What Rousseau meant by “Savages Are Not Evil Precisely Because They Do Not Know What It Is to Be Good”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a philosopher who contributed to the development of philosophy as a discipline. Rousseau hoped to find ways through which human freedom could be preserved as people became more dependent on one another. According to Rousseau, savages are men who existed before civilization. Thus, savages are men who lived in the Stone Age period. He noted that savages were naturally good men. Their first instincts were that they behaved as human beings. Thus, they had the will to choose between good and evil. Additionally, Rousseau believed that savages were independent and lived honest lives (Rousseau and Donald 36). They had few basic needs that were easily met. They used available resources in their environments to satisfy the needs that they had. Their instincts provided them with the ability to use the resources available to gratify their needs.
The low population during the Stone Age period ensured that there was adequate food for consumption. Competition for resources was limited. Therefore, conflicts between people were limited. Hence, savages lived ordinary, genuine and morally upright lives. They had empathy for one another and maintained peace in their societies. However, the civilized man is motivated by greed and desire for accumulation of wealth (Rousseau and Donald 37). In the contemporary society, people compete for resources. However, the resources are scarce, and only the rich are able to accumulate vast amounts of wealth. The rapid increase in the world population has also complicated the situation. Currently, remarkably many people have to compete for the scarce resources. This leads into conflicts between different groups in various societies. This differs from the Stone Age period.
Rousseau argued that savages were motivated by empathy and self-love. This resulted into a state of innocence. However, civilized men are motivated by greed and selfishness that results into numerous vices in modern societies (Rousseau and Donald 37). For this men can be called evil. Thus, Rousseau noted this difference and made the statement that savages are not evil due to their lack of knowledge about what is good. This means that the society did not corrupt the savages as it has corrupted the civilized man.
Rousseau’s Theory on the Origins of Inequality among Men
Rousseau argued that there are two types of inequality in human societies. These are natural and political inequalities. Natural inequality is a result of nature and not the actions of a man. It includes divergences in health conditions, physiques, intelligence and ages. Conversely, political inequality is created by the actions of a man (Rousseau and Donald 16). It comprises differences in social statuses in human societies. Rousseau attempted to explain the origin of inequality through emphasis on differences created by the actions of a man.
First, Rousseau noted that humans are naturally good beings. However, the society corrupts humans. The society makes every man seek to self-preservation. All creatures seek to self-preservation, as it is an intrinsic ability. Thus, humans also have self-love. Self-love makes men seek ways through which they can satisfy their most basic needs. Additionally, humans are equipped with methods through which they can satisfy their needs. Secondly, he argued that humans can help each other. However, they do so only when they are certain that they will not compromise their self-preservation. He termed this as compassion or pity (Rousseau and Donald 36). Rousseau noted that compassion and the need for self-preservation relate positively. However, in some of his publications, the need for self-preservation resulted into the development of compassion.
Humans changed as their societies developed from primitive to modern forms. The material and psychological associations of men changed as societies developed. Moreover, the ways through which men perceived themselves changed as their societies developed. Thus, in primitive societies, people lived solitary lives since they did not require the assistance of other individuals in satisfaction of their needs. Hence, humans are naturally good beings in primitive societies. They differ from other animals in that way that they have freedom and can perfect their capacities to meet their needs. Freedom ensures that the appetite alone does not govern the actions of a man. Perfectibility is the power to find innovative ways applicable in satisfaction of needs. Rousseau noted that these two characteristics enabled man to acquire self-consciousness, logic and morals in modern societies (Rousseau and Donald 37). However, these same features lead to the development of inequality among men.
The author argued that simple and unstable types of associations developed as populations increased. These associations developed around activities like search for food. Notably, the acquisition of self-consciousness resulted into the development of competition. Thus, as societies grow, humans compete for sexual partners, food and shelter among other things. Rousseau’s theory is concerned with the psychological development of a man in the modern society. The competition in the society is connected to the comparison of success and failure. According to Rousseau, this competition made people need recognition. He noted that it resulted into the development of evil in the society. Competition always has a comparative aspect that results into the inequality (Rousseau and Donald 38). Thus, according to Rousseau’s theory, the growth of society from primitive to modern forms led to the development of inequality among men. He concluded that inequality would not have developed had man been contented with the simple forms of life of the primitive societies. However, equality disappeared from the time when humans realized that they could assist each other and that one could have necessities adequate for many people.
How Man and the “Natural Law” have been “Civilized”
Men lived ordinary lives in primitive societies. Life was sincere in primitive societies as the needs of humans were effortless and few. The needs that humans aimed to satisfy were not complicated. However, the needs of men changed as populations increased, and human societies grew. Natural inequalities provided some men with advantages over others. Some people could hunt better than others could. Additionally, good health and physique provided some men with advantages over others. As humans gained self-consciousness, men who had advantages over others were able to compete better. Man gained self-consciousness due to the challenges that he faced in the environment. Increase in population and growth of the societies brought about numerous challenges that were previously not present in the primitive societies. Thus, the combination of growth in population and societies and the acquisition of self-consciousness made man become innovative.
Men began to cooperate as they sought ways through which they could satisfy their needs. As they cooperated, they competed for resources and recognition. Thus, they became civilized due to the challenges they faced. On the other hand, natural law enabled the development of inequality in human societies (Rousseau and Donald 16). Natural law promoted the development of cooperation and competition within human societies. In primitive societies, competition was not necessary since the population was not large. Hence, natural law dictated man to satisfy only the basic needs. However, natural law required humans to seek advanced ways applicable in satisfaction of needs as populations increased and societies grew. Thus, increase in population and growth of societies made natural law become civilized. Therefore, it can be concluded that a man and the natural law have been civilized through acquisition of innovative ways applicable in satisfaction of needs. A man established the innovative ways due to the challenges that emerged as populations and societies increased in sizes.