Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality


It is said that language and reasoning separates a civilized man from a savage man. A civilized man is measured according to his mental and physical capacity. For Rousseau, he measures what causes the existing problems of the modern society that man is facing which is the most relevant issue in this discussion. It is the system in the society which makes man a slave of his own image wherein he tries to change his own true self to please other people. He tries to develop himself so he can be in the inner circle of the kind of society that he wishes to be accepted as a part of them which Rousseau termed as “amour proper” or “self love” to which Rousseau termed as “factitious passions” due to the fact that they inauthentic therefore, they are not true to themselves but rather they molded themselves through education and training for him to be accepted in the modern society of man making him almost unrecognizable from that of the savage man.

Rousseau said that the second type of self love that is “a purely relative and factitious feeling, which arises in the state of society, (and) leads each individual to make more of himself than of any other…” (369). This simply means that man in the modern world, man aspires for more to elevate himself to bolster his ego and be recognized from the ordinary men; that those who owns more properties are more distinguished than those who are self contented; the savage man who is self-satisfied with his basic needs only which is his “natural self-love” otherwise known as “amour-de-sui”.

Though Rousseau did not say that he is one, he pictured a savage man as true to himself and to others because his needs are limited and he has no ulterior motives to outsmart and deceive others. What he has in mind is his animal instinct and that is for reproduction alone. That is the savage man’s state of nature in order to survive is only food and sex and to find a place where he could just settle and rest. The modern man looks for a place and set this as his and his property and his trademark for distinction. Modern life is therefore full of pretence and deception.

Rousseau’s discourse is in contrast to the pessimistic assertions of Locke, Hobbes and that man’s natural condition is “poor, nasty’ brutish and short” (Hobbes 76) or “wicked and deceitful” by Machiavelli (Machiavelli 69). Hobbes’ argument is that man’s natural pursuit is by nature treacherous.

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