The Discourse on Inequality and the Social Contract

Philosophy 47 (182):308 - 321 (1972)
My Purpose is twofold: first, to interpret Rousseau's The Social Contract in terms of a serious interpretation of the Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality and second, to use as the principal interpretative concept for both, the concept of independence. One gets the impression in reading commentators that the Discourse on Inequality is not taken seriously in its own right but rather is treated as what it is, an essay which was suitable for submission as a prize essay, with the required clever rhetorical style, flashes of paradox and yet withal solemnly addressing itself to a virtually impossible question. However, if it is taken, in part, as Rousseau's social and psychological analysis of modern society, as an account of “men as they are” , then it is not only worthy of serious study in itself, it also helps one to see that still puzzling book, The Social Contract , from a new perspective. Moreover, Rousseau's concept of independence is both interesting and helpful. What Rousseau means by “independence” may diner from what he means by “freedom”, but for most of this essay I shall draw from the latter a working definition of the former and thus shall mean by independence: not being subject to or under the control of another person or persons, and not being subject to or under the control of one's passions. The advantage of attending to the concept of independence is that it enables one to recognize that Rousseau is asserting three seemingly incompatible propositions: first, man is independent, second, no man is independent and in the given circumstances can be and, third, man must become dependent in order to become independent
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DOI 10.1017/S0031819100055935
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