How does Rousseau distinguish the natural world and the civilized world?
By painting images that the reader can either clearly envision or relate to, and including the reader in such images through the use of first-person pronouns, Rousseau succeeds in depicting the distinctions between the natural and the civilized worlds in his work Discourse on Inequality. The text itself is a reasoning process, one which took me by the hand and made me explore different scenarios. Because these scenarios were easily imaginable and relatable, the images made me be naturally immersed in the text, and I was then presented the distinctions between nature and society while feeling participant of the philosophical claims that Rousseau sets forth.
Early in Part I of his work, I notice how Rousseau establishes one of the first images of two men, one closely kindred to nature —a “savage,” and one civilized, and how differences in their survival techniques reflect larger, more profound differences between nature and society. Rousseau outlines how “the body of a savage being the only instrument he knows, he puts it to all sorts of uses which our bodies, for lack of practice, are incapable; our equipment deprives us from that strength and agility which necessity obliges him to acquire” (Rousseau 82). Rousseau sets forth a major difference between a savage and a civilized man: the savage depends only on his own body to survive, while the civilized man depends on what Rousseau calls “equipment.” However, it is by paying attention to the two parties being distinguished, the While the term “savage” makes me envision an individual free of societal norms, it is the pronoun “us,” which makes Rousseau’s claims become personal (as it is written in first person, and thus includes the reader), and which ties me to the text making me be participant of the image being described. I then become, in a way, a character in the text, which makes the next image that Rousseau presents be significantly personal as well. He outlines: if the “civilized man” gathers “all his machines around him, no doubt he will easily beat the savage” but if “the two are pitted naked and unarmed” the “advantages of having all one’s forces constantly at one’s command” (82) will be seen. In this image, it is the savage and myself that I envision in a duel, due to Rousseauer. The adjective “naked” then, more than a plain description of my physical state when battling a savage, becomes a metaphor to compare my defenselessness in such an uncivilized situation, where I am unable to utilize tools (which I unravel how much I depend on) for my survival. By becoming part of the text then, I grasp a difference between the natural and civilized world: there is no dependence of tools in nature, while in society, they are indispensable for survival.
Rousseau then explains how there is no need for medicine in the natural world, and that in the civilized world, it is only necessary because “we bring upon ourselves more diseases than medicine can furnish remedies” (84). Again, even before presenting his idea of how medicine is a distinguishing factor between both worlds, Rousseau makes me, the reader, through the use of the pronoun “we,” be an active participant of his philosophical theory. He continues by outlining a set of circumstances that cause the need for medicine: “late nights,” “excesses of all kinds,” “fatigue,” “exhaustion of mind,” “sorrows and anxieties that people in all classes suffer” (84). The fact that these series of societal hardships are significantly universal, coupled with my previous sense of inclusion in the text, makes me be able to relate to all such circumstances. For instance, by reading “late nights,” I envision myself staying up at late hours studying for an exam; by reading “exhaustion of mind,” I envision myself at the end of an academic semester. I am thus able to effectively accept Rousseau’s reasoning, as my experience suggests his claims are true. All readers will then mold these described “causes of illnesses” to their contexts, and will most likely agree with Rousseau’s claims. By “adhering to the simple, unchanging and solitary way of life that nature ordained” (84) Rousseau then claims, “we might have avoided nearly all of them [causes of illness]” (84). Rousseau then, by immersing the reader in the text, through relatable images, successfully presents yet another major distinction: there is a need for medicine in society but not in nature.
“I have neither received nor given unauthorized material during the completion of this work”
x. Daniel Majluf
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Edited by Donald A. Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1983. Print.