A Discourse Upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality Among Mankind

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Cosimo, Inc., Dec 1, 2008 - Philosophy - 64 pages
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[F]rom the moment one man began to stand in need of another's assistance; from the moment it appeared an advantage for one man to possess the quantity of provisions requisite for two, all equality vanished; property started up; labour became necessary; and boundless forests became smiling fields, which it was found necessary to water with human sweat, and in which slavery and misery were soon seen to sprout out and grow with the fruits of the earth. -from "Second Part" Was man better off before he invented "civil society"? From where does social inequality spring? Did the development of agriculture and technology doom most of humanity to an everlasting enslavement to the tiny minority of the wealthy and the strong? This 1754 essay, written in response to concepts of the "natural man" developed by philosopher Thomas Hobbes, explores such ideas, radical at the time and still considered such today. Rousseau's thoughts continue to be echoed, however, in modern philosophical movements from feminism to environmentalism, and ensure that his examination of the history of human civilization, in its broadest sense, remains vital today. Swiss philosopher JEAN-JACQUES ROUSSEAU (1712-1778) was a dramatic influence on the French revolution, 19th-century communism, the American Founding Fathers, and much modern political thought. His works include Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750), Discourse on Political Economy (1755), and The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right (1762).
 

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About the author (2008)

Jean Jacques Rousseau was a Swiss philosopher and political theorist who lived much of his life in France. Many reference books describe him as French, but he generally added "Citizen of Geneva" whenever he signed his name. He presented his theory of education in Emile (1762), a novel, the first book to link the educational process to a scientific understanding of children; Rousseau is thus regarded as the precursor, if not the founder, of child psychology. "The greatest good is not authority, but liberty," he wrote, and in The Social Contract (1762) Rousseau moved from a study of the individual to an analysis of the relationship of the individual to the state: "The art of politics consists of making each citizen extremely dependent upon the polis in order to free him from dependence upon other citizens." This doctrine of sovereignty, the absolute supremacy of the state over its members, has led many to accuse Rousseau of opening the doors to despotism, collectivism, and totalitarianism. Others say that this is the opposite of Rousseau's intent, that the surrender of rights is only apparent, and that in the end individuals retain the rights that they appear to have given up. In effect, these Rousseau supporters say, the social contract is designed to secure or to restore to individuals in the state of civilization the equivalent of the rights they enjoyed in the state of nature. Rousseau was a passionate man who lived in passionate times, and he still stirs passion in those who write about him today.

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