Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” as Want to Read:
Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  6,573 ratings  ·  156 reviews
Donald Cress's highly regarded translation, based on the critical Pléiade edition of 1964, is here issued with a lively introduction by James Miller, who brings into sharp focus the cultural and intellectual milieu in which Rousseau operated. This new edition includes a select bibliography, a note on the text, a translator’s note, and Rousseau’s own Notes on the Discourse.
Paperback, 112 pages
Published November 15th 1992 by Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (first published 1751)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
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
David Sarkies
Aug 02, 2014 David Sarkies rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People interested in political philosophy
Recommended to David by: Some Guy on the internet
Shelves: philosophy
Why rulers are rulers and why we serve them
18 January 2013

I found this book an interesting read and it does has some interesting concepts. While it sort of reads like Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, much of the ideas are based upon speculation and Rousseau's conclusions seem to be little more than guess work. Mind you, it is interesting to see such a discourse written over one hundred years before Darwin wrote his Origin of the Species, and it appears that Darwin has borrowed from this text. Ho
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

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
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
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
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 triba
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
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
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
Paloma *Corrado's Bellissima*

he wrote this all jumbled like 5 things at once it was so confusing
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
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
It's a really great book though Rousseau didn't have the anthropological studies we have today. So he had to work with what was available to him. He establishes his view about the natural state of man which was something popular in those days after Hobbes' Leviathan. Part 1 establishes many little things and points he makes, then in part 2 which is shorter, he combines what the points he previously made to reach a conclussion.

If only he would have had Anthropology back then his ideas wouldn't s
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
Marwa Assem Salama
لا جديد!..فلطالما كانت الفطرة عند (روسو) مُبرأةٌ من كل ذنب..وكأن الطبيعة بعينيه هي إنجيل الرب..أما مسيحُه فهو الإنسان الأول..ذاك الذي أبداً لم يسأل: ماذا لو كان هذا لي؟!..فكان بذلك المُخلّص الذي حرر البشرية من ألف نيِر وقيد..لولا أن خَلَف من بعده خلفٌ احتكروا الثمرات وكنزوا الثروات ..ثم من أجلها ابتكروا القوانين واتخذوا المواثيق والعهود.. .حتى صارت الأرض مكبلةٌ بالقيود كأكبر مستعمرة للعبيد ...عبيد ما نملك!..هكذا نحن..حيث الأفضلية لمن اتخذ من الأغلال أكثر ..ثم أكثر من احتقار الآخرين ..أما الخبر ا ...more
Luc Ferry says in A Brief History of Thought that his desert island philosophy pick would be the segment from this "second discourse" in which Rousseau provides a "radically new solution" differentiating humans from other animals. So i read the whole thing*. And i didn't much care for it, except for this segment called out by Ferry. It seemed an antiquated and purely speculative history of human society, most of which i assess to be not even as valid as what Bertrand Russell calls "probable opin ...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.
The first man who, having enclosed a pieced of land, thought of saying 'This is mine' and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders; how much misery and horror the human race would have been spared if someone had pulled up the stakes and filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow men: 'Beware of listening to this impostor. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to everyone and the earth itself bel ...more
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.
Our perfectibility is both our gift and our vice. Savage men are neither good nor bad in the state of nature because they do not discern what is good and what is bad, which differentiates Jean-Jacques Rousseau's discourse from Thomas Hobbes's, who contends that savage men are bad and evil. The idea of Rousseau familiarizes himself with a revolutionary figure, inducing people, particularly farmers I confidently presume, to annihilate the so-called 'social contract' shrewdly created in favor of th ...more
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
Ahmad Al-Maaini
مقال جميل في قضية التفاوت بين البشر، قد يكون بداية جيدة تؤدي إلى فهم فكرة روسو عن العقد الاجتماعي. رغم أنّ كثيرا مما قيل في هذا الكتاب أصبح مألوفا للغاية في الأدبيات السياسية والاجتماعية، إلا أنّ اللافت للنظر هو موقف روسو من المجتمع الحديث، إذ يرى فيه سببا أو ارتباطا مباشرا بإتلاف طبيعة الإنسان التي لم تعرف تفاوتا إلا في النواحي الجسمانية، في حين أتى المجتمع الحديث بالتفاوت الأخلاقي أو المعنوي بين الناس من خلال ازدياد الاحتياجات والمقارنة بالآخرين وحب التملك والرياسة.

هل أنصح بقراءة هذا الكتاب؟ ل
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.
Joey Dhaumya
Teeming with flimsy arguments based on unsubstantiated premises, this seminal work should have been wiped down with a tissue and chucked in a garbage bin.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Spirit of the Laws (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)
  • Elements of the Philosophy of Right
  • Two Treatises of Government
  • A Treatise of Human Nature
  • The Discourses
  • Critique of Practical Reason (Texts in the History of Philosophy)
  • Meno
  • The Geometry of René Descartes: with a Facsimile of the First Edition
  • Theological-Political Treatise
  • Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking
  • What Is Property?
  • The German Ideology
  • A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge
  • On Liberty and Other Essays
  • Philosophical Essays
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 The Basic Political Writings Confessions (World's Classics) Emile or On Education Reveries of the Solitary Walker

Share This Book

“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.” 28 likes
“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. ” 27 likes
More quotes…