Study Questions for Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality.

A thorough study of Rousseau's political theory must include at least the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and the Social Contract. We will read the Discourse this semester and the Social Contract next semester. The Discourse responds to Hobbes's and Locke's concepts of human nature and the "state of nature." It contains material that addresses questions (the "fundamental categories") of ethics, politics, sociology, anthropology, and epistemology, though much of this is in bits and pieces that you must glean from the text. The following are some questions to help guide your way.


(The question posed by the Academy of Dijon that prompted Rousseau's essay was "What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?)

1. What stands in our way when we try to discover human nature?

2. What is Rousseau's opinion of the views of modern writers on the "law of nature" or "natural right"?

3. What is the essential quality or foundation of natural right, according to Rousseau and Burlamaqui?

4. Are all human relationships essentially power relationships?

Discourse ("Dissertation"--a short introductory section).

1. What kinds of human "inequality" does Rousseau recognize and what kind will the Discourse focus upon?

2. Why do writers, including Rousseau, go back to a "state of nature"? How will Rousseau's inquiry differ from that of others?

3. Will this be a historical study? a "factual" study? a scientific study? a philosophical or theoretical study? a likely story?

Part One.

1. What are the main physical characteristics of the human animal?

2. What is the difference between men and animals? Is it human intelligence?

3. Are we born with intellectual aptitude superior to the intelligence of other animals?

4. What is the relation of intelligence to speech?

5. How soon in the history of man did he learn to speak? What made speech possible?

6. What moral standards are applicable to primitive man living in a state of nature?

7. Compare Rousseau's view of man to Hobbes's (Leviathan, ch. 13).

8. What is the nature of human love?

9. Does inequality exist in the state of nature? In other words, is inequality "natural"? Explain Rousseau's view at the end of the First Part.

10. What is Rousseau's view of man in the state of nature? Do men always live in an isolated, non-social condition in the state of nature?

Part Two.

1. What forced man out of his simple animal existence?

2. What was the basis of man's "new intelligence"?

3. What led individuals to begin living in society?

4. What consequences for the human condition followed from man's new mode of life?

5. What are the origins of morality and law? What is Rousseau's evaluation of this primitive "society"? (Why the quotes around "society"?)

6. What caused the change in this primitive condition?

7. What negative consequences did the development of the first arts have?

8. What was the basis of the first "political" society? (Why the quotes around "political"?)

9. What was the nature of the earliest governments?

10. What was the origin of despotism and slavery?

11. What role did inequality play in this development? Was it a cause? an effect? both cause and effect?

12. What effect did social development have on human "virtues" (excellences)? on human emotions? on human though generally?

13. What is the "new state of nature"?


What is the source of all human evil?

What should (can) we do about it?