Jean Jacques Rousseau And The Essence Of Human Nature

1757 words - 7 pages

Rousseau starts his discourse with the quote, “What is natural has to be investigated not in beings that are depraved, but in those that are good according to nature” (Aristotle. Politics. II). It is this idea that Rousseau uses to define his second discourse. Rousseau begins his story of human nature by “setting aside all the facts” (132). Rousseau believes the facts of the natural state of humanity are not necessary to determine the natural essence of human nature, and adding facts based on man’s condition in society does not show man’s natural condition. The facts don’t matter for Rousseau because to understand the essence of human nature requires looking to how man is in a completely natural state. Since man is no longer in this state, to determine this state means ignoring how man is now and focusing on man’s traits in a state completely different than the one man is in now. This is what Rousseau tries to do in imagining a state of nature. For Rousseau, the story of the state of nature is not meant to be used as a critique of human nature but as a way to discover the essence of human nature.
Rousseau starts his discourse by sets aside all the facts to understand the natural state of man untainted by the traits of man in society. He states “the inquiries that may be pursued regarding this subject ought not be taken for historical truths, but only for hypothetical and conditional reasonings; better suited to elucidate the nature of things than to show their genuine origin” (132). The subject is the genuine nature of man. To discover this nature the facts cannot help because they do not look to the nature of man in his original state but to the man of now. Facts of the past help more in the discovery in the man of now than the beginning of man. Rousseau ignores “the books by your kind, who are liars” (133) and looks to “nature, which never lies” (133). The books of history are records written by man for man. They “lie” about the true origin of man by showing facts and beliefs about the present man and how he evolved. Yet, nature shows man as he once was. By using nature as the guide, Rousseau can discover the man of the past a man different than the man of today.
By setting aside all the facts, Rousseau creates a state of nature that proves man to be naturally free and good. Once Rousseau sets aside the facts he creates a story that shows man should be “discontented with your present state, for reasons that herald even greater discontent for your unhappy Posterity, you might perhaps wish to be able to go backwards” (133). This is true because man is free. Rousseau starts by “stripping this being, so constituted, of all the supernatural gifts he may have received, and of all the artificial faculties he could only have acquired by prolonged progress” (134). Man in his beginning is unsophisticated and irrational nothing more than “an animal “(134). But, in nature man has no authorities. In nature “men, dispersed among them [other animals],...

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