Jean-Jacques Rousseau:
Lecture 2
PHIL 1003
Student comment
• “If vanity is the problem, shouldn’t the key
question be why such vanity occurs?
What are the circumstances, factors which
lead to it? If we know the cause that leads
to it, can we change it to address the
problem of vanity?”
Rousseau's State of Nature
• equality; natural inequalities minor;
• freedom/free will:
– from others, from servitude, from mere instinct;
• isolation & autonomy--no social relations, no
families (cf. Locke);
• no languages;
• no illness:
– “In becoming habituated to the ways of society ... he
becomes weak, fearful and servile”; savage is robust,
not weak and servile like civil man.
S of N, cont.
• Hunting-gathering; no sedentary agriculture/property:
– " ...what man would be so foolish as to tire himself out cultivating
a field that will be plundered by the first comer ... ?" (47).
• limited desires/passions:
– "His desires do not go beyond his physical needs. The only
goods he knows are ... nourishment, a woman and rest ... ".
– “His soul, agitated by nothing, is given over to the single feeling
of his own present existence, without any idea of the future". (cf.
Hobbes: man = welter of passions)
• faculty of self-perfection (vs animal instinct):
– "this distinctive and almost unlimited faculty is the source of all
man's misfortunes".
Stages of Transformation
• Little contact among people—no war;
• Nature provides fruits of the earth
• Emergence of language:
– “... it is clear, from the little care taken by
nature to bring men together through mutual
needs and to facilitate their use of speech,
how little she prepared them for becoming
habituated to the ways of society.”
• Isn’t music a kind of language anyway?
Consider the case of birds. Don’t all
species therefore communicate in some
way? (my paraphrase)
Early Society—’Hut Stage’
• language enables us to form ideas of
– property (mine/yours),
– Comparison (II.15-16):
• strong/weak,
• beautiful/ugly.
• early community life—beginning of vanity;
– relatively free from the evils of civil society;
– early social organization
– a limited notion of property.
The ‘Hut Stage’
• "this period ... maintaining a middle
position between the indolence of our
primitive state and the petulant activity of
our egocentrism must have been the
happiest and most durable epoch“.
Middle stage—still in huts
• Factors dictating further transformations:
– demographic increase
– natural disasters
– harsh climates
• Technological change:
– metallurgy
– Agriculture.
Our world emerges
• Division of labour: exploitation of some by
others, interdependence:
– "... as soon as one man realized that it was useful for
a single individual to have provisions for two, equality
disappeared ... (65)."
• state of war ensues:
– “... the destruction of equality was followed by the
most frightful disorder. Thus the usurpations of the
rich, the acts of brigandage by the poor, the unbridled
passions of all ... made men greedy, ambitious and
wicked .... Emerging society gave way to the most
horrible state of war ....”
The Wrong Social Contract
• the rich dream up the fraudulent social
– “... the most thought-out project that ever
entered the human mind. It was to use in his
favor the very strength of those who attacked
him ...”.
• the poor willingly take on the yoke:
– “They all ran to chain themselves, in the belief
that they secured their liberty ...”.
Big Hair, 18th century-style
What kinds of inequality does
this picture illustrate?
Student question
• “What makes us feel as though we need to
impress others? Why is our confidence
dependent on the way others react to our
outward appearance?”
What’s left? Empty appearances!
• “…everything being reduced to
appearances, everything becomes
factitious and play–acting…
• …we have nothing more than a deceiving
and frivolous exterior, honor without virtue,
reason without wisdom, and pleasure
without happiness…” (DOI, II.57).
We enable our own
“Citizens let themselves be oppressed only so
far as they are swept up by blind ambition
and…come to hold Domination dearer than
independence, and consent to bear chains so
that they might impose chains in turn” [II.51].
Civilized misery
• “…the Citizen, forever active, sweats,
scurries, constantly agonizes…he works to
the death, even rushes toward it in order
to be in a position to live…He courts the
great whom he hates, and the rich whom
he despises; he spares nothing to attain
the honor of serving them…” (II.57).
The final word on inequality
• Prelude to Marx:
“…it is manifestly against the Law of
Nature, however defined, that...a
handful of people abound in superfluities
while the starving multitude lacks
necessities” (II.58).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Lecture 2