2

According to Rousseau, the human being is naturally good, and lived peacefully before the advent of civilization.

If it is the case, then why does Rousseau advocate for a social contract which purpose is to prevent the individuals from fighting each other?

This question is not about how the civilized society emerged, but about an apparent contradiction in Rousseau's thought: if humans are naturally good, why do we need to prevent them from being bad (via the power of the state)?

6
  • 2
    Because we live in civilisation and not in nature? Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 5:32
  • How is this question different to philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/23390/… ?
    – user14511
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 5:33
  • Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Aug 21, 2022 at 21:44
  • @Mr.White I edited my question, thank you.
    – Starckman
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 2:46
  • @MoziburUllah But then why, for instance, doesn't he advocate to return back to a pre-civilized state for instance, or, to develop a society that leaves people completely free (to being themselves, 'nice'), i.e. a form of anarchism?
    – Starckman
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 2:52

2 Answers 2

3

if humans are naturally good, why do we need to prevent them from being bad (via the power of the state)?

The premise is inaccurate insofar as it obviates Rousseau's distinction between savage man and civilized man. Rousseau certainly attributes to the savage man the attribute of natural compassion, and altogether characterizes him as "rather wild than wicked" (all quotes here are from his work "On the Origin of the Inequality of Mankind").

In addition to that state of wildness, Rousseau identifies in the savage man related attributes such as the rule of instincts, a lack of foreseeability, of dependence on other men, a lack of passions, and inextricably a lack of understanding. By contrast, Rousseau's term civilized man refers to man with passions, understanding, planning, a sense and sake of private property, ideals of self-preservation, and entangled with relations of dependence on other individuals.

Rousseau's premise is that civilized man's attributes "made man wicked while making him sociable". These also made him paranoid from realizing that other individuals are like him. This paranoia or fear leads civilized man "to pursue the rules of conduct [...] for his own security and advantage".

why, for instance, doesn't he advocate to return back to a pre-civilized state

Because Rousseau acknowledges that civilization is essential to progress. For instance, without society, "[e]very art would necessarily perish with its inventor, where there was no kind of education among men, and generations succeeded generations without the least advance". Rousseau asks "What progress could be made by mankind, while dispersed in the woods among other animals?", an obvious allusion to living in a state of nature.

From this standpoint, civilization is a necessary evil. But enacted laws supposedly are for curbing the "enormous injustices" that inevitably ensue from society.

1
  • Thank you very much for your response (I gave a thumb up). So civilization is needed, but because it brings the bad outcome of making humans nasty, there is a need for an additional layer, the social contract, which prevents them for exercising their civilisation-brought nastiness on one another?
    – Starckman
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 5:07
1

Rousseau doesn't say humans, as savages, are good—he says they are not bad. From the Dissertation On the Origin and Foundation of The Inequality of Mankind :

Above all, let us not conclude, with Hobbes, that because man has no idea of goodness, he must be naturally wicked; that he is vicious because he does not know virtue. . . . Hobbes did not reflect that the same cause, which prevents a savage from making use of his reason, as our jurists hold, prevents him also from abusing his faculties, as Hobbes himself allows: so that it may be justly said that savages are not bad merely because they do not know what it is to be good: for it is neither the development of the understanding nor the restraint of law that hinders them from doing ill; but the peacefulness of their passions, and their ignorance of vice: tanto plus in illis proficit vitiorum ignoratio, quam in his cognitio virtutis. (Justin, Hist. ii, 2. So much more does the ignorance of vice profit the one sort than the knowledge of virtue the other.)

Also, quoting Derrida quoting Rousseau in Of Grammatology, pages 187-188:

They were not bound by an idea of common brotherhood and, having no rule but that of force, they believed themselves each other's enemies. . . . An individual isolated on the face of the earth, at the mercy of mankind, is bound to be a ferocious animal. [Essay on the Origin of Languages, pp. 31-32]

Rousseau does not say "they were each other's enemies" but "they believed themselves each other's enemies." It seems to be that we have the right to, and indeed should, consider that nuance. Primitive hostility comes out of a primitive illusion. This first opinion is due to a misguided belief, born of isolation, feebleness, dereliction. That it is only a simple opinion and already an illusion appears clearly in these three sentences that must not be overlooked:

. . . they believed themselves each other's enemies. This belief was due to their weakness and ignorance. Knowing nothing, they feared everything. They attacked in self-defense. An individual isolated on the face of the earth . . . [Essay, p. 32. Italics added.]

5
  • Thank you for you response. To me, "the peacefulness of their passions, and their ignorance of vice", clearly means that they are good.
    – Starckman
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 7:08
  • To me "they believed themselves each other's enemies" and "is bound to be a ferocious animal" is contradictory with "the peacefulness of their passions".
    – Starckman
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 7:18
  • 1
    This is the mythic "golden age" before reason, judgement and morality. Without morality no good or bad—just state of nature. Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 7:25
  • Sure, but if this state of nature consists in "believing to be each other's enemies" and "be bound to be a ferocious animal", I don't see how it can be judged as reflecting the asserted "peacefulness of the human beings passions". Therefore, I don't see in which way we can consider that civilization is less preferable than this state of nature. This is one contradiction.
    – Starckman
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 7:36
  • The second contradiction is the one discussed in my question: taking for granted the argument that human beings are naturally nice (i.e. "peacefulness of the passions"), then why do we need to have recourse to the power of the state to prevent them from being nasty? If we were to follow the argument we would instead have to advocate to completely let free individuals be themselves (i.e. nice)
    – Starckman
    Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 7:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .