Rousseau’s Second Discourse

A critical analysis of Rousseau’s `Second Discourse on Human Inequality`.

The paper examines and analyzes Rousseau’s Second Discourse on Human Inequality that puts forward a theory of social evolution that points out the ‘advances’ of society (organized behavior, private property, money, and medicine) as its greatest failings. The paper highlights the flaws in this theory and argues that Rousseau’s views are more informed by the issues of his era than by any anthropological research into the governments of the past. The paper finds that the `Second Discourse on the Origin of Inequality` is unconvincing because modern students are exposed to scientific and scholarly opinions that contradict this view of human health, society and history.
`Language, in Rousseau’s scheme, is what leads man out of savagery and allows him to form society. Human language develops out of a need to communicate those ideas that occur to us which are not about subjects (like hunting) that wolves or other pack animals can clearly agree upon without the faculty of speech. Rousseau imagines this development of languages to be a long, drawn-out process, much involved with the capacity of the mind to reason abstractly. Abstract reasoning is extremely difficult without the aid of language, many (including Rousseau) might even say impossible. Some of his notable emphasis on language as a defining human attribute confuses the use of words with the process of defining them, as when he writes: How, for instance, could they have understood or thought of the words matter, spirit, substance, mode, figure, motion, when even our philosophers, who have so long been making use of them, have themselves the greatest difficulty in understanding them; and when, the ideas attached to them being purely metaphysical, there are no models of them to be found in nature? (Rousseau, 133) But this is forgivable, since as a philosopher, he is too close to the debate over the meanings of these words to be considered an impartial judge.`