The DISCOURSE ON THE ORIGIN OF INEQUALITY is one of the early works in which Rousseau examines and expounds his rebellion against the social order as it exists, a revolt that the writer was to continue throughout his life. Rousseau believed that the evils which plague mankind have their origins not in sin but in man’s departure from the natural state, in which man was happy and good. This is the typical Romantic view of the Noble Savage.
In his inquiry into the origins of inequality, Rousseau begins with man, the core and motivation of his study. He states that there are two kinds of inequality among men. One is “natural or physical” because it is created by nature and consists of the obvious physical differences. The second is what he calls “moral or political inequality,” which grows out of convention and flowers because of the “consent of men.” The inquiry accepts the beliefs of religion that God took man out of a state of nature by His will, but it considers also what might have become of man had he been left to develop by himself.
The first part of the inquiry concerns itself with man in his natural state, the state of nature, the “embryo of his species.” In this animal state, he was the most promising of all other animals, and was therefore the most felicitously situated. He was free from artificial worries and not given to reflection. Rousseau asserts the extreme position that man thinking is a depraved...
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