Rousseau vs. Marx

Topics: Human, State of nature, Thomas Hobbes Pages: 6 (2256 words) Published: May 7, 2006
In his "Discourse on the Origins of Inequality," Rousseau argues that the arts and sciences "which first civilized men, ruined humanity." The philosopher challenges Thomas Hobbes' theory of the wicked nature of man, arguing that it is not man's nature but society and the pleasantries of civilization that have weakened and demonized mankind: "It appears, at first view, that men in a state of nature, having no moral relations or determinate obligations to one another, could not be either good or bad, virtuous or vicious" (279). The nature of man, therefore, is naturally untainted and based on compassion- a basic, innate virtue. Man's nature is neither good nor evil, neither wracked with steadfast competition nor satiated of philanthropy. Man simply uses instinct, not intellect and reason, to survive. Compassion, Roussea argues, is evident as the only characteristic of man that civilization has yet to erase. For instance, both man and animal cringe at the sight of murder or the deceased of one of its kind. Through the recognition of others in society, falsification of differences, and needs of possession, Rousseau concludes that "the state of nature, being that in which the care for our own preservation is the least prejudicial to that of others, was consequently the best calculated to promote peace, and the most suitable for mankind" (280).

Rousseau deduces that in civilization, or under domestication, as man grows more sociable, he also "grows weak, timid, and servile" (279). For the survival of the human species in nature, man needed to develop keen athleticism, learn to deal with famine and thirst, practice agility and intellect. Just as a horse in the wild is stronger, robust, and more vivacious than one bred in the stall, a human given the advantages of a civilization at birth is bound to have muted capabilities. Both horse and human, "by becoming domesticated, lose half these advantages; and it seems as if all our care to feed and treat them well serves only to deprave them," argues the philosopher, reflecting his belief that civil society softens the natural characteristics of man (278). Therefore, though we are more technologically advanced at status quo, we have actually eroded the innate qualities of man with innovations that make our actions easier than what our bodies and minds can handle. Society, as it rapidly progresses, pulls mankind further away from the natural state of being. The pace of civilization is so rapid that we have disassociated ourselves from the type of man that we once were, referring to "uncivilized" people in a distanced third person perspective, often disdainfully. The instinctive reaction to the term "savage" is a pessimistic one, having been contrived as something unrelated to our own present being and completely unlike the civilized people we have become. However, Rousseau argues that it impossible that savages be the dejected, uncouth wretches that we associate with their nature since, after all, "what kind of misery [can] a free being, whose heart is at ease and whose body is at health, possibly suffer?" (279). In nature humans and animals are granted only basic characteristics for survival, all other addendums to the character of man, such as civilization, can only further dilute humans from their purist, most adept form: that of a savage.

Misery, ironically, is rampant in the most advanced of societies. Rousseau's "Civilization" is characterized by competition, passions, and greed. Similar to the Hobbesian war that prevails before the institution of a sovereign, Rousseau agrees that the fundamental nature of man, though pure and noncombatant in nature, is tainted by the foundation of society and the advances of man. Hobbes's idea of a "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" life of man is hardly the case in man's natural state. Rousseau concludes that man, in nature, "being rather wild than wicked, and more intent to guard themselves against the mischief that might...
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