Pre-Civilized and Post-Civilized Happiness

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“Discontented with your present condition for reasons which presage for your unfortunate posterity even greater discontent, you will wish perhaps you could go backwards in time – and this feeling must utter the eulogy of your first ancestors, the indictment of your contemporaries, and the terror of those who have the misfortune to live after you” (P.79). In Rousseau’s A Discourse on Inequality, he not only argues the inequalities between men, but also the inequality of happiness between the pre-civilized and post-civilized human. Rousseau believes that as savages, humanity lives a simple and oblivious lifestyle, unaware of their own existence with “self preservation being [their] only concern” (P.86). Rousseau defines this monotonous existence as happiness, yet with a constant, unchanging lifestyle, comfort and indifference appear to be surpassing characterizations. Modern living, which Rousseau views as an oppressive pit of misery, contrasts savagery with its diversity and thus possibility of happiness. Though Rousseau successfully depicts the adequate lifestyle of the “savage people”, he fails to convince readers of a pre-civilized greater happiness.

Rousseau initiates his discourse with the introduction of the savage man and his seemingly preferable lifestyle. He sees man as “satisfying his hunger under an oak, quenching his thirst at the first stream, finding his bed under the same tree which provided his meal; and, behold, his needs are furnished” (P.81). Whatsoever be man’s desires, confined to those pertaining to self-preservation, he may easily and effortlessly acquire them. Being an undeniably smooth and simplistic way of life, Rousseau idealizes savage living as one that surpasses civilized living for its greater happi...

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...eaders of a dominant happiness in the civilized state. In the savage state, men are like machines performing the actions necessary for self-preservation, but civility offers the chance to loosen the grip on their comfortable nature and delve into the unknown, providing them with genuine happiness. The introduction of desires, inequality and government strip man of his oblivion and cast him down an irreversible, yet promising path. Despite the innumerable changes man has undergone, one statement applies to both the savage and civilized man; “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change” (Darwin).

Works Cited

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. A Discourse on Inequality. Trans. Maurice Cranston. London: Penguin Books, 1984. Print.

Darwin, Charles Robert. The Origin of Species. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909. Print.
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