Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality Among Men
Translated by Ian Johnston
Rousseau's text is divided into four main parts: the dedication, the preface, an extended inquiry into the nature of the human being and another inquiry into the evolution of the human species within society. Also, there is an appendix that elaborates primarily on eighteenth century anthropological research throughout the text. Rousseau discusses two types of inequality: natural, or physical inequality, and ethical, or moral inequality. Natural inequality involves differences between one human's body and that of another—it is a product of nature. Rousseau is not concerned with this type of inequality because he claims it is not the root of the inequality found in civil society. Instead, he argues moral inequality is unique to civil society and is evinced in differences in "wealth, nobility or rank, power and personal merit." This type of inequality is established by convention. Rousseau appears to take a cynical view of civil society, where man has strayed from his "natural state" of individual independence and freedom to satisfy his individual needs and desires.
His discussion begins with an analysis of a natural man who bears, along with some developed animal species, instincts for self-preservation—a non-destructive love of self (amour de soi meme)—and a "natural repugnance" to suffering—a natural pity or compassion. Natural man acts only for his own sake and avoids conflicts with other animals (and humans). Rousseau's natural man is more or less like any other animal, with "self-preservation being his chief and almost sole concern" and "the only goods he recognizes in the universe" being "food, a female, and sleep..." Rousseau's man is a "savage" man. He is a loner and self-sufficient. Any battle or skirmish was only to protect himself. The natural man was in prime condition, fast, and strong, capable of caring for himself. He killed only for his own self-preservation.