Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (Second Discourse), Polemics, and Political Economy
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Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (Second Discourse), Polemics, and Political Economy

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  5,348 ratings  ·  129 reviews
Includes the Second Discourse (complete with the author's extensive notes), contemporary critiques by Voltaire, Diderot, Bonnet, and LeRoy, Rousseau's replies (some never before translated), and Political Economy, which first outlined principles that were to become famous in the Social Contract. This is the first time that the works of 1755 and 1756 have been combined with...more
Hardcover, 242 pages
Published January 1st 1993 by Dartmouth Publishing Group (first published 1751)
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I shall hopefully write a proper review once I have composed my thoughts, but for now I will seek to emulate the delighted and reverential tone of those critics whose choiciest lines of praise are plastered on the back-cover, front-cover and insides of books:

"A magnificent triumph of imagination, scholarship and reason!"


The discourse is divided into two parts. Part I deals with Man in the "State of Nature" (a concept used to denote the hypothetical conditions of what the lives of people migh...more
rousseau has written the first anti-civ, anarchist philosophical essay that i am aware of. it doesn't seem to be fully acknowledged as that, but it's clear what rousseau is talking about when he declares "All ran to meet their chains thinking they secured their freedom... Such was the origin of society and laws, which gave new fetters to the weak and new forces to the rich, destroyed natural freedom for all time, established forever the law of property and inequality, changed a clever usurpation...more
Scot Quaranda
I had a much harder time diving into this discourse compared to his previous on art and science which I thoroughly enjoyed. Once I got through his ramblings, which was about half of the book, I was thoroughly captivated though which salvaged my rating and of course overall enjoyment. It seems to be an imperative to remember the timing of its release and not apply modern filters, otherwise you can easily groan and guffaw at his treatise on the "noble savages" in the first half of the book. If you...more

Without Rousseau’s careful reflections on “the distance from pure sensations to the simplest knowledge”, Kant couldn’t have applied his theory that, “Men work themselves gradually out of barbarity if only intentional artifices are not made to hold them in it.” Rousseau says the distance couldn’t have been bridged without communication and goes on to show how incredibly slow the process to create language must have been. Society must have been a precursor to real language, the first ideas must ha...more
This piece was essentially written for an "essay competition" (by the Academy of Dijon, I believe) before Rousseau realized that he was a good writer and that he should perhaps do it professionally.

Les Miserables, the musical, is one of our favorites and we have recently started reading the book. This essay was interesting to read in that context because it gives an idea about the prevailing ideas in France at the time that eventually led to the revolution and more.

This was a period in modern w...more
Translated by Lester Crocker. Although this treatise contains many good points, and some advanced ideas on democratic government, I found its argument empty. Even given that Rousseau’s construction of the “natural world,” of early, “savage” man is a conjecture, a hypothetical thought experiment, it is misinformed and lacks any data to even suggest validity. My two main objections are: (i) the “original” state of man was not, in fact, a solitary nomadic one, but most likely has always been a trib...more
David Sarkies
Jan 18, 2013 David Sarkies rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in political philosophy
Recommended to David by: Some Guy on the internet
Shelves: philosophy
To put it blut I found that this book is an interesting read and has some interesting concepts, and while it sort of reads like Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, much of it is based upon speculation and Rousseau seems to really be guessing with regards to the conclusions that he arives at. Mind you, it is interesting to see such a discourse written over one hundred years before Darwin wrote his origin of the species, and in many cases it appears that Darwin had borrowed from this text, however th...more
Skyler Myers
Jan 06, 2014 Skyler Myers rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in Rousseau
"The civil law being thus become the common rule of citizens, the law of nature no longer obtained but among the different societies, in which, under the name of the law of nations, it was qualified by some tacit conventions to render commerce possible, and supply the place of natural compassion, which, losing by degrees all that influence over societies which it originally had over individuals, no longer exists but in some great souls, who consider themselves as citizens of the world, and forci...more
Rousseau is rather convincing on humanity in a primitive state. He's full of wondrous examples and beautiful delineations in which he presents a view of nature that runs counter to Hobbes (and in some respects to Golding), yet how relevant such an analysis to civilized man is, I am not sure. We are born into society, born into inequality, from which there can be no hope of return. Judging from Rousseau's quoting of Locke, I think it is fair to assess that he would agree that a return is impossib...more
Jim Coughenour
I've never understood the attraction of Rousseau – but then, up to now, I'd only read extracts and synopses of his work. My book group (which is more serious than I am) decided to read both his discourses, The Social Contract and his letter to Letter to d'Alembert. In this book his passion for thinking and feeling is palpable, although I'm with most of the skeptics in being unpersuaded by either. Still, with the assistance of Ernst Cassirer and the entertaining The Philosopher's Quarrel, I'm gai...more
I found this book really intresting, my friend recomended me the book and once i opened i couldnt find myself closing the book. The author begins with notes on Rousseau life and how his views changed as he grew and moved from place to place and how specific people had affected him, from intellectuals to those who payed for his studies. In Rousseau paper i really found his points intresting and compelling, and i could see why he one so writing competitions during his age. i personaly think that m...more
Most people who actually know me would be surprise to find Rousseaus socialist book with four stars (one star less than The Prince of Machiavelli). The truth is I find some great ideologies in this book, some of which I agree and some of which I don't.

Particulary I believe human nature is in some way seing too much positive in some aspects and in some not.

Anyway despise the fact of if I consider Rousseau's ideas god or bad I do believe a lot of truths are discover in Rousseau's essay. The priva...more
While Rousseau's premise is not one I find I totally agree with, the Second Discourse is an interesting work, written with verve and passion. The style of writing takes a little getting used to, but I find it more accessible than the works of a some of Rousseau's contemporaries (looking at you, Hume and Kant). For anyone interested in the ideas or political history of the eighteenth century, this is well worth a read. The arguments presented here may not always be convincing, but the originality...more
Rousseau traces political or moral inequality (as opposed to natural inequality) to the use of reason/enlightenment, progress and the establishment of society. He argues that it is because of man’s ability to ‘improve’ himself that he is subject to dotage. In his ‘natural’ state- nature gave man all he needed- food, water, shelter- and he was perfectly happy. With the establishment of society came various sentiments such as vanity, jealousy, avarice and man began to live only in the eyes of othe...more
A very smooth and well formed argument that form the foundations of Anarcho-Socialist theories, as well as an intellectual counter to John Locke's Second Treatise of Government. Though there are some undeniable factual inconsistencies that form some of the roots of his argument, this is nontheless one of the most influential works of the enlightenment era, and a must-read for anyone interested in the realm of Political Philosophy.
Steven Tomcavage
Very well reasoned and well argued, but coming from a 21st century perspective, I found it difficult to overlook Rousseau's lack of scientific rigor when he assumes contain key facts about the evolution of man. Overlooking that, his idea that property is the source of inequality and that the wealthy devised the State as a way to coerce the poor into defending the property of the rich is an interesting argument.
Man, I love Rousseau, the paradoxes he creates in his delightful, almost breezy musings are just so refreshing to read compared to the dull, monolithic stuff that usually passes for 18th century political thought. This actually reminds me a lot of Heidegger's thinking, where he seems to want you to dive into the things that just don't make sense instead of cheaply skirting around them with analytics.
Ahmad Badghaish
الكتاب فعليًا عظيم، هو يعتبر مقدمة لكتاب العقد الاجتماعي حسب المقدمة، لكن أنا قرأت العقد الاجتماعي قبل
الكتاب عبارة عن قسمين، القسم الأول عبارة عن تفكيك، والثاني عبارة عن تحليل من بداية الإنسان إلى وصوله إلى الشكل الاجتماعي الحالي .. وكان جدًا ممتع صراحة
A rather long-long hypothesis which I found presumptuous in assuming that ancient man should have had no philosophical ambitions, rather was preoccupied with food sex and sleep.
Juka Pakatsoshvili
the text is a little controversial. one should read it carefully, otherwise she/he might be deceived. understanding Rousseau is much more difficult than Hobbes or Locke
El libro tiene más de dos siglos. Así y todo, Rosseau da en al tecla en mucho de los males contemporáneos, de los que el mismo con todos sus defectos era participe. Hay partes que son magistrales y hoy día Rosseau sería un incorrecto político de esos que dan un poco de aire a la asfixiante atmosfera de conformismo y complacencia que la hegemonía del pensamiento único y correcto intenta imponer. La desigualdad del hombre es por su participación en la sociedad. Quizás su visión sobre el buen salva...more
Rasih Nuri İleri çevirisiyle Say Yayınları tarafından neşredilen Rousseau’nun “İnsanlar Arasındaki Eşitsizliğin Kaynağı” isimli 224 sayfalık kitabı(aslında kitap 100 sayfa civarında, geri kalan kısım ise çevirmenin girizgâhı ve notlarını içeriyor) 2 aya yakın bir sürede bitirebildim. Daha doğrusu kitap beni yedi bitirdi.

Bir yandan çevirmenin dili, bir yandan cümlelerin destan gibi oluşu, bir yandan felsefî ve soyut kavramların bolluğu bunun başlıca sebebiydi. Bir paragraf uzunluğundaki soyut cüm...more
Maan Kawas
A powerful book by the great French thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau that tries to examine the origin and foundations among men! Although, it is an imaginary journey that tries to trace the evolution of modern man as well as modern society- particularly in relation to political inequality, it uses a beautiful logical and beautiful methodology. I was surprised to see Rousseau discussing some questions related to evolution, evolutionary psychology in particular. In his examination Rousseau tries to g...more
Catherine Woodman

I have spent the last two weeks being deeply immersed in Western Civilization from the Age of Enlightenment up to the present. I am reading a textbook to my youngest son, and he has been listening to audiobooks of the other readings for the course. One of his very generous history teachers in high school listened to these books with him, and helped him to understand what they were talking about. She provided the historical context for him, which was a tremendous amount of work. So I wouldn't nec...more
If you take Edward Said's statement that the West constructed a false image of the Orient that suited their purpose (and therefore of Africa, the Americas and anywhere else that did not contain 'civilised' Western Europeans) then some of the blame for that image building must be laid at the feet of philosophers like Rousseau and his idea of the 'noble savage.'

In Rousseau's mind the savage lives in a state of simple grace. He is not educated enough to feel the finer emotions of love, desire and l...more
This was pretty great. Rousseau rejects the state of nature conjectures of other political philosophers and hypothesizes on his own about humans over time, building up toward civil society. Humans were peaceable for the most part until they started depending on others and measuring themselves against each other. Part I is somewhat rambling and idealistic, but it's fun to read through his thought processes. Part II is excellent, beginning with:
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground,
Long and wordy. Read for Coursera. But again, new ideas. It is interesting to see how some of his ideas about the "noble savage", the "simple" life, have come around again - I see his ideas on the necessity of medicine repeated among anti-vaxxers, the separation from society and dependence on self in the homesteading movement. Also, the bits about language I found very interesting in light of a radio piece I recently heard about the development of language among deaf children, and the evolution...more
What a great thought-provoking book! I mean it's depressing, the idea that as long as humans live together in society there will inevitably be inequalities (both natural and political) and corrupt governments holding the masses under their rule, but at least it was interesting to read about his proposed progression of humanity from its primitive state to current (18th century) society.

I feel like Rousseau and Thoreau could have been the genesis for X-men's Magneto and Professor Xavier. Rousseau...more
This volume is part of the Bedford Series in History and Culture, a very fine series from Bedford St. Martin's. Helena Rosenblatt, the translator and editor, sets up the context of Rousseau's work in her introduction. Rousseau was a contrarian, a part of the Enlightenment movement but also critical of the way that its leading figures did not challenge the power structure in Europe.

Rousseau was a social contract theorist, believing the governments originated in agreements between governments and...more
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  • The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
  • A Letter Concerning Toleration: Humbly Submitted
  • The Discourses
  • Critique of Practical Reason (Texts in the History of Philosophy)
  • Elements of the Philosophy of Right
  • A Treatise of Human Nature
  • Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking
  • A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
  • Theological-Political Treatise
  • The World as Will and Representation, Vol 2
  • The Theory of Moral Sentiments
  • Letters on England
  • Theaetetus
  • Metaphysics
Jean-Jacques Rousseau remains an important figure in the history of philosophy, both because of his contributions to political philosophy and moral psychology and because of his influence on later thinkers. Rousseau's own view of philosophy and philosophers was firmly negative, seeing philosophers as the post-hoc rationalizers of self-interest, as apologists for various forms of tyranny, and as pl...more
More about Jean-Jacques Rousseau...
The Social Contract Confessions (World's Classics) The Basic Political Writings Emile or On Education Reveries of the Solitary Walker

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“The extreme inequality of our ways of life, the excess of idleness among some and the excess of toil among others, the ease of stimulating and gratifying our appetites and our senses, the over-elaborate foods of the rich, which inflame and overwhelm them with indigestion, the bad food of the poor, which they often go withotu altogether, so hat they over-eat greedily when they have the opportunity; those late nights, excesses of all kinds, immoderate transports of every passion, fatigue, exhaustion of mind, the innumerable sorrows and anxieties that people in all classes suffer, and by which the human soul is constantly tormented: these are the fatal proofs that most of our ills are of our own making, and that we might have avoided nearly all of them if only we had adhered to the simple, unchanging and solitary way of life that nature ordained for us. ” 24 likes
“The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said "This is mine," and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” 22 likes
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