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The acquisition of knowledge and the retrogression from man’s natural state are both characteristics of modernity in Western civilization. Writers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, and Fyodor Dostoevsky offer criticisms regarding the implications of these changes according to their respective historical contexts. Despite the continued progress of man since these contexts, the arguments these writers pose are still applicable today. Each offers a different perspective to be critically considered. Their accounts suggest that the burdens of inequality, oppression, and distancing man from his natural state accompany the perpetuation of progress, causing the authors to overdramatize modernity as a prelude to imminent social or political reform according to their various observations of man.
Rousseau’s depiction of the noble savage in Discourse on the Origin of Inequality separates man from society in order to argue that modernity has come with a cost to man’s natural state. Rousseau explores the uncivilized state of nature to form “conjectures…concerning what the human race could have become, if it had been left to itself” (Rousseau 17). Through his conjectures, Rousseau’s posits that the progress of man is detrimental to his well-being. Nevertheless, the formations of civil and, later, political societies were responsible for “perfect[ing] human reason while deteriorating the species” (Rousseau 43). He finds that the acquisition of knowledge is dangerous, and man is better off naïve about the true extent of the world (Rousseau 31). Aside from an instinct for self-preservation, the noble savage comes equipped with pity. In his natural state, this pity exists as amour de soi, or simply, good intentions. Without this pity, “men w...

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... rather than suppresses it. Products and marketing are becoming more and more personalized, and humans strive to better themselves rather than resort to inaction like the Underground Man. This betterment is a product of both reason and wanting, and without both working in conjunction, societies and their individuals would not be where they are today. Restraints on one in favor of the other may be circumstantially necessary, but checks and balances are kept in place by both law and public assent, neither of which can be presently deemed outstandingly corrupt in its restraints. While extreme self-reflection may be a disagreeable consequent of modernity, there is no evidence to suggest lack of such reflection would be beneficial to the human state. Overall, Dostoevsky’s depiction of the ills of modernity is a relevant and important critique, but his argument oversteps.

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