Rousseau’s theory of a state of nature is quite famous, even if he did not invent it: at least Thomas Hobbes had explored this concept before him. However, the general memory often forgets that this state of nature is not a historical reality.
For it is no small undertaking to disentangle what is original and artificial in the present nature of man, and to know well a state which no longer exists, which perhaps never existed, which probably never will, and yet of which it is necessary to have correct notions in order to judge our present state. It would require even more philosophy than one might think for one who would undertake to determine exactly the precautions to be taken in order to make solid observations on this subject; and a good solution of the following problem would not seem to me to be unworthy of the Aristotle and Pliny of our century. What experiments would be necessary to arrive at a knowledge of the natural man; and what are the means of carrying out these experiments within society? Far from undertaking to solve this problem, I believe that I have meditated enough on the subject, to dare to answer in advance that the greatest philosophers will not be too good to direct these experiments, nor the most powerful; a competition to which it is hardly sovereign to make them; reasonable to expect above all with the perseverance or rather the succession of lights and good will necessary on both sides to arrive at success.
Speech on the origin and the foundations of the Inequality among the Men, Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau seeks to understand the origin of inequality among men. He thus imagines a state of nature, original. But beware, this is a pitfall often found in the copies: this original state of nature for Rousseau not only no longer exists, but above all “perhaps never existed“.
It is indeed a state invented and imagined by Rousseau, to better understand the entry of the artificial into human life.
Another article would also be useful to disprove another preconceived idea: society is not identified with Evil for Rousseau, because the goodness of man put to the test by society which “corrupts man” is not a moral issue. Conversely, Rousseau theorizes the social contract as a good development. → Summary of the 1st book of Rousseau’s Social Contract
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