Rousseau: The natural man

From reading Rousseau’s A Discourse on inequality,  I found it interesting how Rousseau’s idea of a man in the natural state differs from that of Hobbes in Leviathan. Rousseau suggests two principles: first, that one’s “own wellbeing” and “own preservation” (70) are man’s main concerns in a natural state. And second, that man does not like to witness, “any other sentient being perish or suffer, especially if it is one of our kind” (70). Man is suggested to be almost animalistic in nature, and is concerned with his own well-being. Despite this self-concern, Rousseau also claims that men care for the lives of others. As long as a man’s own interest in his life is not threatened, “he will never to harm to another man or indeed to any other…” (71).

This view differs greatly from Hobbes, making his views conveyed in Leviathan seem almost cynical and even critical of men in their natural state. According to Hobbes, men are motivated by fear of fellow men and by their fear of death. Men have a strong desire, or appetite for power, which Hobbes juxtaposes with fear.

These two vastly contrasting arguments both raise interesting points. According to Rousseau, we are both primal, yet we seem to care for others as long as we are not at risk ourselves. However Hobbes highlights man’s greed and hunger to seize power from fellow men. This made me raise questions of humans in our natural state: are we really constantly in fear of death? Or are such fears only possible to have once we are out of the natural state, as according to Rousseau? Even now, I’d argue that we do not have a concrete answer to what we really are in our natural state.

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