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A Discourse on Inequality by Rousseau

Well, we’re back into the swing of things. I hope everyone had a great break! Book number one of term two is done and we’ll soon be writing our essays. But for now let’s just focus on Rousseau.

            I thought this text was a good start to the term. I got into it fairly quickly and the only real trouble I had with the language was when I got frustrated at the run-on sentences that lasted for a paragraph. But other than that, all was well. Rousseau quite nicely explained what the “object of this discourse” was right at the beginning, and there were no points at which I felt I couldn’t follow his logic. All-in-all, I really enjoyed reading it. I still had disagreements of course, but that didn’t really interfere with the fact that I found his opinions quite interesting. I got really intrigued when Rousseau was talking about pity, around page 101. He asserts that pity is enough to stop cruelty and, as he says, save an old man from being robbed. I realized, reading that, that I’ve never given much thought to the power of pity. It certainly can be a powerful emotion, but is it really enough to be able to prevent murder or robbery if a person, alone and deprived of food, saw another person eating something they’d been unable to acquire? I feel like pity would play a small role.

            Part two was much more interesting than the first I felt. Part one was really just setting the stage for what he wanted to say about oppression and inequality once he was done clarifying terms and setting himself apart from Hobbes. This is when Rousseau starts to look less optimistic about humanity as he describes when certain vices came into play, and much is to blamed on society. (side note, it reminded me of our talk of monsters). Rousseau comes to define the “savage man” and the “civilized man” quite differently than is usually thought, as the civil man is made out to be more savage than the savage man himself. He talks about civilized society, and the different forms of government that can be established. At this point I was strongly curious about what he would think of Canada. We talked about what Hobbes’ opinion would be, could he come forward in time, which is why I think it’d be very interesting to do the same for Rousseau. Are we close enough to a state of nature for Rousseau? 

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5 thoughts on “A Discourse on Inequality by Rousseau

  1. I love that you brought up the question of what Rousseau would think of our society today. I definitely am not sure how Canada would fit into the equation, but there are definitely societies where Rousseau is most likely turning in his grave. I also love that you pointed out the fact that the savage possesses more civility than the civilized man. Although this may be a bit extremist, it definitely points out the corruption that society exhibits, however I think Rousseau was a tad extreme in his theory regarding this point.

  2. I find it interesting how you mentioned the power of pity. I’ve never thought much about it myself, but now that you have brought it up, I both agree and disagree about the amount of power pity exerts over us. It’s true that pity can, maybe, stop an old man being robbed. But a whole number of factors can also stop an old man being robbed- the old man might have powerful connections, he might be physically fit enough to ward off his robber, etc. I think that compassion in society is far more powerful. With enough compassion, we might not even have starving or desperate people. It’s a lack of a compassion that breeds murderers, thieves, and dysfunctional families.

  3. Well replying to your question on what Rousseau would think of our country… Personally, I think that Rousseau would be quite disappointed in Canada. We are very Hobbesian and our society is full of vices, distractions, all of which Rousseau would look down upon. We do have possibly more compassion in society compared to the period Rousseau was writing in, but at the same time our ignorance is greater.

  4. I believe the usage of old man is an attempt at showing someone who is defenseless. It could be to simply use as an example in order to demonstrate pity.

  5. You mentioned Rousseau’s writing style and use of language, and i agree that at times it was difficult to follow. Ironically Rousseau refers to language as one of the crucial building blocks of civilization. He criticizes schools for their overuse of language and then confuses the reader with his wording. I think this really highlights the fact that no observation can be completely objective. Rousseau is commenting on a society that he himself is part of, and many of the flaws that he points in out in society are likely flaws that has to some degree. I see this book as a good tool for emphasizing analysis and observation of one’s society, but also as a reminder that this is just one person’s perspective.

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