What were the most significant changes in man and his life?
What were the most significant changes in man and his life? At the end of our last reading, R. notes that the “middle position between the indolence of our primitive state and the petulant activity of our egocentrism, must have been the happiest and most durable epoch.” This state was most stable and “the best for man.” “As long as they applied themselves exclusively to tasks, a single individual could do …. they lived as free, healthy, good and happy as they
could in accordance with their nature; and they continued to enjoy among themselves the sweet reward
of independent intercourse.”
With the changes in society brought about by the invention of the arts of metallurgy and agriculture,
men acquired wealth and property. This led to widespread manmade inequalities. With this wealth and
this extensive property, justice and political right replaced natural right.
QUESTION #1: What became of man in “this new order of things?” What were the most significant
changes in man and his life? [p. 53 ff.] What are the ills that are the “first effect of property”?
The natural inequalities among men grew because of the new socialization process, so that these small
inequalities made themselves more noticeable, more permanent and they radically influenced the roles
of private individuals.
R. reaches his essential teaching on page 61. He asserts that liberty is man’s most noble faculty, but
modern mas has degraded his nature and placed himself “on the level of animals enslaved by instincts.”
He allows himself to commit all kinds of crimes in order to please a ferocious or crazed master. How does he do this? He does so when he submits himself to the arbitrary power of others who then govern
him and his progeny.
QUESTION # 2: Can one reasonably renounce one’s own liberty? Can he “divest himself of his liberty in
favor of someone” as if it was the same as divesting himself of a piece of his property? Can one man
rightfully have the authority to re-present another’s will and control his liberty? What does R. think and
why? What do you think and why?
On page 63, R. briefly explains what he thinks the social contract involves. The will of each is to unite to
the will of each and all are obligated to follow only this general will – not the majority will, but only the
will which is one’s own will shared by all other citizens. This general will is “to prefer on every occasion
the public utility to his own interest.” If the magistrate betrays this trust, one may rightfully return to his
natural liberty. That is to say, he has the right to revolution.
QUESTION #3: What are the stages in the progress of inequality that R. mentions? [p. 65] What are the
changing bases of the inequality in each stage? What are the kinds of inequality among civilized men?
How does the inequality of wealth and poverty lead to servitude? Is R. correct in his analysis?
Here, R. also cites Lycurgus and the laws of Sparta. These laws educated its citizens to be virtuous in the
character of their soul. Modern laws do not try to make their citizens virtuous. They only attempt to
restrain them from doing injustice through the fear of punishment. But R. notices that such laws are
doomed to failure. “For the vices that make social institutions necessary are the same ones that make their abuses inevitable.” For it is the case that “the laws are generally less strong than passions and
restrain men without changing them.” In a country where men were honest, truthful and just, no one
would elude the laws nor abuse the magistrate, and so there would be no need for either of these
institutions of government.
Furthermore, no one can succeed in subjecting men who wanted merely to be free, whereas those who
principally seek wealth or fame can be easily reduced to obedience. Here, R. recognizes the strength of
the classic mind’s understanding of politics as the education of the soul of the governed, as we have
seen Prospero practice.
QUESTION #4: The dangers of modern political thought manifest themselves in the dangers that follow
from the psychological changes that men undergo in modern society. List those differences of inequality
and the corruption of the soul which then occurs.
QUESTION #5: Describe the differences between the savage man and the civilized man in their heart and
in their inclinations. [p. 68 – 71]
Wants to construct a society where men can be free as they once were and not mere servants of their
animal desires, or worse. Thus, he rejects Locke’s society because it serves only the empirical or natural
desire for self-preservation or property protection. Man in his nature needs more and he needs true
autonomy. R Sums up the distinction among the men and societies he has studied. “Such, in fact, is the true cause
of all these differences; the savage lives in himself; the man accustomed to the ways of society is always
outside himself and knows how to live only in the opinion of others.”
In other works, R. shows that he is willing to go to great lengths to restore man to his true liberty and
yet live with others. In this, R. sets a goal for many political thinkers who followed him.
“Natural man is entirely for himself. He is numerical unity, the absolute whole which is relative only to
itself or its kind. Civil man is only a fractional unity dependent on a denominator; his value is determined
by his relation to the whole, which is the social body. Good social institutions are those that best know
how to denature man, to take his absolute existence from him in order to give him a relative one and
transport the I into the common unity, with the result that each individual believes himself no longer
one but a part of the unity and no longer feels except within the whole.” [Emile p. 39 – 40] The goal of
In pages 29 – 34, Rousseau brings up the problem of the origin of language. He makes 2 points here.
One, man is not distinguished from animals by naturally possessing reason. His real distinction as the
one spiritual being in the world is that he has a will, and to be for man, is to be free. In the classical mind
course, you saw that man’s nature was essentially rational, and because he was rational, he was free.
His task was to discover what was really true and good, and then to acquire that good in action. To be
fully rational, to be fully wise, was his task. R.’s natural man’s task is to be free, and in this task, he had
no problems. His only cares were his animal cares for food, sleep, and a mate.
In today’s reading, R. explains how the natural man was forced to lose his innocence and enter into a
state between the original state of nature and the current state of civilized, enchained man. The same
causes that lead man to develop language lead him to enter into this middle state. This also leads to
man’s loss of his freedom and independence. He comes to need others for his newly perceived needs
and passions. To acquire these new goods and satisfy his novel needs, he begins to conjecture.
Eventually, he needs language to enlist men to help him. In doing so, he makes himself now dependent
on the goodwill of others. He develops a radical and psychological dependence on things, on others, and
most of all, he now cares most of all how others come to think of him. He needs others to feel good
about himself, and this new passion rules what he does and what he desires.
R. wants us to question whether mankind as a species has progressed. He knows some individuals
believe that they have progressed for they are civilized, they are enlightened. As such, they are superior
to those less so. Thus, we have the true origin of inequality. It is this psychological inequality that drives
the economic inequality, which, in turns, drives modern man’s political inequality. He asks would not
man be happier if “they had neither evil to fear nor good to hope for from anyone, rather than subjecting themselves to universal dependence and obliging themselves to receive everything from
those who do not oblige themselves to give them anything.” [p. 35] “Man is weak when he is
dependent.” [p. 36] The development of reason is the cause of man’s fall from his state of innocence.
Through reason, he discovers the knowledge of good and evil. The fallen rational man is egocentric in
such a way that he has no pity for others in his desperate search for bourgeois goods. “Reason is what
engenders egocentrism, and reflection strengthens it. Reason is what turns man in upon himself. Reason
is what separated him from all that troubles him and affects him.” [p. 37] Notice what he says about our
loss of pity on p. 38. This is the genesis of man as we know him. “Here is your history, as I have thought
to read it, not in the books of your fellow men, who are liars, but in nature, who never lies.” [p. 18]
Moses is one of those who are liars.
Question #1: Why are man’s newly developed passions so dangerous for civil man, while the raw man’s
passions were helpful to him? What is the moral aspect of the “sentiment of love”? What is the origin of
it for human beings? Reflect on whether his views are true?
R. begins his conclusion of Part I by summarizing what the original man lived for and felt, and then he
contrasts these modes of life and these passions with those of the civilized.
Question #2: Present a list of the characteristics of original man. Why, given this list as a true description
of this man, is there so little inequality or servitude in the state of nature? Why then is there so much
inequality and servitude in civil society?
As he turns to Part II, he explains what he means to show in it. In Part I, he has shown that there is little
or no inequality, but since there is in civil society, he must show “its origin and progress in the successive
development of the human mind.” [p. 43] For man’s perfectibility to be initiated, R. must explain the
causes which form this power in the ways civil man displays. Thus, in Part II, he must “consider and
bring” together the various chance happenings that were able to perfect human reason (in the
individual) while deteriorating the species “which make a being evil while rendering it habituated to the
ways of society.” [p. 43] In Part II, on p. 44 – 45, R. gives a clear summary of the original man. Notice his
first sentiment and his first concern as a contrast to modern man’s sentiments and his first concern.
Question #3: What were the first causes or difficulties leading men to leave the first state of nature?
What was the role of “perception of certain relations” in relation to original man’s first reflections?
What role did man’s enlightenment play in man’s fall from happiness?
Question #4: What was the “first revolution” in human history? Into what state did it lead men?
Describe this new state. Note its new sentiments and concerns. What was the first inequality that
In our final reading of R. he will explain the transition from this middle state of society to the political
state of property, laws, inequality and servitude where man loses “the sweet rewards of independent
intercourse.” [p. 51]
Question 1: According to the preface, what is the precise task that R. sets for this work? Why does he
begin with “the first and most simple operation of the human soul?” What two principles “that are prior
to reason” does he take as foundational for the study of man? Why does he start with the study of
original man? [p. 14-5]
R. ends the preface with the following words. “Learn whom God has ordered you to be and in what part
of human affairs you have been placed.” These could be the words one could invoke before one studied
the account of man in Genesis. Keep this contrast in mind.3INTRODUCTION p. 16 -18
R. here states that the subject of his discourse is to mark the moment when nature was subjected to
law. [p. 16 – 7] and that he is to present to you “your history, as I have thought to read it, not in the
books of your fellow man, who are liars, but in nature, who never lies.” Which history book or books is
he referring to here? He proposes to present to you “the life of your species.”
QUESTION 2: In what ways have all of his predecessors failed in the study of the state of nature?
Note that there will be three main divisions of this history: (1) that of original man, raw or savage man;
(2) contemporary man, modern man in the West – bourgeois man; and (3) an age of man in between –
neither original nor civilized man.
PART I, p. 18 – 29
From p. 18 to 24, R. studies “physical man” in the state of nature. While in pages 24 – 44, the rest of part
I, he studies man from “a metaphysical and moral point of view”. [p. 24]
QUESTION 3: Present a description of this “original physical man” from what you have read. How does
this man raise himself “to the level of animal instinct”? [p. 19] Why is it “no great misfortune” [p. 23]
that the savage man lacks what we think he should possess?
QUESTION 4: What is the first great difference that R. finds in man’s moral or metaphysical nature that
distinguishes man from the nature of other animals? [p. 24 – 5] Notice that man is not distinguished
from the animals because he alone is rational, for the original man is not rational. He has no logos, no
speech, for he has no need in his nature for reason or speech. No one before denied that man’s nature
is to be rational and have speech. Yet, R. held man to possess “spirituality” in his soul because he had
freedom of the will. [p. 25] Physics, science explains the mechanism of the senses, “but in the power of willing, or rather of choosing, and in the feeling of this power, we find only purely spiritual acts, about
which the laws of mechanics (modern science) explain nothing.” [p. 25}
QUESTION 5: What second, very specific quality of man distinguishes man from the beasts? [p. 25 – 6]
What is the “faculty”? What does it do or accomplish in the life of man and in the life of the human
species? Why is it so unique? What has it done for, or to, modern man? [p. 26]
“Willing and not willing, desiring and fearing will be the first and nearly only operations of his soul until
new circumstances bring about new developments in his soul.” [p. 26]
QUESTION 6: What is the relationship R. finds between our understanding or reason, our passions and
our needs? [p. 26 – 9] The introduction of these and the development of ever new needs, and thus of
ever new passions, lead us to begin the evolution away from our original nature. What are the original
needs of savage man? What are his only goods, his only evils? Why does man now develop new
passions, new needs beyond the natural passions and needs? Is this progress or regress for mankind and
his species? What causes these developments in the human soul? Explain as best you can the process of
nature, needs, passions, ideas, reasons and the circumstances of man in his environment. Original man’s
imagination and needs are described on p. 26 and 27. He is without a mind, without foresight or
curiosity – why? Why does the original man have no need for another human? What could make him
need another? Without language, how could he communicate to another?
Here begins a digression in the text, where R. tries to explain what seems impossible – how could
language, speech, originate in savage man? “His soul agitated by nothing, is given over to a single feeling
of his own present existence, without any idea of the future.” Such is original man. No man is now
constituted like this natural man now. How did he change? What could cause these changes? That is the
task we will read about next.