Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Patrick Coleman et al. | Go to book overview

DISCOURSE ON THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATIONS OF INEQUALITY AMONG MEN

I SHALL be speaking of man, and the issue I discuss tells me that I shall be speaking to men, for such questions are not raised by persons who are afraid to acknowledge the truth. Thus, I confidently defend humanity's cause before the men of wisdom who have invited me to do so, and I would not be displeased with myself if I prove worthy of my subject and my critics.

The human species has, I think, two sorts of inequality: the one I call natural or physical because it is established by nature, and consists of differences in age, health, physical strength, and traits of the mind or soul; the other kind we can call moral or political inequality, for it depends on a sort of convention and is established, or at least sanctioned, by the consent of men. This inequality consists of the various privileges that some persons enjoy at the expense of others-- such as being wealthier, more honoured, and more powerful than others, and even getting themselves obeyed by others.

One cannot ask what the source of natural inequality is because the answer is expressed by the very definition of the word. Still less can one enquire whether there is not some essential connection between the two kinds of inequality, for that would be to ask, in other words, whether those who command are necessarily worthier than those who obey, and whether bodily or intellectual vigour, wisdom, and virtue are always to be found in individuals in proportion to their power or wealth--possibly a good question to raise among slaves in the hearing of their masters, but one not applicable to free and reasonable men in search of the truth.

So what, precisely, is the subject of this discourse? To pinpoint the moment in the development of events when right replaced violence and nature was subjected to law, and to explain by what sequence of marvellous events the strong

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Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • OXFORD WORLD'S CLASSICS ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • NOTE ON THE TEXT xxxi
  • SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY xxxii
  • A Chronology og Jean-Jacques Rousseau xxxiv
  • To the Republic of Geneva Magnificent, Most Honoured, and Sovereign Lords: 3
  • Preface 14
  • REMARK ABOUT THE NOTES 20
  • Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men 23
  • PART I 26
  • Notes 55
  • PART II 86
  • EXPLANATORY NOTES 121
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