After reading Rousseau’s “A Discourse on Inequality”, I had a lot going through my head. First of all, I was astounded by the detail and incredible insight Rousseau showed in his work when describing mankind in the state of nature, especially the learning of language. The very idea that Rousseau is a couple hundred years dead and yet was so accurate in describing mankind’s early stages is incredible. Perhaps it’s the detail he goes into, explaining the savage man’s life in the wild, the fear, and everything else he describes. Or maybe it’s the way he so effortlessly picks apart the differences, physical and mental, between the modern day man and the savage man. Rousseau was simply ahead of his time, and it’s shown by his ideas and writing.
It’s easy to praise a work, but there’s also a few things which bothered me with Rousseau’s “A Discourse on Inequality”. The way in which Rousseau holds man up, on a pedestal almost bathed in the golden light of divinity, almost as if nothing could amount to mankind’s great intelligence and organization. While of course I see that humans are greatly above your average animal in intelligence, I do think that Rousseau greatly underestimated animals. He gave them little credit, basically saying they were slave to instinct, unable to improve themselves, and too dumb to learn language. Then again, it is sometimes hard to remember that this was written in an era illuminated by candlelight.
Perhaps one of the reasons I like Rousseau and his work is because at certain points he just plainly admits that he has no idea how something came about. When talking about how grammarians came about to continue the evolution of language, he simply states that he doesn’t know how they came about. I like the fact that he isn’t trying to cover up his lack of knowledge with false facts, and it’s refreshing to read such an intelligent writer admit that in regards to certain things, he just doesn’t have a clue.
Of all the things I could say, I basically like the fact that Rousseau seems to have a solid amount of common sense. He understands basic ideas like how wild animals will be a bit tougher than domesticated ones, and with a solid amount of sense he’s able to apply the same idea to humans, deriving that in fact humanity has physically devolved, and that we are much weaker than the humans forced to live in the state of nature. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed Rousseau’s work, and I’m hoping there will be more surprises like this throughout the semester.