Jean-Jacques Rousseau describes the origins of humanity in his book, Discourse on Inequality. Although Rousseau takes a hypothetical approach rather than a factual, historical approach to surmising the history of humankind, he effectively analyzes the foundations of human inequality and whether it is sanctioned by natural law. Throughout the book, Rousseau strives to outline the history of human development, beginning from the state of nature to the establishment of civil society in order to determine the origins and consequences of inequality and to question the legitimacy of political institutions.
In the state of nature, physical inequality is the only type of inequality that exists. Moral or political inequality consists of privileges that some people enjoy at the expense of others, which is a man-made phenomenon and does not exist in the state of nature. Rousseau claims that some philosophers argue that there is a greater difference between a man and another man than between a man and an animal; however, Rousseau disagrees and believes that all men have free will and perfectibility, which separates them from animals, and all men are equally allowed to enjoy this freedom. In the state of nature, every person lives in the same manner and participates in the same activities, demonstrating that all men are naturally equal, but through institutionalized inequality, the differences between men increase as humankind transitions from the state of nature to civil society. Inequality has had very little influence on people in the state of nature, but its role in civil society is significant, allowing Rousseau to investigate the origins of inequality through his exposition of human development.
Rousseau begins by explaining...
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... implementation of private property and laws that included the protection of this private property. The establishment of property and laws, the institution of the magistrature, and the transformation of legitimate to arbitrary power thus became the stages of inequality that Rousseau believes led to misery, violence, and corruption for the human race.
Through Rousseau’s analysis of human development, he discovers that in the state of nature, people lived within themselves, whereas in civil society, people live outside themselves, solely concerned with the opinions of other people. Inequality, largely non-existent in the state of nature, is gradually implemented as the state of nature develops into the state of civil society. Therefore, political inequality is an unnatural phenomenon that emerges and becomes legitimized through the institution of laws and property.
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