Rousseau a discourse on inequality essay

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Contents:
  1. A Discourse on Inequality
  2. Rousseau's Discourse On Inequality
  3. Essay about A Discourse on Inequality - Words | Bartleby

This need to distinguish becomes a problem in society when it is unchecked. It is also not enough to just own property, they must deprive others of owning it Gourevich and this leads to inequality in society, in which people must constantly interact with each other. Therefore, for Rousseau, living in a society creates a process, which could destroy it if unchecked. His solution to this problem is the General Will. Rousseau assumed that men always act in their own interests as they interpret them Keohane , so it would be unnatural for them to forfeit their own interests to be part of a society.

In the Discourse on Political Economy Rousseau explains that to get people to follow the General Will, it must be in their own interest to do so Cole This is the way the magistrate can maintain control and ensure society does not become despotic. The sole use of violence and terror for Rousseau would also lead to the downfall of society, therefore the General Will, with use of violence occasionally, is the solution Cole These common interests are not a harmony of all personal interests, but certain goals that people agree to work together to reach.

However the General Will does not eliminate the tendency of humans to distinguish themselves from each other, rather it allows this tendency to be controlled. The fact Rousseau does not suggest property be outlawed means that the tendency for humans to distinguish themselves from each other is not eliminates.

Keohane identifies that property is still allowed under the social contract which permits the General Will to be followed , therefore individuals can still be individuals.

A Discourse on Inequality

The limit set here is that all property is owned by the sovereign to ensure people cannot buy each other Keohane , as slavery, in the eyes of Rousseau, deprives a person of their humanity. This is a compromise between individual liberty and authoritarian moral equality. If, according to Rousseau, one of the aspects that makes us human is the ability to be a free agent, then the sovereign having control of all property will violate the ability of man to act as a free agent. As Rousseau explained in Discourse on Inequality, it is having property after developing agriculture that led to the formation of families and then societies Gourevich and it continues to be a key part of how human beings define themselves within society.

In the Discourse on Political Economy Rousseau discusses how the rich purchase arts especially luxury items to distinguish themselves from the poor Cole The General Will could put an end to this, but Rousseau recommends that it does not instead suggesting the taxation of luxury goods as a solution Cole , allowing humans to continue distinguishing themselves from each other in terms of property.

World Views and Values: Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (lecture 1)

Secondly, Rousseau argues that political society is formed of other smaller societies, which have their own set of interests, manifested as particular wills. People should follow the General Will as a priority but they will often stray and follow the particular, because it is in their own interest Cole p But instead of the citizens surrendering their own personal wills to that of the General Will, Rousseau insists it is the job of the legislator to set the General Will so people will want to follow it, because it is in their own interests.

Therefore Rousseau is not suggesting the legislator eliminates the human tendency to distinguish themselves from one another, but ensure the particular wills of these distinguished groups fit the General Will. It could be argued that getting smaller societies with particular wills to conform to the General Will of political society does strip them of their tendency to distinguish themselves from each other, because they are now all following the same interests.


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However Rousseau does not make it a necessary condition of the General Will that it must govern all areas of social life. Rousseau in fact does not specify what the General Will must contain, leaving it open to the legislator to decide. The legislator in turn must set the General Will in accordance with the population, in order to maintain popularity and patriotism, something which Rousseau argues is essential for the success of a political nation Keohane It is not true therefore that in all areas of social life the General Will eliminates the human tendency to distinguish themselves from each other, as demonstrated also by the previous example of personal property.

In conclusion, the Discourse on Inequality identifies the need humans feel to distinguish themselves from each other, especially in terms of property, because agriculture requires some men to work for others to succeed and also for men to have their own property. As societies for these wants become needs, until eventually people feel the need to distinguish themselves, especially in the case of the rich and the poor. Rousseau reasons this can lead to harmful despotism in society, so presents the General Will as a solution. The General Will allows members of a society to work together to achieve some common interests, set by a legislator.

This prevents rich men and women distinguishing themselves to such an extent they deprive other citizens of their humanity, as they allow themselves to be bought.


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  • Therefore the General Will prevents the human tendency to distinguish themselves from one another from getting out of hand, but it does not eliminate it altogether. Individuals are still allowed to have their own property, which distinguishes them from other humans.

    Moreover smaller societies within larger political society still continue to have their own political interests. Although Rousseau suggests these interests should be aligned with the General Will, he does not suggest these smaller societies be eliminated, meaning there is still capacity for humans to distinguish themselves from each other operating under the General Will. Remember: This is just a sample from a fellow student.

    Sorry, copying is not allowed on our website. Nevertheless, Rousseau understands that even for institutions like property and civil society to be possible there must be huge and important developments that go on or take place even prior to this, moral and psychological transformations of human beings. It is Rousseau the moral psychologist where his voice truly comes out. In many ways, Rousseau like Plato finds his voice when discussing the various complexities of the human soul.

    Real inequality begins in a faculty or a disposition that is in fact in most editions of the book rendered simply by the French term because it is really untranslatable into English. Amour-propre , again, is an untranslatable word but in many ways is related to a range of psychological characteristics such as pride, vanity, conceit. In the translation that you have, I believe, the translator refers to it as egocentrism, a kind of ugly modern psychologistic term I think but better and more accurately, evocatively translated by terms like vanity and conceit or pride.

    How are these distinguished? These are two passions very different by virtue of their nature and their effects. How did this sentiment arise first of all?


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    How did it come about and I suppose fundamentally and more importantly, what can or should be done about it? If the natural state is truly solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, what would it mean in such a state to feel pride or vanity that requires human sociability and requires the esteem of others and somehow the gaze or the look of others?

    Rousseau's Discourse On Inequality

    But how did that happen? Rousseau speculates about this and, again, this is part of his hypothetical or conjectural history. Listen to the way in which he speculates how this arose. The one who sang or danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the most adroit or the most eloquent became the most highly regarded and this was the first step toward inequality and at the same time toward vice. From these first preferences were born vanity and contempt on the one hand and shame and envy on the other and the fermentation caused by this new leavens eventually produced compounds fatal to happiness and innocence.

    The desire for recognition, he says, is at the root of our sense of justice and underlying this, I think, is the intuition powerful and in many ways I think deeply true, that our feelings, beliefs, opinions and attitudes be acknowledged and respected by others around us, that we matter in some way. Consider again just the following. I want to read one other passage from the same part of the text. From this came the first duties of civility even among savages and from this every voluntary wrong became an outrage. It is the sort of contempt that is implied or entailed in the act of injury.

    Acts of revenge became terrible and men became bloodthirsty and cruel. Does this sound familiar?

    Essay about A Discourse on Inequality - Words | Bartleby

    I think it should. I was trying to think of some example that might fit this and one I came up with when I was thinking about this earlier—consider a story that was much in the news. I forget if it was last spring or last summer sometime. The Danish cartoon controversy. Do you remember that, about the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad and the outrage and the protests, often violent, that occurred about that? To some degree, Rousseau might argue, the protests were about disrespectful cartoons of the prophet but he would argue, I suspect, that the deeper cause seemed to be that the protesters believed was disrespect being shown to them, to their beliefs, to what it is they held sacred in some sense.

    It is their beliefs that were being disrespected and were the cause of the protests. Amour-propre , as Rousseau I think himself recognizes, is this very volatile passion. It contains the desire to be respected again and acknowledged that is at the root of justice and virtue and yet at the same time this passion, as we know, is easily manipulable by those who wish to convince others that their basic entitlements or views are not being respected. To some degree, I think, Rousseau would believe the protesters over those cartoons had a point. It is not the business of government to ensure that your beliefs are being respected.

    This is a respectable, sort of liberal line of thought going from Locke to John Stuart Mill, and yet, while I am inclined to agree very much with that point of view, there is something powerful and true about what Rousseau has to say about it, about this kind of issue. Lockean liberal thought was addressed in many ways to people who had experienced the crucible of civil war, a century of religious conflict and were looking for a way to settle their religious and political differences.

    Toleration in many ways is a liberal virtue because it requires us to distinguish between beliefs that we may take with the utmost seriousness in private life and yet nevertheless bracket them in some way once we enter the public world. This, in many ways, is the peculiar liberal virtue of self-restraint or self-denial, that we refuse to allow our own moral point of view to, in many ways, dominate in the public space.

    But it is one thing, you might say, to tolerate other views and another thing to accord them respect and esteem. That seems to be something very different from what Locke talked about.