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Please explain the logic of the following sentence (in boldface) in Rousseau's "Discourse on Inequality".
Why would "the children to become burdensome to their parents" cause "murders them all without distinction"?

If I strip this being, thus constituted, of all the supernatural gifts which he may have received, and of all the artificial faculties, which we could not have acquired but by slow degrees; if I consider him, in a word, such as he must have issued from the hands of nature; I see an animal less strong than some, and less active than others, but, upon the whole, the most advantageously organized of any; I see him satisfying the calls of hunger under the first oak, and those of thirst at the first rivulet; I see him laying himself down to sleep at the foot of the same tree that afforded him his meal; and behold, this done, all his wants are completely supplied.

The earth left to its own natural fertility and covered with immense woods, that no hatchet ever disfigured, offers at every step food and shelter to every species of animals. Men, dispersed among them observe and imitate their industry, and thus rise to the instinct of beasts; with this advantage, that, whereas every species of beasts is confined to one peculiar instinct, man, who perhaps has not any that particularly belongs to him, appropriates to himself those of all other animals, and lives equally upon most of the different aliments, which they only divide among themselves; a circumstance which qualifies him to find his subsistence, with more ease than any of them.

Men, accustomed from their infancy to the inclemency of the weather, and to the rigour of the different seasons; inured to fatigue, and obliged to defend, naked and without arms, their life and their prey against the other wild inhabitants of the forest, or at least to avoid their fury by flight, acquire a robust and almost unalterable habit of body; the children, bringing with them into the world the excellent constitution of their parents, and strengthening it by the same exercises that first produced it, attain by this means all the vigour that the human frame is capable of. Nature treats them exactly in the same manner that Sparta treated the children of her citizens; those who come well formed into the world she renders strong and robust, and destroys all the rest; differing in this respect from our societies, in which the state, by permitting children to become burdensome to their parents, murders them all without distinction, even in the wombs of their mothers.

  • A little more context would perhaps be helpful. – Joseph Weissman Dec 9 '13 at 1:15
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    @JosephWeissman More context is provided. Here is the full discourse link: faculty.wiu.edu/M-Cole/Rousseau.pdf – wang zhihao Dec 9 '13 at 1:22
  • This oddly seems like an exam question. Please tell us, what you found out so far. We're not here to do your job instead of you. – iphigenie Dec 9 '13 at 7:45
  • @iphigenie I read the book with interest. Also I'm not a student majored in philosophy. I got my answer that the children are deprived of the practices offered by Nature, in other words, protected by parents. Thus they become weak and murdered in this sense. Rousseau think the "Survival of the fittest" destroy the weak while the our Civilisation "murder" without distinction. – wang zhihao Dec 9 '13 at 8:05
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Its an attack on the educational system of the State. Rousseau contrasts this against the natural education of the mind & body by Nature itself. Its part of his vision of the Noble Savage; and through this it becomes more - it is an attack on the form of Western Civilisation.

The children, bringing with them into the world the excellent constitution of their parents, and strengthening it by the same exercises that first produced it, attain by this means all the vigour that the human frame is capable of.

Here he describes the robust health & vigour of man, and the children of men following their example.

Nature treats them exactly in the same manner that Sparta treated the children of her citizens; those who come well formed into the world she renders strong and robust, and destroys all the rest

He refers to Wallaces 'Survival of the fittest'; and by comparing Nature to Sparta (where it was the military virtues that was honoured) one understand that the society he is critiquing is a society that deifies the mind, that is reason over the body.

One should note he doesn't think of Nature 'red in tooth and claw' since he also remarks Nature shelters - "offers at every step food and shelter to every species of animals" - and guides - "Men, dispersed among them observe and imitate their industry".

differing in this respect from our societies, in which the state, by permitting children to become burdensome to their parents, murders them all without distinction, even in the wombs of their mothers.

He understands that the educational apparatus of the state by reducing the vigour and self-sufficiency of children, renders them as a burden on their parents; and this dual disadvantage is what calls 'murder'. Murder of spiritual & bodily vigour.

So Rousseau, discoursing on the 'State of Nature', the first philosopher of this being perhaps, Hobbes, says that no philosopher has actually reached there. This is because they have mistaken both the essence of the State and the essence of Nature, and as in Platos Republic, set the State above Nature; or in some contemporary interpretations Nature above the State.

What he asserts is for Nature to be immanent in the State - and thus the metaphor of Sparta.

One might note, that the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss in a footnote in his book Tristes Tropiques, pejoratively remarks on the super-literacy of Islam; which on reflection is at least as true of the Christian West.

This whole story in some sense is a development of an argument in Platos Phaedrus, the myth of Theuth, which is generally taken to say that 'writing' as an educational innovation is prejudicial to learning which is in essence 'oral'. When one thinks of 'writing' as the technology of bureaucracy, that is the apparatus of the state, this is seen to be placed below the technology of the self, the one closer to mans own body, and of his own essence - 'speech'. Derrida, following Rousseau above shows how to dissolve this binary opposition & hierarchy in his essay Platos Pharmacy.

  • you might want to vote it up too, seeing that you've accepted it as your answer :). – Mozibur Ullah Dec 9 '13 at 6:30
  • Sadly my reputation is too low to vote up right now. But I do appreciate your thorough answer. – wang zhihao Dec 9 '13 at 7:19

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