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Discourse on Inequality

  • Date Submitted: 11/25/2013 12:36 PM
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Touré Strong         11/22/13
The Source of Inequality

Rousseau introduces a valid concept in his “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality”, “for how shall we know the source of inequality between men, if we do not begin by knowing mankind?” Rousseau attempts to shed light on the subject by begging the question “what is natural?” and simplifies the question of inequality to its proper form.
Rousseau acknowledges that in the past it was said that man is constituted by natural law and natural right, but he delves deeper into the definitions of the concepts. Before one can assign man to be governed by natural law, one would have to first define the words “natural” and “law”. Law is defined as a rule prescribed to a moral being. Natural man though in his state pre-socialization cannot be defined by adhering to a “law”, albeit a natural one, because he would have to be cognizant of the concept of law, which is an assumption. Law has to stem from reason, that is why man is the only creature said top operate by natural law, but Rousseau is looking towards man’s state prior to the development of reason. Natural means to “speak with the voice of nature”, that gives wind to the concept of natural right. Rousseau claims that he perceives two basic principles that exist “prior to reason”, these are self-preservation and pity, and he believes these qualities construct natural right. Neither principle requires sociability, which is what natural law relies on. He states that a man will not harm another man unless his own self-preservation is at risk. That characteristic stems not from rationality but from sentience. According to Rousseau this also answers the question of whether or not animals participate in natural law; he believes they do not because they are not rational, but they do participate in natural right because they are sentient beings. Rousseau harps on the fact that natural rights and natural laws are meaningless if one does not...


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