Social Utopias: Will Saada Fall 2015

December 15, 2015

Response Paper 6

Filed under: Portfolio — William Saada @ 4:18 pm

Rousseau challenges the idea presented by Hobbes in his book the Leviathan arguing that man is naturally aggressive only wiling to accept a “social contract” with a ruler solely for the purpose of survival.  In essence, Hobbes’ argument takes a pessimistic view of the savage man contrary to Rousseau.  Government and rulers are necessary in order to keep mankind from constant conflict with one another.  This argument is the opposite as Rousseau’s claim.  Hobbes’ saw man as naturally evil.  Civilization is a means for man to protect himself from the brutality of other men.  There are similarities between the arguments but ultimately, Rousseau uses strong evidence to make his claim that man is naturally good and in the state of nature man is peaceful.

He uses concrete and abstract evidence to prove that man is not naturally even, in fact he is even somewhat compassionate.  Rousseau’s argument stems from the idea of man in the state of nature who knows nothing but his immediate surroundings and what he needs to survive.  Man has no clue what vice and virtue are.  From that Hobbes claims that since man knows no good he only knows evil.  However, Rousseau counters that claim first by arguing that compassion is nature within the savage man.  He argues, “An animal never passes the corpse of a creature of its own species without distress. (Rousseau 99).  This quotation projects his belief that creatures have compassion for their own kind.  This compassion is natural to the savage man.  Although he does not know right or wrong that does not mean he is left with brutality alone.  Man is more complex, even in the state of nature.  He goes further into this idea, claiming that man cares about the self-preservation of his species.  In seeing his own kind suffer he will naturally feel empathy and distress.

In addition, he makes an abstract argument in which he argues that man does not have the ability to commit vice, to the extent Hobbes argues, because they do not understand what it means to do good, and they have their needs under control.  First, man does not understand the difference between right and wrong.  He has no moral code and acts on instinct alone.  With no laws in place, man will act in order to satisfy his needs.  Rousseau claims, “… but the calm of the passions and ignorance of vice which prevents them from doing evil. (Rousseau).  By the “calm of his passions,” he means that man’s natural needs are satisfied in nature.  With sufficient food and shelter man will have no reason to harm one another. Additionally, he does not understand evil and what it means.  Since he feels compassion for the pain of his own kind than he will not be inclined to cause any violence unless there is a reason.

This contributes to his overall argument that civilization is what caused the inequalities among men because it helps the reader understand the steps man took toward this inequality.  It was not to stay safe in an otherwise dangerous environment, but it was our will too improve and the ambitions of men that formed societies.  If this is wrong then Rousseau’s entire argument, that man is more peaceful in the state of nature, falls apart.

I have neither given nor received unauthorized assistance in the completion of this work.

Works Cited

  1. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, and Maurice Cranston. A Discourse on Inequality. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1984

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