Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) has had a great impact on history as well as philosophy throughout the years. He is the most widely cited philosopher of the eighteenth century. In The First and Second Discourses he argues that culture taught people ideas which enslaved them in society. Thus he firmly holds that everyone is better off in his or her original state of nature. The original state of nature is calm and peaceful. Rather it is a simplistic form of life. Rousseau idealizes a classless society and finds civilized men to be corrupt. He finds man living in the original state of nature at the greatest advantage than man living in society. Society produces inequality and restraints whereas the original state of nature does not. In The First and Second Discourses Rousseau describes what life is like in the original state of nature and argues that it is preferable over civilized society due to several prevailing factors.
Rousseau believes that man in the original state of nature has no fears. Men are physically fit to protect themselves against beasts because they acquire the skills and easily adapt. Men are strong and are “accustomed from infancy to inclemencies of the weather and the rigor of seasons, trained in fatigue, and forced . . . to defend their lives” (106). Nature renders man strong and robust thereby setting a distinction from man in society who is dependent upon others for survival. The savage man learns quickly and surpasses animals in respect to skill very quickly. Hence, man is easily capable of outsmarting and trapping ferocious beasts when necessary. Yet it is very rare that conflict arises between man and animal in the original state of nature.
In the original state of nature all things move uniformly, whereas in society there is constant change and inconsistency. Savage man gives no importance to time like civilized man does. Civilized man relies on time to progress in life and as a result has many worries about the future. Because the savage man has no sense of time he does not fear the coming of death. Rather death comes to him naturally. However, in a civilized society fear of death is a major concern. Civilized man is not prepared for the coming of death and in unsure of what to expect which produces apprehension. Man in the original state of nature have “few sources of illness” and “hardly has need of remedies”(110). In this respect, the human condition is not any worse than the others are. It is easy for the savage man to learn of sick animals from hunters. Yet, a sick savage man is not accustomed to relying upon medicine to heal his illness. Therefore, a savage has no expectations from nature and “nothing to fear except from his illness, which often renders his situation preferable”(111). Rousseau continues to prove that the fact that man in the original state of nature has no sense of time indicates that man has no worries or anxieties. Man is not concerned with tomorrow. On the other hand, civilized man is occupied with the future and is very self-conscious, which is undesirable.
In addition, in civilized society vanity and pride emerge as a social condition. Alternatively, the savage man is free and strong and does not suffer from these vices. When man becomes sociable he becomes a slave to society which makes him “weak, fearful, [and] servile”(111). Man is a slave to the laws that govern social order and is restrained when compared to the savage man. Rousseau attributes man’s softness as being a product of civilized society. Savage man’s principal objective is to defend and attack and therefore cannot let softness and sensuality overtake him. “Savage man, by nature [is] committed to instinct alone” which is why he has no morals. Instinct is the most basic guidance factor to live by which makes life and decisions less complicated. The savage man does not suffer from temptation of passions, which is admirable according to Rousseau. For “his modest needs are so easily found at hand”(117) and his lack of desire to become more knowledgeable leaves him without curiosity. Thus, nothing agitates his soul nor can desire override his needs. As a result, he could not be good or evil and have no vices or virtues. However, it is these desires and passions that cause civilized man to indulge in vices. The life of a savage man requires only the basic necessities “nourishment, a female and repose”(116), which is a favorable way to live.
According to Rousseau, in the original state of nature there is no direct relationship between men. Henceforth, savage man is peaceful and has no will to harm others. “Pity is a natural sentiment which . . . takes the place of laws, morals, and virtue”(133) which will dissuade any savage from harming others. Civilized man, in contrast, seeks revenge and engages in evils when he deems necessary. The more violent civilized man gets; the need for laws arises. These laws restrain man and cause disorder at times, which is unfavorable to the savage man. Rousseau entertains the thought of peace in nature and finds it satisfying. He thinks, “love is an sentiment born of the usage of society”(135). There lies no sentiment of love or jealousy, which stimulates acts of evil, in the original state of nature. The savage man is “not susceptible to the sentiments of admiration and love”(135). Rather, he observes only to the temperament he received from nature; any woman is good enough for him.
Nevertheless, the concept of inequality is barely conceived in the original state of nature. “For animal and man having been treated equally by nature”(111) is the norm. On the contrary, civilized man has various class distinctions. In society, knowledge is power and determines the status of man. The level of education a civilized man has received is reflected in his lifestyle. The savage man has no regard for material things and so there lies no differences in that manner in the state of nature. The wealthy men of civilized society trap the poor, which cause inequality. Rousseau thus argues that the poor are closer to living in the state of nature. Another act of inequality found in civil societies is among the sexes. Male dominance is a common practice in civil society. Civil men use love to gain power over women. The moral element of love is a sentiment “and extolled with much skill and care by women . . . and make dominant the sex that ought to obey”(135). Once again, this sentiment is based on beauty. There is no concept of beauty in the original state of nature. A savage finds beauty insignificant and is incapable of comparing women; his mind is not trained in that manner.