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Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (World's Classics) [Paperback]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau , Patrick Coleman , Franklin Philip
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Oxford World's Classics) Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Oxford World's Classics) 4.0 out of 5 stars (1)
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17 Feb 1994 World's Classics
In his "Discourses" (1755), Rousseau argues that inequalities of rank, wealth and power are the inevitable result of the civilizing process. If inequality is intolerable - and Rousseau shows with unparalleled eloquence how it robs us not only of our material, but also of our psychological independence - then how can we recover the peaceful self-sufficiency of life in the state of nature? We cannot return to a simpler time, but measuring the costs of progress may help us to imagine alternatives to the corruption and oppressive conformity of modern society. Rousseau's sweeping account of humanity's social and political development epitomizes the innovative boldness of the Enlightenment, and it is one of the most provocative and influential works of the 18th century. This new translation includes all Rousseau's own notes, and Patrick Coleman's introduction builds on recent key scholarship, considering particularly, the relationship between political and aesthetic thought. Patrick Coleman is the author of "Rousseau's Political Imagination".


Product details

  • Paperback: 162 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New edition edition (17 Feb 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192829475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192829474
  • Product Dimensions: 18.3 x 11.4 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,075,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

In his Discourses (1755), Rousseau argues that inequalities of rank, wealth, and power are the inevitable result of the civilizing process. If inequality is intolerable - and Rousseau shows with unparalledled eloquence how it robs us not only of our material but also of our psychological independence - then how can we recover the peaceful self-sufficiency of life in the state of nature? We cannot return to a simpler time, but measuring the costs of progress may help us to imagine alternatives to the corruption and oppressive conformity of modern society.
Rousseau's sweeping account of humanity's social and political development epitomizes the innovative boldness of the Englightment, and it is one of the most provocative and influential works of the eighteenth century. This new translation includes all Rousseau's own notes, and Patrick Coleman's introduction builds on recent key scholarship, considering particularly the relationship between political and aesthetic thought.

ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Civilisation? 11 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback
Part 1

Rousseau is already alluding to theories which Charles Darwin would later elaborate on; when discussing inequality he argues that the evolutionary changes that occurred in humans in pre-history, would not have occurred consistently across the population and that some would have benefited more than others. Much of what is said in part 1 pertains to Rousseau`s views on the nature of prehistoric man`s existence of which much will be speculation.

He is frequently cross referencing with other writers on the subject, sometimes agreeing and sometimes disagreeing with them. It is worth remembering that this was written in the mid 18th Century and would have exuded a freshness at this time. For the modern audience however there is unlikely to be any ground breaking material here. One attractive passage concerns the way in which Rousseau imagines the process by which man may have learnt to control fire; `How many times did they let their fires go out before they learnt how to rekindle them? And how many times did the knowledge of these secrets die with the one who had discovered it?`. In this build up to part 2, Rousseau suggests that at this time, man was `free` of the burdens of society and civilisation, which he will go on to site as the cause of inequality. He sees a man free from the strutting rivalry found in other animals and in a state of ignorant bliss. Personally, I find this unlikely. There would likely have been a hierarchy with dominant males as in a troop of silverback gorillas or in the group structure of male chimpanzees where a more or less linear order of dominance is observed.

Part 2

In my opinion, we now arrive at the real meat of this work.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Man, Animal -- Manimal! 18 Sep 2003
By book lover - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This essay was Rousseaus's submission to the Academy of Dijon contest, entitled, "Has the progress of the arts and sciences contributed more to the corruption or purification of morals?".

This text is his story about Nature, and Society, and the scandal that happens when people come together, build, divide, dance, sing, and compare themselves with one another. In many ways, it is his answer to the problem of evil.

Natural man is, in many ways, good, because his needs are immediately felt and immediately fulfilled. Social man begins to compete, to hoard, and to use cunning to enslave his fellows, to gain their esteem, take their property, and sometimes their lives.

His picture of the natural man is half what we think of an "animal" and half the "human" that we recognize in ourselves. He shifts his description as the flow of arguement dictates. The habitual provocateur, Rousseau - watch him!

In a way, he is rewriting the Christian "Creation Myth". In his version, evil does not originate at that moment when man eats the fruit of the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" --to "be like God"; it happens when Adam wants a better apple than Eve's got for herself. Before society develops as we know it, Adam would have been fine with just a pear.
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