Theory of a Natural Man

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Theory of Natural Man

Rousseau saw a fundamental divide between society and human nature. Rousseau believed that man was good when in the state of nature (the state of all other animals, and the condition humankind was in before the creation of civilization and society), but is corrupted by society. This idea has often led to attributing the idea of the noble savage to Rousseau, an expression first used by John Dryden in The Conquest of Granada (1672). Rousseau, however, never used the expression himself and it does not adequately render his idea of the natural goodness of humanity. Rousseau's idea of natural goodness is complex and easy to misunderstand. Contrary to what might be suggested by a casual reading, the idea does not imply that humans in the state of nature act morally; in fact, terms such as 'justice' or 'wickedness' are simply inapplicable to pre-political society as Rousseau understands it. Humans there may act with all of the ferocity of an animal. They are good because they are self-sufficient and thus not subject to the vices of political society. He viewed society as artificial and held that the development of society, especially the growth of social interdependence, has been inimical to the well-being of human beings.

In Rousseau's philosophy, society's negative influence on men centers on its transformation of amour de soi, a positive self-love, into amour-propre, or pride. Amour de soi represents the instinctive human desire for self-preservation, combined with the human power of reason. In contrast, amour-propre is artificial and forces man to compare himself to others, thus creating unwarranted fear and allowing men to take pleasure in the pain or weakness of others. Rousseau was not the first to make this distinction; it had been invoked by, among others, Vauvenargues.

In "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences" Rousseau argued that the arts and sciences had not been beneficial to humankind because they were not human needs, but...
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