Conforming to Invisibility

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In his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau addresses a possibility seldom discussed by neither his predecessors nor contemporaries; the idea that arts and sciences have corrupted man. Prior to the introduction of the arts and sciences, man, in the State of Nature, was natural and easily identifiable. While human nature was still flawed, as has always been the case, there was a degree of security in knowing that a person’s character could be immediately seen and interpreted. Now, as a result of the influence of the arts, there exists a set of rules and behaviors, which serve only to deceive others from knowing a person’s true nature. As a result of this, society, which Rousseau refers to as a herd, are now bound by conformity to act similarly in certain situations.
Societal conformity, rather than change the hearts of men, serves only to conceal the true intentions of individuals. Without such authenticity, the vices of betrayal, fear and blasphemy, rather than appear at face value, remain hidden, yet ever present. Acting under the camouflage of honest sincerity, perpetrated by conformity, vices have effectively constrained morality to the point where a person’s actions and feelings are no longer one in the same. Rousseau has been so convinced of this correlation between advancement and depravity that he feels the corruption of humanity to be in direct proportion to its advancements of the arts and sciences. This bold claim, supported by the examples set by the fall of great empires such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, reveals a curious tendency for great powers to succumb to debauchery and immorality.
Having thoroughly explained his belief that the arts and sciences led to corruption, and, subsequ...

... middle of paper ... and Second Discourse together, it becomes apparent that Rousseau feels conformity, as established by the arts and sciences, can be more easily resisted in a democracy. A democratic state, allowing for, and nourishes, the notions of individuality, solidarity and hope, acts as an excellent counter to societal conformity. While certainly not immune to conformity, citizens of a democracy are at least granted the chance to challenge society, and thereby, preserve their individuality. Despite this freedom to do so, however, individuals often struggle to resist the conformity brought about by the arts and sciences.

Works Cited

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. "First Discourse." The First and Second Discourses. New York: St. Martin's, 1964. 39-40. Print.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. "First Discourse." The First and Second Discourses. New York: St. Martin's, 1964. 48-50. Print.
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