How is human nature characterized by Jean Jacques Rousseau?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Indeed, Rousseau views the social interactions of individuals as the root of all that is wrong and the elements that corrupt individuals.  When individuals are born free in the state of nature, they possess a sense of self love which is pure and an authentic expression of one's existence in the world.  This form of expression called amour propre is when individuals hold a sense of harmony about themselves and the world around them.  As they become more integrated with social settings, Rousseau argues that this is where the more unhealthy of self love happens.  This form of self love allows individuals to begin to view themselves through the eyes of others, causing a sense of self love that is predicated upon on possession and control.  This idea of self love is called amour de soi, and when this happens within individuals, there can be little in the way of cooperation as there is competition and antagonism between one another.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To Rousseau, human nature is basically good.  One of his more famous sayings is "man is born free and everywhere he is in chains."

When he says this, Rousseau is arguing that people were actually good in the state of nature.  This is very much in contrast with Hobbes, who says that people are naturally brutal.

To Rousseau, it is only society that has made people selfish.  In the state of nature, people pretty much lived in harmony with one another and with nature.  But later on, they came into societies and that's what caused problems.

mkcapen1 | Student

Jean Jacques Rousseau views human nature as basically being good and pure until society corrupts it.  He philosophizes that a human begins feeling self confident and is a mentally healthy being, but once subjected to the expectations, condemnations, and influences of society the person is no longer healthy and begins to experience a loss of confidence.  Society causes a person to become prideful and forge ahead for unrealistic goals.  Thereby, losing one's own self and as a result loses freedom.  The person has been chained by social corruption.  Death and the idea of immortality after death is a means of the human coming to terms with having an outlet or escape from the chains. 

lit24 | Student

We can learn of Rousseau's views on human nature from his Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men (Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes), also commonly known as the"Second Discourse" (1754,1755).

The first part deals with man's relationship with Nature and his natural state. Rousseau's main argument is that the main cause for all of mankind's problem is not 'sin' but his separation from 'Nature.' He believed that Nature has always been kind to man and only when he separates himself from Nature that he degenerates both physically and morally. This is in direct contrast to Hobbes' views that man is fundamentally corrupt.

In the second part of the essay Rousseau states that man became more and more corrupt and degenerate as he became a 'social animal.' The root cause for all of man's social problems is ownership of property. He concurs with John Locke's statement “There can be no injury, where there is no property.” From this vice spring all the other vices like selfishness, greed, pride, etc.

myangels | Student

For Rousseau, humans are not totally wicked by nature..some of his wickedness comes from experiences.