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Rousseau’s Freedom and State of Nature

University/College: University of Arkansas System
Date: November 11, 2017
Words: 2418
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Rousseau’s Freedom and State of Nature

The subsequent consequences of this evolution necessitate a social contract at which point the nature of civilized justice becomes Lear and can be related back to freedom in the state of nature. Rousseau Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality Among Men begins by characterizing the natural man as a “noble savage” who lives at the will of his needs, only by his own faculties.

The basic functions from which humans are said to derive all nature are based on two principle dispositions, “one of them deeply influencing us in our own welfare and preservation (amour proper), and the other exciting a natural repugnance at seeing any other sensible being, and particularly any of our own species, suffer pain and death” (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin, 5). It is from these two dispositions that obligation to ourselves and others is derived and the critical conflict of Rousseau discourse Is uncovered – the contrast between the natural and civilized man. He former Inclined towards compassion, the latter towards cruelty (Dent, Rousseau, 58). For the savage man though, the pity which evokes empathy moderates his self-love and contributes to mutual preservation. While man is similar to other animals in the respect that he begins life with faculties of seeing, feeling, willing and desiring, he Is deferent from them in the respect that heir operations are dictated by nature alone (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin, 19). Man on the other hand, In his capacity as a free agent can choose, one by an act of instinct and the other by an act of liberty.

This is the first point at which we touch upon freedom in the state of nature. Man in his capacity as a free agent can deviate from rule at his own prejudice (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin, 19). It is through the faculty of liberty that the dissolute man abandons himself and submits to passions surplus to his needs. The quality that distinguishes men and animals is referred to as man’s perfectibility which shouldn’t be understood as a tendency to perfection but as one of the first thoughts of evolution and the faculty by which man eventually becomes ‘civilized’. The human soul, altered in the bosom of society by a thousand causes constantly renewed… Has, so to speak. Changed its appearance to the point where it is almost Impossible to recognize” (Dent, Rousseau, 61). However, as Illustrated In the following Important to Rousseau philosophy is that self-perfectibility develops further faculties only as circumstance occasions them, “The progress of the mind has been exactly proportional to the needs people have received from nature or to those which circumstances have subjected them to” (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin, 20).

Savage man in Rousseau philosophy, unlike Hobbes’, has tranquility of passion (his needs are satisfied and he seeks nothing in excess of his needs) and therefore is ignorant of vice. This tranquility neutralizes the circumstance which might corrupt him through self-perfectibility because “It was by a very wise providence that the untapped faculties he had were to develop only with opportunities to practice them” (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin, 23).

Natural man’s desires do not go beyond his physical needs and so with passions so rarely active, the savage man would not ever be subject to conflict nor could he be subject to the misery which oppresses civilized man. What misery can befall a man whose heart is at perpetual peace and body in constant health (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin, 26)? Since the bonds of servitude are born only by mutual dependence, it is impossible to enslave a man who has never been in the position of being unable to do without someone else.

To quote Rousseau, “since this situation does not exist in he state of nature, it leaves each man free of the yoke and makes the law of the strongest ineffective” (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin, 29). It is easy to romanticizes with Rousseau statement here, but whilst he has discovered freedom, happiness is less explicit and for the more cynical, this existence could be seen as an arbitrary one which has no reference to possibility or necessity and therefore is lived without humanity.

Albeit theoretically possible, Rousseau submits to the familiar condition that eventually man falls into association necessitated by lack of resources and increasing numbers. A change of circumstance thus employs ‘perfectibility and savage man acquires the self-understanding first of sexual feeling and secondly of leisure by shared amusement. With increasing perception of themselves, savage man and woman began to perceive one another. Each one began to consider the rest, and to wish to be considered in turn; and thus value came to be attached with public esteem” (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin, 26). This was the first step towards inequality as to covet something surplus to requirement has no limit. Thus we assume a ‘being for others’, and with an unsatisfied heart we are no longer immune o the chains of misery having assumed the bonds of interdependence. To quote Jean-Paul Sartre another French existentialist, “Leaner, chest less tauter” (Sartre, His Close, 63), – Hell is the other people.

He does not mean that our relationships with other people are unbearable, but that other people are the most important basis for our own knowledge of ourselves and therefore are the perpetual source of torment preventing us from living peacefully within ourselves. Rousseau does not however consider this new society fatal to happiness, quite the opposite, “this period of expansion of the human faculties, keeping a Just mean between the indolence of the happiest and most stable epochs” (Dent, Rousseau, 65).

The extrapolation of civilization from this point onwards is obvious and it is this “happiest and most stable epochs” that Rousseau social contract seeks to maintain which is threatened with the advent of living beyond our needs. Men and women fear the oppression of others, their “insatiable ambition, the thirst of raising their respective fortunes, not so much from real want as from the desire to surpass others” (Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin, 24). It is this process which is covered in Rousseau The Social Contract, which seeks to address the reconciliation of the freedom of the individual with the authority of the state.

Hobnails insecurity precipitates the need for a social contract. On the basis that familial obedience only exists as long as the child needs the parent and that strength or force creates an obligation of obedience, only a state built on general will where obedience is natural is legitimate. “The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before” (Rousseau, Social Contract, 8).

So a social contract with “general will” as the source of law is necessary as to protect both the citizens and their freedom (Bertram, Jean Jacques Rousseau). The emergence of ‘general will’ must reconcile the three different levels of will in play. Firstly, individual private will corresponding to selfish interests; secondly, the will assumed by each individual as consistent with their identification with the citizens as a whole; thirdly, the will of a subset of the populace as a whole (Bertram, Jean Jacques Rousseau).

General will is therefore founded on the second will which neglects selfish interest in favor of laws which allow the citizens to coexist under equal freedoms, a deliberation resultant of the collective. It is the first will which makes social contract impossible and the third which may precipitate the false social contract’ referred to by Locke. Rousseau believes that failure owing to the first will occur if the people cannot give voice to their true views which are too soiled by ignorance and so the success of maintaining freedom in our new society rests on owe the ‘general will’ is decided upon and implemented (Dent, Rousseau, 130).

How does a whole body of different people discover and declare a homogeneous will? Rousseau contention was that “the general will, to be really such, must be general in its object and in its essence; … It must both come from all and apply to all” (Rousseau, Social Contract, 23). By this he means that the general will must be that of everyone in order to apply to everyone. Subsequent law will consider the subjects as a whole and not bestow preference on any of the parts (citizens). It is in coming from all” that the logistical difficulties lie, and deriving the ‘general will’ must proceed via either a transcendental or democratic means.

Applying democratic means may seem to trivialize the determination of ‘general will’ and when its emergence is considered it becomes clear a more transcendental democratic process citizen legislators will be led to decide on laws which reflect their common interest (Bertram, Jean Jacques Rousseau). Rousseau social contract, requires an “act of association” where all individuals submit to the control of the community, if this were not the case then an individual ho retained certain rights would be their own superior (Dent, Rousseau, 129).

If all have to submit to the laws of the community then no one will have the incentive to make the laws burdensome and a people will be born out of a collection of persons. The man who does not consent depends on the continued law abiding of those who consented to reap the benefit of his abstention thus he is dependent on other people (Change, Rousseau, 99). When he is “Forced to be free” (Rousseau, Social Contract, 7), he can see that non-exploitative conduct is equitable.

The individual is now agitatedly dependent on society and not another individual, he is guaranteed against all personal dependence thus he is forced to be free albeit against his will. Rousseau has conceded a kind of anarchism, that forceful freedom is against our will and therefore government cannot be legitimate for all, but according to the “right conditions and procedures” mentioned in the previous paragraph, governments can implement the tools to perfect the general will so that it naturally reflects the will of the majority thereby increasing their legitimacy.

Putting practicality aside it is on somewhat shaky foundations that Rousseau claims o have uncovered a vehicle for civil liberty, namely ‘general will’, but he has not addressed the question that even if this condition of society is consented to freely, have we not still given up our right to self determination, the defining aspect of natural liberty? This is the problem with the social contract, that “each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before” (Dent, Rousseau, 135), and yet a free decision is made which abdicates our right of self- determination.

Man does this because he is fearful of the consequences of an unbridled will. The wise man supremely aware of his freedom and perpetually concerned with preserving it, wills not to will, because the “ending is up to us” (Miller, The Abyss of Philosophy, 101). Unbridled will is the principal spur for individuals to unite into an ordered and regulated society because it is the optimum for the exercise of human living. So civilization is formed and civil liberty realized via the social contract so that “each man alienates… Y the social compact, only such part of his powers, goods and liberty as it is important for the community to control” (Rousseau, Social Contract, 16). This is because, ultimately, it is our reason that triumphs. I would contend that “free as before” if “before” refers to the social contract is not free at all because freedom in its most utopian sense has not been natural since the savage man, as it was threatened by the unrestrained and ultimately infringing exercise of individual freedom (Bertram, Jean Jacques Rousseau).

The implication of the above is that freedom was lost when we first realized our human condition hence “Man is born free but everywhere around us is in chains”. It is precisely our moral that motivates us to form civilization, which is consistent with man’s needs and hearted. So, civil liberty while it is not unrestrained, is living in accordance with our human character and a realization of our mandate as humans (Dent, Rousseau, 149). It is in this aspect that liberty in the state of nature is related to liberty in civilization, both are lived morally free.

Rousseau was unique in his interpretation of freedom. Unlike Hobbes for whom it was simply a word for unimpeded action, Rousseau freedom transcended the physical realm into the metaphysical and he perceived it from man’s moral side (Miller, The Abyss of Philosophy, 95). I believe this perspective is what occasioned Rousseau comment that it is when man gave into the “petulant activity of our amour proper” that he was probably most happy, and this is because he started to live in a distinctively human way albeit in a spiral towards the restraints of civilization.

Physical freedom was forsaken and civilization adopted so that uninhibited freedom would not compromise the distinctively social human lifestyle of the state of nature, that it might be perpetuated, and that is how the two states of freedom relate to each other. In conclusion, proceeding from the savage man in the state of nature to the civilized an, 3 forms of freedom are observable. Firstly the savage man, who endowed with the capacity to act against nature if he pleases, is free of misery and all restraint, but he is also free of human passion and the freedom of an entity with whom we cannot identify is useless.

Born out of necessity, via our perfectibility, is the social man under natural freedom who has uninhibited freedom which is incidentally self-inhibiting and so we are “forced to be free”. I believe that the endemic tone of this statement is important as it pertains to his broader ideas of the human condition, that as being ere-thinking humans, the “end is up to us” and so with that faculty of self- determination we forsake it for civil freedom.

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