Fewer battles may lead one to believe that the society has improved and this book will tell you how this is just a big mistake. Rousseau insists, more often than required, that man has not improved. Yes, he doesn’t go to war as much as before only because he has advanced, not improved. He doesn’t have to come to your place to rule you now, he can do it sitting at his place.
The rule still remains that of the strongest and inequality keeps increasing.
Rousseau is begging us to understand how nature only produced equality and it is man who created in equality. At the very beginning of the Discourse we learn something about Rousseau’s epistemology. He believes man cannot get to the truth but he can try and that’s as far as he can go. Rousseau believes he is only clarifying the problem and showing people the right track so the others can go further towards the truth. He clearly calls it impossible to reach the truth.
Moving on, let’s consider a few propositions that are presented early in the Discourse. He says the two operations of human soul, prior to reason, are:
1. Harmless, self-preservation
2. Compassion for other beings
In the same paragraph Rousseau suggests that these two operations are considered by reason as natural law, which they are not. His argument is that they are not natural law because they are prior to nature and reason developed later.
Later in part two, Rousseau puts how gradually harmless self-preservation becomes harmful and eventually leads to inequality. This happens when man faces problems to gather food and he has to adapt to the environment. He is faced with beasts. The trees are to tall for him to pick fruits. So, was nature nurturing the primitive man and gave up on him which is why he had to go hunting and killing for food? This premise is rather weak. I believe the savage man, Rousseau talks about, always faced problems.
Secondly, is self-preservation the element that creates inequality among men? If yes then how can man be born free if self-preservation is a necessary operation of his soul? This would conclude that man was never meant to be free. His creation with self-preservation means that the present state of the civil society was inevitable.
Coming back to the book, we can learn that where Hobbes man is naturally ready to fight and attack, Rousseau’s man is much nicer. He knows compassion and he only attacks for self-defense or food. Rousseau has quite a godly image of this savage man he talks about in his book. His savage man would live alone in trees and caves and would eat fruits and mate randomly with the female of his specie. My concern here is what else does he do? Eats, sleeps, mates and that’s all? He prefers to live alone so he probably roams around for food. Even then, there is not much that he does all day. I bet he gets into fights quite frequently in his look for food since there are many species living in the same habitat and none of them is growing anything to eat.
Coming back to the book once again, there are a few good inferences he draws that I would like to mention. Rousseau talks about the main steps primitive man took towards the current civil society. The first step was when the first man declared property. Secondly, when man started to recognize people he also demanded recognition and this made public esteem more important. Inequality was introduced when one man helped the other and they figured how lucky they would be if they had the ability of more men than one.
Rousseau’s man is being corrupted by the development of human reasoning, this tells us how Rousseau is not a fan of reason. Anyhow, I think this book is a very good piece of literature but lousy philosophy.