'Tis of man I am to speak; and the very question, in answer to which I am to speak of him, sufficiently informs me that I am going to speak to men; for to those alone, who are not afraid of honouring truth, it belongs to propose discussions of this kind.
–Jean-Jacques Rousseau - A Discourse Upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality Among Mankind - c.1755, 2018
This is one of the readings for The Modern and Postmodern course I’m doing.
I’m not sure that Mr. Rousseau understands that sick and injured animals end up dead, that’s why hunters only find the strong and living. We know that treated properly animals in captivity often outlive their counterparts in the wild. His arguments that a natural environment are what’s best aren’t really founded on facts.
And of course the male way is the right, hard and unyielding are good, soft and effeminate are bad.
As for his argument that animals are but machines running on instinct while man1 runs on free will… I just don’t know. I mean, I am aware that we know so much more about the world today, about evolution and biology, and so while he may argue that a starving cat should eat corn we know that cats are obligate carnivores and it really wouldn’t do them any good. His argument that we are the same an animals in may respects I do agree with. People are better able to plan for the medium-term2 but more and more science seems to be showing that what we think of as free will and choices made aren’t really that at all. But animals do learn and acquire skills over their life-times. They do suffer from some of the same “dotage” as men, if they manage to live that long. People with older pets today are certainly aware that dogs can suffer from conditions similar to Alzheimer’s. Rousseau’s arguments seem founded on untruths.
However, while his facts may not be true, the idea that inequality and corruption set in with the discovery of “mine” seems about right.
All in all I have to say that I found this an interesting read, and one that I don’t think I would have tried without the prompting of the mooc.