Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1758)

by Jean Jacques Rousseau



1. What is life like in the state of nature for a human being, or as Rousseau says, "natural man"?

2. What is "family life" like in the natural state?

3. What is the status of speech and reason in the natural state?

5. On what grounds does he criticize a theorist such as Locke?

6. What according to Rousseau distinguishes human beings from other animals?

7. What is the role of compassion or pity in Rousseau's understanding of natural man? What happens to compassion according to Rousseau in society?

8. What is the foundation for virtue for Rousseau? How does he distinguish himself from Socrates?

9. How does Rousseau distinguish the physical and moral ingredients in love? What is the difference between love in the natural and in the social state?

10. How according to Rousseau does property originate?

11. What is the origin according to Rousseau of the desire for esteem, jealousy, and conflict?

12. How in Rousseau's analysis does political society or government arise? To what extent does it serve the common good?

13. What is the origin and progress of inequality among human beings?

14. How does "civilized man" live? Is he happy?

15. Rousseau writes of the terrible despotism of human life in "the last degree of inequality," and the possibility of revolutions dissolving the government and bringing it back to legitimacy. What might he mean by legitimacy in this context? What would make government legitimate?

16. Does Rousseau hold out any hope for human beings once they have left the natural condition?


1. How does Rousseau's account of the state of nature differ from Locke's?

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