatever the origins were, Rousseau argues that language was necessary in order to develop abstract reasoning and that “general ideas can be introduced into the mind only with the aid of words” (Rousseau, 50). Rousseau offers the simple example of the tree: without language, man cannot conceive the general idea of a tree, he can only picture a particular tree, with a certain height, color, etc. Abstract or complex ideas, then, only transpire when man gives names to them. Natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, induced man to associate more and more with each other, and language was further developed. Man made tools and built huts, enabling the concept of the family. Eventually, as man became more social, natural pity was replaced with amour propre: “People grew accustomed to gather in front of their huts…song and dance…became the amusement or rather the occupation of idle men and women… Each on began to look at the others and to want to be looked at himself, and public esteem had a value” (Rousseau 64). With the construction of dwellings, the beginnings of agriculture, which Rousseau argues is only possible with human communication, and the beginnings of interdependence, the notion of property evolved and natural equality disappeared. Part Two of Rousseau’s Discourse begins: “the first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society” (Rousseau, 60). Both the physical act of uttering the words this is mine and also the abstract idea of possession are possible only with language. Property and the division of labor made men morally unequal, and the wealthy and powerful, wanting to protect their property, devised “specious reasons to lead [the weak] to their goal” (Rousseau, 69) With the pretense of mutual protection, the powerful instituted “rules of justice and peace to which all will be obliged to conform” which merely enforce the inequality, and “such was…the origin of society and laws, which gave new fetters to the weak and new forces to the rich, irretrievably destroyed natural liberty, established forever the law of property and of inequality, changed adroit usurpation into an irrevocable right, and for the profit of a few ambitious men henceforth subjected the entire human race to labor, servitude and misery” (Rousseau, 70). Hobbes and Rousseau both to some degree advance the idea that language constructs reality. For Hobbes, truth itself is an artificial, human construct based only on language. His all-powerful sovereign who decides upon definitions and first principles, acts only to eliminate dissension, and his judgments, though arbitrary, cannot be disputed. This absolute power of the sovereign to decide how people should think and what they should know is comparable to fascism. However, Hobbes believes that fear of the sovereign is much preferable to mutual fear of each other, and that anything is better than the state of nature. For Rousseau, language also has the ability to construct reality. According to him, only with knowledge of words like “love,” “jealousy,” and “possession” can these concepts come into being, and therefore reality as we have it is limited and dependant upon the names and words we have come up with thus far, an idea that’s quite hard to grasp or believe. Hobbes and Rousseau both explore the dichotomy of nature and culture, and both identify language as a key element of culture. Their notions of language, however, depend on their conception of the state of nature. For Hobbes, the state of nature is the state of perpetual war and misery, thus language brings about the possibility of accord and contract, critical in establishing the commonwealth. Also critical to Hobbes’ philosophy is the role that language plays in the foundation of knowledge. The people in establishing a commonwealth agree to accept the first definitions set forth by the sovereign, and in doing so, the entire basis of knowledge and reasoning is mathematically grounded, leaving no room for dispute. Hobbes thus eliminates civil dissent and ensures peace in his commonwealth. Rousseau believes the state of nature to be preferable to civil society, and that it is language, technology, and social institutions that corrupt man and bring him down from his natural, innocent state into the realm of inequality and injustice. Thus, the evaluation of language by the two philosophers are based upon their judgment of its consequences in relation to the state of nature; for Hobbes language elevates man above the violent state of nature, while for Rousseau language brings man down from the peaceful state of nature.
Self-Interest and Social Stratification: A Modern Reading of Rousseau on Labor
Philosopher John Locke claims that all of mankind has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of property, and while many accept this claim as fact and truth, there are those who contest whether this idea is right and proper in regards to the laws of nature. In A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Jean-Jacques Rousseau finds that property is the root of all imbalances amongst men. He also declares that, while labor for self preservation is just, when labor is divided among individuals, deemed either lesser or dominant, to provide for a whole community, man is taken advantage of, his endeavors become exploitative, and an imbalance of power becomes evident. In looking at this progression that Rousseau presents, it becomes clear that, according to these philosophies, all political systems stand against the laws of nature and promote the systems of inequality that the poor have so long been fighting against. Rousseau’s theories regarding the devolution from the state of nature, the rise of amour propre, and the creation of figures of authority, lay claim to the fact that the system of politics and labour present in today’s societies keep the rich in a dominant position over those less wealthy, and the unnatural system of inequality remains in place because of it.
Before modern society existed, before man abandoned the state of nature, Rousseau claims that individuals never compared themselves to the rest of mankind, and therefore they never held a desire for more than the bare necessities, and acquiring property was an unheard of concept. But as man grew closer to his relatives, all of a sudden he found himself determining his worth by how much he had and where he stood in comparison to his fellow man. As Rousseau phrases it, “ Men no sooner began to set value upon each other, and knew what esteem was, than each laid claim to it”(Rousseau, 41*), and thus the system of laying claim to property was born. This system of amour propre, or self love, leads to an imbalance of power as some men own more land than others, those who own more land no longer have to labor and toil, but rather they can delegate the labor to poorer populations. This system is illustrated by the story of Pierce Walker, from Studs Terkel’s interview compilation Working, who owns 200 acres of land, but only works 50 acres of it, “the rest [he] sharecropped”(Terkel, 3), allowing him not only to work less, but also to take the majority of the income from sales of the crops the other people working his land grew. Successfully keeping the system of inequality in place by making it impossible for any of his sharecroppers to ever rise above their current status, or for them to ever hold a position of power equal to or above his. And yet Rousseau claims that those like Walker become, “[a] slave in some sense…even by becoming their master; if rich, he stood in need of their services, if poor, of their assistance”(Rousseau, 45). In forming societies, men become dependent upon one another, and in the selfish desire for property and wealth, men become unequal, and the system of nature is all but cast away.
From the birth of classifications such as “rich” and “poor”, that came with the acquisition of property, arose a new and unnatural system of power structures and authority figures. In contest with the natural philosophy that all men are created equal, the self-inflated rich members of society developed the sense that those with more money and property ought to be held in higher esteem and granted more power, in turn promoting further an imbalance in equality amongst men. Money and property feed into this hunger for power, “the rich on their side scarce began to taste the pleasure of commanding, when they preferred it to every other; and making use of old slaves to acquire new ones, they no longer thought of anything but subduing and enslaving their neighbours”(Rousseau, 46). By enslaving their neighbours, those in power began to view their fellow man as less than, and thus the system of inequality was further extended. Much like in the story of Roberto Acuna(Terkel, 12), those without property often attempted to gain some sort of position with power, such as that of a foreman on a farm, yet still they rarely rise high enough in station to enact change or even to be held in the same esteem as those they work for. The hunger for power can be seen in every society known to man, but often it is only those that hold money and property that can satiate this desire, and keep a position as a true figure of authority.
This hunger and selfish desire that fuels the drive for power led to the birth of the political systems seen today, as,”the various forms of government owe their origin to the various degrees of inequality between the members, at the time they first coalesced into a political body”(Rousseau, 55). While a democracy is closer to equality than previous governmental systems such as aristocracies or oligarchies, because the power is not kept solely within families and those of perceived lesser standing still maintain a voice, it still promotes the unnatural system of inequality. There is a reason the stereotype of the “old, rich white man” remains even today within our political system, these were the people who were originally legally permitted to own land in American society, and thus they were the ones first granted power, and the country has yet to rid itself of these previous injustices to the minorities, and therefore remains unequal to this day.
In abandoning the simple, if moderately unpleasant, state provided by following the laws of nature, individuals no longer stand on equal ground as they once did. Rousseau shows that through engaging in society, developing a sense of self love, and striving for power, mankind has moved farther and farther from a position of equality, and now money and property dictate who controls societies. In his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality, no solutions to this imbalance of power are provided, and the political systems present today make it evident that thus far no others have found any cures for this ailment either. As seen by the fact that America now has a billionaire as a President-elect, and the constant presence of those such as the Koch brothers in legislative circles, the rich still have a firm hold on positions of power. Until mankind once again believes that all born on this earth stand equal with their neighbours, the unnatural system of inequality will persist, but this change is possible, and tomorrow could be the start of a new era, if everyone once again believes.