A Critical Analysis Of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Concept Of Inequality

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A Critical Analysis Of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Concept Of Inequality


The question of inequality appears to be a very topical issue in the 21st century. This is because it has brought about chaos, poverty and strives in the society, especially among the female gender. With inequality, people are maltreated as humans; they are used as means to an end instead of an end in themselves. This was what prompted Jean Jacques Rousseau to interrogate the issue of inequality. For Rousseau, the rise of inequality in the society owes its strength and growth to the development of our faculties and the advancement of the human mind and this became permanent and legitimate through the establishment of property and laws. From the above, it becomes clear that property and society have not only helped to facilitate a higher standard of living, but also endorse inequality among human beings. Employing the critical analytic method, this research interrogates the problem of inequality by Jean Jacques Rousseau and it was palpable that inequality is present in our society and it cannot be totally wiped out because it has led to an establishment of an organized society through the implementation of laws. However, to forestall abuse and the negative burden of inequality, the burden of cruelty should be removed, the oppressed should be enlightened and human reason should take precedence over sentiment in our mode of operation.

Table of Contents

  • Title Page
  • Presentation Page
  • Approval Page
  • Certification
  • Acknowledgements
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • Abstract

Chapter One:


  • 1.1 Background of Study
  • 1.2 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.3 Aims and Objective of the Study
  • 1.4 Significance of the Study
  • 1.5 Scope and Limitation of the Study
  • 1.6 Research Method and Chapterization
  • 1.7 Definition of Terms

Chapter Two:

Literature Review

  • 2.1 Review of Related Literature

Chapter Three:

Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Political Thought

  • 3.1 A Biography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • 3.2 Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Concept of the State of Nature
  • 3.3 Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Concept of the Civil Society
  • 3.4 Rousseau’s Concept of Social Contract and the General Will
  • 3.5 The Origin and Foundation of Inequality among Mankind
  • 3.6 Types of Inequality
  • 3.6.1Natural or Physical Inequality
  • 3.6.2 Moral or Political Inequality
  • 3.6.3 Social Inequality
  • 3.7 Critical Analysis of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Concept of Inequality

Chapter Four:

Evaluation and Conclusion

  • 4.1 Evaluation
  • 4.2 Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

In every nation, society, village and family, there is a unique feature called inequality which over the years have not just been a social problem but has brought about chaos, poverty and strives among men. Inequality is a social problem which has been in existence over the years and it has been discussed by different scholars in different ways. Looking at the concept of inequality, inequality means different things to different people, whether inequality should encapsulate ethical concept such as desirability of a particular system of rewards or simply mean differences in income is the subject of much debate.[1] It appears that inequality has always been an inherent factor in the society, whereby we are been faced with different challenges and questions. Inequality has been in existence right from the ancient era through the medieval era, to the modern era and finally the contemporary era. Inequality has a lot to do with humans and our society, it is like a normal air we breathe; it is present in everywhere we find ourselves.

Inequality prevailed in the ancient era, the early Greeks did not have their laws written on stone or wall, but they had their laws in the minds of their leaders. In Athens for instances, we see the theme inequality in their leadership system and educational system; the boys and girl were separated, the girls were to help serve the leaders and to help in reproduction in other to multiple their military to help in defending the city of Athens. Even within the boys we can still see inequality; the boys were divided into two group, the able boys (strong boys) and the weak boys, the strong boys were sent into military for training at a tender age to help defend the city of Athens, while the weak boys were used as servant, to help in the production of the food in the city.[2] After the Persian war which lasted from 500 to 499 B.C. Athens became the center of ancient Greek culture and through inequality in Athens at that time “men began to question the older blind loyalty to the powers of the state and many began to assert their own independence and their right to a life more or less free from the dominance of the reestablished government”.[3]

Among the Sophist, inequality existed in the society; they focused on questions concerning human affairs, such as knowledge, value and actions and thereby expanded the range of philosophy beyond merely cosmological concerns. Gorgias who is a well-known sophist, also perceived the concept of inequality in the society, he argued that “the laws were mere inventions of the weaker members of the group of society, to enslave and hold down the strong”.[4] For Gorgias the maker of the laws are weak, they make laws to suit themselves and their interest, thereby intimidating the strong members of the society. Gorgias established the fact that inequality existed, they were weak and strong members of the society and the weak make laws to protect their interest, thereby making the strong to tremble on their feet.

In the life of Socrates, we can also see that inequality existed in the society, laws were made to favor the state men, which lead to the dead of Socrates because he didn’t want to take part in the injustice in the society. After the death of Socrates, Plato became politically motivated, which may have been a turning point in his life. In the philosophy of Plato, we see the concept inequality; in Plato’s political theory, he divided the state into three classes; the higher class which are the rulers, the middle class which are the guardians and the lower class which are the merchant. For Plato, the rulers should be well grounded in philosophy so they can lead the people justly, the guardians should be the military of the state, in other to protect and defend the state, while the merchant are the labourers who help in the production system of the state. However, Plato took up the problem were Socrates had left and started to find a solution. In his politics, Plato was open to the potential equality of men and women, stating that women were not equal to men in terms of strength and virtue, but were equal to men in terms of rational and occupational capacity and hence in the ideal republic should be educated and allowed to work alongside men without differentiation.[5] From the following, we see that Plato established the fact that man cannot be equal, he believed that such organization will give a best possible state and each individual will be able to develop to the fullest. Aristotle, who was a student of Plato, developed a philosophy of state which resembled that of his teacher very much. We can see the theme inequality in Aristotle’s philosophy, in his politics, Aristotle saw women as subject to men, but as higher than slaves and lacking authority; he believed the husband should exert political rule over the wife.[6] “Aristotle believed that slavery was just practice in a good state, since it was for him a natural institution”.[7] However, he held all foreigners of all nations to be inferior to the Greeks and thus, not qualified to enjoy the same rights with the Greek, he admitted only foreigners to be the slave class. Aristotle also in his definition of justice and fairness observed that, justice is equality; and so, it is, but not for all persons, only for the equal. Inequality is also said to be just; and so, it is, but not for all persons, only for the unequal.[8]In the ancient Greek world, gender inequality existed. Women in the ancient Greek world had few rights in comparison to male citizens. Unable to vote, own land, or inherit, a woman’s place was in the home and her purpose in life was the rearing of children. This, though, is a general description, and when considering the role of women in ancient Greece one should remember that information regarding specific city -states is often lacking, is almost always from male authors, and only in Athens can their status and role be described in any great detail. Neither are we sure of the practical and everyday application of the rules and laws that have survived from antiquity.[9] In Spartan women were treated somewhat differently than in other states. For example, they had to do physical training like men, were permitted to own land, and could drink wine. There were also categories of women which are less well-documented than others such as professional women who worked in shops and as prostitutes and courtesans; the social rules and customs applied to them are even more vague than for the female members of citizen families. Finally, in contrast to the lot of most women, some exceptionally and exceptional, rose above the limitations of Greek society and gained lasting acclaim as poets, philosophers, leaders, and physicians.

In the medieval era, everything and ideas were centered on the church because most scholars were Christian scholars and sought to protect the doctrine of the church. They all held the view that to have true knowledge is to have knowledge about God. During this period of scholasticism, man was subjected under some authority, the state and the rulers assumed control over man and so man found himself everywhere under the control of some authority. In the process, there grew up this idea that the king or ruler gets his idea from God and thus could not be question. Any disobedience to the king or ruler was disobedience to God and this placed a complete domination of the church and state on man.[10] Furthermore, in Thomas Aquinas political philosophy the best system of government is monarchy and the ruler or state men should be obedient to the rulers of the church because the state draws its power over men from the church. For Aquinas, “the end of the church, a super natural end, is higher than that of the state, which must subordinate itself to the church in matters bearing upon the supernatural life.”[11] Here, we see that inequality prevailed in the society, Aquinas gave more powers and authority to the church leaders over the state and man, and the state rulers over man. He believed that the church leaders had divine ideas from God and the state is as a result of this divine idea from God, therefore the church becomes more superior over the state and man. This makes one individual more superior to another and thereby establishing a form of inequality among men; the church rulers, the state rulers and normal individuals. For Augustine holds firmly to the position of the church to be supreme over the state and the head of the church is to rule over the rulers of the state. For him the rulers of the state may make mistakes while the ruler of the state can never make mistake since he is a representative of God on earth.[12] In this era, we see that all men were not equal, because the church men were assumed to be superior to the state and the individuals in the state and claim that their ideas are directly from a supreme source and therefore are infallible.[13]

Inequality existed in the modern era. This era marked the end of the medieval era through the Renaissance movement which was a land mark in European history as well as in the history of western philosophy. It was at this time that man began to assert his own freedom and to challenge the power of rulers who held key positions in the state. This era actually brings out the differences in man, based on man’s inventions and how they were treated in the state. The most influential work that contributed to the end of the medieval era was the work of Niccolo Machiavelli in his book titled The Prince. He was the first to discuss politics without the introduction of ethics or jurisprudence. His politics revolves on the pursuit, attainment and substance of state power, he identified two means of acquiring power which are; by law which is fair to man and by brut which is the way of the beast.[14] For him, man has to do anything he can to attain power, even if means to kill. This system was used in Italy and it’s also applicable to our present Nigeria society. People do whatever it takes to attain power and thereby bringing inequality in the society. The strong or powerful become stronger or powerful while the weak become weaker, which bring about inequality in the society. Thomas Hobbes also in his famous book the Leviathan stated the inequality that existed in the state of nature. For him the state of nature was a state of lawlessness, chaos and war. Man then decided to come together and surrender their rights and properties to one authority in other for their rights and properties to be safe guarded. Thus, power is being given to one man, which makes him very powerful and above others in the society, thereby establishing inequality in the society. For John Locke, the state of nature is a state of perfect freedom and equality. Men were their own judge and master, each seeking his good individually. Locke agreed to the personal ownership of private property, for him you can acquire as many properties you can, so far it does not affect the other person adversely.[15] This gives room for poverty in the society, thereby establishing inequality in the society; creating a division between the rich and the poor. Due to the inequality in the society, Karl Marx postulated his theory on historical materialism to analyze and critique the development of capitalism and the role of class struggles in systemic economic change. Karl Marx identified inequality in the society and observed that there are 2 classes of people in the society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.[16] The bourgeoisie are the ruling class that owns the means of production and extract their wealth through appropriation of the surplus product produced by the proletariat and the proletariats are there laborers employed to produce goods and services. There was a gap between the rich (bourgeoisie) and the poor (proletariat), the bourgeoisie exploiting the proletariat, thereby making the rich richer and the poor poorer.

The French revolution is regarded as the most violent and the most universally significant because it completely changed the political and social structure in France. The French Revolution had general causes common to all the revolutions of the West at the end of the 18th century and particular causes that explain why it was by far the most violent and the most universally significant of these revolutions. The first of the general causes was the social structure of the West. The wealthy commoners known as the bourgeoisie aspired or seek to political power in those countries where it did not already possess/enjoy/hold it. The peasant wanted to get rid of the last vestiges of feudalism so as to acquire the full rights of landowners and to be free to increase their holdings. Higher standard of living had reduced the mortality rate among adults.[17] This, together with other factors, had led to an increase in the population of Europe for several centuries. A larger population created a greater demand for food and consumer goods. The discovery of new gold mines in Brazil had led to a general rise in prices throughout the West indicating a prosperous economic situation. Later this development slackened, and economic crises, provoking alarm and even revolt, became frequent. Arguments for social reform began to be advanced. Some philosophers or intellectuals whose writing inspired this argument were influenced by the 17th century theories such as Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire etc. The French Revolution led to the bourgeoisie exclusion from political power and positions of honor, the peasants were acutely aware of their situation and were less and less willing to support the anachronistic and burdensome feudal system, French participation in the American Revolution had driven the government to the brink of bankruptcy, France was the most populous country in Europe, and crop failures in much of the country coming on top of a long period of economic difficulties, compounded existing restlessness, the French monarchy, no longer seen as divinely ordained, was unable to adapt to the political and societal pressures that were being put forth on it.[18] This revolution was as a result of the widespread inequality between the rich and poor classes alongside growing dissatisfaction with the antiquated feudal system among the poor.[19] It brought new ideas to Europe including liberty and freedom for the commoner as well as the abolishment of slavery and the rights of women.[20]

In the contemporary era, inequality can be easily spotted out in this era, from the end of world war 11 until 1971 when John Rawls published his famous work titled A Theory of Justice which addressed the problem of distributive justice. He postulated two principles of justice; he believed that “a society should be structured so that the liberty of a member should not infringe upon that of another. Secondly, inequities; either social or economic-are to be allowed if the worst off will be better off than they might be under an equal distribution.”[21] Rawls established the fact that inequality existed in the society and concludes that this inequality should not make it harder for those without resources to occupy position e.g. Public offices. Thomas More who is known for his famous work titled Utopia; he was against the political corruption that was happening in Europe at that time. Aside from the corruption on Europe, he also talked about the hypocrisy of religion that was happening at that time. What really lead Thomas More to write on Utopia was the inequality that was going on at that time. He lays most of the problems of theft on the practice of enclosure – the enclosing of common land – and the subsequent poverty and starvation of people who are denied access to land because of sheep farming.[22] Nietzsche’s notion of Ubermensch (the superman) also depicts a form of inequality among men, where the superman’s sole desire is the will power and his demand for a morality that transcends all accepted moralities, carrying it beyond good and evil.[23] Jeremy Bentham also looked into the inequality in the society and became the first thinker to analyze social justice in terms of individual benefit. “He advocated for individual and economic freedoms, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts.”[24]

It was because of these reasons that Rousseau had to critically examine the origin of inequality in mankind and provide possible solution to the problem of inequality. Rousseau also in his discourse on inequality holds that inequality that prevails in the society is as a result of environmental factors and perfectibility as will be discussed in this work. For him the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Inequality prevails as a result of competitions, greed and desire, thereby people are not treated as humans. Inequality brings about class difference in the society, and majority of people in the society instead of being carried along, are left behind, where only the strong and capable strive and even trample on others to reach their end, as Charles Darwin would say, “survival of the fittest”.[25] To curtail the problems of inequality, Rousseau aimed at constructing a political institution that allowed the co-existence of free and equal citizens in a community where they themselves are sovereign. These and some other issues covering inequality in Rousseau is the concern of this research work.

This work intends to first give a clarification of concept, inequality and the types of inequality that Rousseau was concerned with. Then, it will discuss the natural man in the state of nature and how man progressed from the natural state to the civil society which was where inequality emerged from. After establishing the origin of inequality, it will discuss the ways Rousseau suggested to prevent inequality in the society. This will be followed by a critical analysis of the work, then the conclusion.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Inequality has occupied a prominent place in the thoughts of man because it has brought about chaos, corruption, greed, poverty and the devaluation of human beings. This has made mankind to ponder on the social condition in which they lived, thereby questioning the origin or cause of inequality in the society. This was what properly stimulated Jean Jacques Rousseau to address the issues of inequality in the society, thereby showing how inequality was established in the society. For Rousseau, the origin of inequality was established in the society due to one man enclosing a piece of land to himself, which has brought about the establishment of pride, shame, envy and contempt, thereby revenge became terrible and men became bloody and cruel.

Looking at Rousseau’s discourse on inequality, there are some basic themes that are of major interest, such as; corruption, freedom, need, authenticity and modern life. There is a gab that needs to be filled in other to make Rousseau concept of inequality solid or complete. Even though Rousseau looked at the main concern of inequality in mankind, thereby proved how inequality was established in the society and how man is said to be unequal naturally, morally and socially. What makes Rousseau work not solid or complete is because Rousseau didn’t succeed in providing a possible solution to the problem of inequality. This becomes a problem this work will look into, because even if the origin or cause of inequality is established and how inequality is said to be measured naturally, morally and socially, it doesn’t put an end to the inequality in the society. Thus, this works will give a critical look on the problem of inequality. Inequality is inevitable because it cannot be totally eradicated from the society because it has led to a better standard of living, implementation of laws and even development. We can’t say that the state of nature is the best because in the state of nature man did not grow and it did not bring out the best and worst in people which will not lead to development.

1.3 Aims and Objective of the Study

The aim of this work is to critically analyze the concept of inequality according to Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau postulated three kinds of inequality which are; natural inequality, political inequality and social inequality. This work also aims to show when exactly man is said to be equal or unequal natural or physically, morally or politically and socially. The objective of this work is to establish that inequality is present in mankind and it cannot be totally wiped out of mankind because inequality has not just brought about the differences in mankind but has improved our standard of living. It is also to create awareness that though we are unequal but we can apply human reason to our actions and behavior and make the society a better place to live and it will also examine argument for and against Rousseau’s concept of inequality.

1.3 Significance of the Study

In a society like ours, the concept of inequality is very much prevalent among men and women in the family, at the labor market and in different kinds of occupation. This work would help create the impression that property and society have and does not only helped to create and endorse inequality among human beings but has helped to facilitate a better standard of living. Inequality starts from birth that is why men are different right from birth. They have different levels of intelligence quotient (I. Q.) they do not reason in the same way, one may be brighter than the other in some way and this makes them unequal. These have eventually brought about development both in the individual and the society at large. If all humans were to be equal thereby making them to think the same way, there would be no form of development such as technological development, economic development, social development etc. and this makes it difficult for inequality to be totally wiped out because of the civilization it has brought to us.

1.5 Scope and Limitation to the Study

This research will critically analysis Jean Jacques Rousseau’s concept of inequality. This study covers the type of inequality in which Jean Jacques Rousseau postulated, which are; natural inequality, moral inequality and social inequality. In the course of carrying out this research work, certain limitations were encountered; this includes the problem of time allocated for the study, the unavailability of books in the library, poor network for browsing which limits me to accessing some necessary and vital information required for this research work.

1.6 Research Method and Chapterization

This research work will employ the analytic method. This has to do with among other things, conceptual clarifications, definitions and explanations. By this method, terms, notion and concepts are broken down into understandable units of connected ideas.[26] To aid a clearer understanding, this work will analyze the key term involved, which is concept and inequality. It will also examine the different kinds of inequality and showing at what point one is said to be naturally, politically and morally unequal. This work is divided into four chapters. Chapter one is the introduction which is from the background to the study to the definition of terms. Chapter two, deals with Review of related literature. Chapter three deals with Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s concept of inequality. This chapter will also talk about the life of Jean Jacques Rousseau, his political thoughts and a critical analysis of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s concept of Inequality follows. Chapter four is the conclusion.

1.7 Definition of Terms

The key terms that will be clarified in this research work are concept and inequality.


Concepts are everywhere; we use them all the time. Concept is a set of assumption, attitudes and beliefs. Thoughts are seen as having constituents or parts, namely, concept.[27] “A concept is a mental abstraction which allows generalization and the extension of knowledge from some known objects to others to other unknown.”[28] It assimilates two or more facts into a common mental unit. For instance, the concept book includes all particular books. It does so base on essential characteristics of multi pieces of paper or pages combined into a bound stack.[29] Basically, a concept is a generalized idea about a class of object, attributes, occurrences or processes that has been given the name. In other words, a concept is an idea expressed as a symbol or sign. According to the Classical Theory, concepts are complex mental representations whose structure generally encodes a specification of necessary and sufficient conditions for their own application.[30] Consider for example, the concept bachelor, the idea is that bachelor is actually a complex mental representation whose constitutions are unmarried and man. Something falls under, or is in the extension of bachelor just in case it satisfies any of this constituent concepts. Or to take another example, the concept knowledge might be analyzed as Justified True Belief[31]. In that case, something falls under the concept knowledge just in case it is an instance of a true belief that’s justified.[32]


Inequality means lack of equality. It can be difference in size, degree and circumstances. Inequality is a condition of being unequal, lack of evenness, social disparity, and disparity of distribution or opportunity, the condition of being variable.[33] For Ted Honderich, “Inequality consists in the differences between individuals or groups in the possession of what is desirable or undesirable”.[34] Inequality can be present in everywhere we find ourselves and there are several types of inequality; economic inequality, income inequality, wealth inequality, gender inequality, social inequality, political inequality, cultural inequality, religious inequality, physiological inequality amongst others. Basically, this work will focus on only three types of inequality which include; natural or physical inequality, moral or political inequality and social inequality as it pertains to how Jean-Jacques Rousseau perceives it.

Natural or physical inequality result from natural difference in physical and mental abilities and is established by nature. That is, difference in age, health, strength and intelligence are all physical inequality. According to Mathew Lawrence, “political inequality exists where, despite a procedurally equal democratic process with universal suffrage and regular elections, certain groups, classes or individuals have greater influence over and participate more in political decision making process, with policies outcome systematically weighted in their favour.”[35] In other words, Political Inequality is the differences brought about by the ability to access federal resources which therefore have no civic equality. For Alex Afouxenidis “political inequality is structured differences in the distribution of political resources.”[36] That is, in treatment and responsibility difference, some people are more benefited and can quickly receive more privilege than others. “Social Inequality refers to the unequal distribution of Resources (power, wealth and income) and opportunities (health, education and employment)”.[37] Therefore, social inequality takes place when wealth in a specified society are disseminated haphazardly or unequally, usually through norms of distribution that produce unambiguous patterns along lines of socially defined sets of persons.

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Evaluation and Conclusion


Jean Jacques Rousseau posited that all men are born equal and this equality only existed in the state of nature. Still in his work when drawing out the origin of inequality, he said that men are naturally and physically unequal. This gives us two ideas of what Rousseau actually means. How can a man who was equal, turn out to be unequal in a moment? I don’t agree with his first thought that men are born equal. All men are different right from birth, even if they have some semblance, naturally they will have different DNA and different levels of intelligent quotient (I.Q.). They do not reason the same way; one may be brighter than the other in some way and this makes them unequal. Another question that should be answered is if Rousseau is totally against modernity or civilization because from his work, he explained inequality by demonstrating how humans who were naturally, healthy, good and roughly equal to one another, became sickly evil, intelligent and highly unequal when they mixed in the society. As argued by Mukherjee and Ramaswamy “the greatest horror of modern society was the fact that it was a highly unequal one. The human being was capable of being perfect, which enabled him to come out of the state of nature but in the process, he created an imbalance between needs and in the inability to satisfy them through civilization.”

Civilization had therefore, multiplied the desire for needs and the inability to fulfill these needs made human beings in the civil society unhappy and highly unequal. To Rousseau, thus, civilization was corrupting and wrong. Looking at the state of nature and the society which we live in today, there is a great difference. The economist will say that man’s wants are insatiable. Naturally, knowledge is what every man strives for and as such,man always wants to know more. If man was still to remain in the state of nature, they would be no way man would have advanced in knowledge. Even without the first man enclosing a piece of land for himself, one thing would have led to another and men would realize that they are certainly not equal. We are in a free world where people should be allowed to explore not minding their sex or statue. With this, there will be greater human progress. But still standing with Rousseau in his view of social equality where equal opportunities are given to people in the society.

Contrary to Rousseau’s concept of how inequality began, property and society has done nothing but improve our lives as human beings. In the state of nature, man only had need for food, rest and sex, but as society and cooperation developed men had more needs which controlled their lives and made them slaves of others. These unnecessary needs formed the foundation of modern inequality, according to Rousseau. This shows that inequality is inevitable, therefore cannot be totally eradicated from the society because it has led to a better standard of living, implementation of laws and even development. We can’t say that the state of nature is the best because in the state of nature man did not grow and it did not bring out the best and worst in people which will not lead to development.

Change is the only thing that is constant, therefore man must grow. If all men were equal, man wouldn’t have a better standard of living and development will not take place, therefore man will not be fulfilling his full potential, thus, making man not to grow. This grow has consequences; it will establish different classes of people in the society, envy greed, poverty, corruption, development (technological, economic, social development and so on) and even bring out the best and worst in people.

The aim of the Discourse is to examine the foundations of inequality among men, and to determine whether this inequality is authorized by natural law. Rousseau attempts to demonstrate that modern moral inequality, which is created by an agreement between men, is unnatural and unrelated to the true nature of man. To examine natural law, Rousseau argues, it is necessary to consider human nature and to chart how that nature has evolved over the centuries to produce modern man and modern society. To do this, he begins in the imaginary state of nature, a condition before society and the development of reason. Discarding the Biblical account of human creation and development, Rousseau attempts to conjecture, or guess, what man in this state would be like. He examines man’s physical and mental characteristics, and finds him to be an animal like any other, motivated by two key principles: pity and self-preservation. The only real attribute that separates him from the animals is his perfectibility, a quality that is vitally important in the process Rousseau goes on to describe. Man in the state of nature has few needs, no idea of good and evil, and little contact with other humans. Nevertheless, he is happy.

However, man does not remain unchanged. The quality of perfectibility allows him to be shaped by, and to change in response to, his environment. Natural forces such as earthquakes and floods drive men into all parts of the globe, and force them to develop language and other skills. As men come into contact more frequently, small groups or societies start to form. The human mind begins to develop, and as man becomes more aware of others, he develops a series of new needs. The emergence of reason and society are related, but the process by which they evolve is a negative one. As men start to live in groups, pity and self- preservation are replaced by amour propre, which drives men to compare themselves to others, and to need to dominate others in order to be happy. The invention of property and the division of labor represent the beginning of moral inequality. Property allows for the domination and exploitation of the poor by the rich. Initially, however, relations between rich and poor are dangerous and unstable, leading to a violent state of war. As an attempt to escape from this war, the rich trick the poor into creating a political society. The poor believe that this creation will secure their freedom and safety, but in fact it merely fixes the relations of domination that existed before, creating laws to establish inequality. Inequality is now more or less unrelated to man’s original nature; physical inequality is replaced by moral inequality. Rousseau’s account of the operation of society focuses on its various stages. Beginning with the trick played by the rich, he sees society as becoming more and more unequal, until its last stage, which is despotism, or the unjust rule of everyone by one man. This development is not inevitable, but it is extremely likely. As wealth becomes the standard by which men are compared, conflict and despotism become possible. For Rousseau, the worst kind of modern society is that in which money is the only measure of value. Rousseau’s Social Contract champions collectivism, or communitarianism, and in doing so rejects liberalism which places at its heart the autonomy of the individual. The thesis of such an argument is that through various measures, society as a collective usurps the ability for an individual to maintain independence or free will in the social contract. Yet this examination disregards both the historical context of Rousseau and the underlying purpose of Rousseau’s work, which was to provide an explanation of the conditions in which, man being individualist by nature and simultaneously wanting the protection and advantages of living in a civil society, both of these can be achieved without the need for a loss of liberty. Rejecting this collectivist position, it is important to explore the content and main features of Rousseau’s Social Contract, to remind us that a liberal political theory needs to concern itself not only with the identity of liberty, but also with identifying the conditions under which that liberty can be sustained . Thus, the Social Contract’s central concern is to create a climate in which popular sovereignty is realizable, and Rousseau’s lineage of work therein is logically concerned with strengthening the case for and to counter any potential challenges to it . Inherent in Rousseau’s conception of sovereignty is the general will, which governs the relations of all men, enforcing popular sovereignty and forming the foundation of Rousseau’s theory: Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.

Also, the resolution of the awful conflict in the transitioning from the state of nature to civil society is a social contract proposed by the rich from political social order. This contract is a trick played by the rich on the poor. The poor are made to believe by agreeing to the creation of political society, they will be made safe and preserve their freedom. It is a device that legitimates property and inequality at the expense of the poor. Rousseau poses a wonderful natural state and ascribes all the blame to cultural institutions, society, state and education. The Discourse on inequality leaves us with a paradox. The progress of civilization is responsible for all our miseries, the society’s fault. Even the way-out Rousseau subscribed for has loopholes, surrendering all our rights to the general will. How are we sure that the general will is always the right and true will? Rousseau was scarcely aware of the fact that the unrestricted power of the general will might result in absolutism in a community. Power it is said corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Critics have pointed out that “too argue that the general will is always the disinterested will of the community for the common good, and therefore, always right to give the phase when we ask for solution.” There is no guarantee that the will of the community will always turn out to be for the common good. There is often a great deal of difference the latter considers only the common interest into account, and is no more than a sum of particular wills: but take away from the same wills of the pluses and minuses the cancel one another.Man, by nature is a selfish being; he can only think of his personal interest first before the general one. It may be for some but totally not all, especially those forced to surrender their rights. Once freedom is surrendered, then all rights are forfeited which eliminate any demand for something in return.The general will is the common good of all men, and yet this concept is precisely what provides protection of the individual, since Rousseau’s conception is such that the individual and the collective are so intertwined that they cannot be separated without returning to the state of nature. Yet, Rousseau does concede that particular (or private) wills of the individual do exist in so far that each individual, as a man can have a particular will that doesn’t fit, and even conflicts with, the general will that he has as a citizen . Thus, the general will, being the will the community, appears at first to be opposing to the interests of individuals. It is an abstract theory, but nevertheless exudes clarity of purpose, even if Rousseau does not definitively express how the general will is found. As has been touched upon, society, being inescapable without returning man back to his origins as a primitive being, is such that the community and the individual are permanently coexisting and interdependent. The general will – the will of the community – is thus to Rousseau a reflection of the common good, since all rational persons have in their very nature a concern for their self-preservation and freedom; they would thus be harming themselves to will something for the community (in which they are inextricably linked) that is distinctly separate from their own particular will.

“The Philosophers who have examined the foundations of society have all felt the necessity of going back as far as the state of Nature, but none of them has reached it.” Rousseau states in the Confessions that his Discourse on the Origin and the Foundations of Inequality Among Men is the work in which his principles “are made manifest with the greatest boldness, not to say audacity.” He takes up the theme of the state of nature, and offers a critical reply to Hobbes and Locke, each of whom had made the concept central to their political teachings. While Rousseau accepts Hobbes’s anti-Aristotelian contention that human beings are not by nature political animals, he rejects Hobbes’s description of the state of nature, accusing Hobbes and others of projecting back onto natural man the vices and psychological characteristics of man already living in society. Part one of the work depicts human beings who are not yet corrupted by entrance into civilization. This state is not a war of all against all, as Hobbes had claimed. The human being in this pure state of nature is naturally good, by which Rousseau means that he is self-sufficient and nature supplies him with what he desires, his wants never outstripping his needs. Man in the pure state of nature is for Rousseau not a noble savage, as is sometimes claimed, but an amoral, even quite stupid animal. He is solitary, apart from chance meetings occasioning the opportunity for sex and reproduction; care of children by females is minimal.

The single characteristic that sets humans apart from other animals is what Rousseau calls perfectibility. Man is more malleable than the other animals, possessing the ability to learn and devise better means to satisfy his needs. Rousseau denies that man’s movement out of the pure state of nature is teleological or providential. Rather, what lifts man is a series of “accidents” that eventually bring about the development of greater intellectual and psychological capacities, the capacity for language being the most significant. This process eventually lifts natural man from his pre-social state into the most primitive social groupings. Rousseau calls this age of primitive society the happiest and most durable epoch and the best state of man. But, his view is complicated, for he later describes this putative best state of man as one in which vengeances had become terrible and men became bloody and cruel and, this putative best epoch occurs before all our faculties as human beings have developed. Rousseau’s presentation of human history here points toward a tension between the good of man in general or of the human species, and the good of man when he is considered as an individual being with the capacity for reason, science, and philosophy. In unfolding his conjectural history Rousseau goes on to describe the genesis of agriculture, family life, and the idea of private property. The fundamental basis of conventional inequality arises from the unequal distribution of property. The political community that protects private ownership originates in an act of fraud by the few rich, who wish to dominate the many poor, an act Rousseau memorably describes as the most well-conceived project ever to enter the human mind by which a few ambitious men henceforth subjugated the whole of Mankind to labor, servitude and misery.

The social contract also offers various measures through which the general will is made discoverable, or else enforced. At the same time as forcing man to be free seems opposing to open-minded political theory, the institutions that Rousseau describes within the social contract are similar to popular sovereignty and hence compatible with individual independence. These include the institutions of a legislator, or law-giver, civil religion and censorship. Rousseau acknowledges that man does not necessarily know what he wants, or is best for him and so needs the guidance of wisdom and experience in the form of these institutions to aid the formation of the social contract. If that is done, public enlightenment leads to the union of understanding and will in the social body: the parts are made to work exactly together and the whole is raised to its highest power. For this there has to be a law-maker. Thus Rousseau depicts a figure who is distinct from the sovereignty of the people and hence neither superior (a master) nor inferior to the community: he works in the interest of discovering the general will (by means of influence), and thus by deduction solely motivated by the protection of liberty and freedom of the individual. It has been established that the social contract distinguishes two necessities of human nature: the need for security and political authority (embodied in the social contract as the need for a political community) and the need for individual independence and liberty. Yet there must inevitably be a compromise. One of the towering liberal philosophers of the twentieth century, Isaiah Berlin, famously drew a distinction between two concepts of liberty, those of positive and negative liberty and this is pertinent in its applicability in Rousseau’s social contract. At the same time, as negative (absolute) liberty allows the individual full independence in the absence of external forces (coercive or otherwise), Rousseau concedes that to reconcile the two necessities a different conception of liberty is needed, and this Berlin called positive liberty: the freedom to, as opposed to freedom from, act with individual autonomy, protected by certain measures acting as safeguards. This, to Rousseau, was civil liberty: What man loses by the social contract is his natural liberty and an unlimited right to everything he tries to get and succeeds in getting; what he gains is civil liberty and the proprietorship of all he possesses. We must clearly distinguish natural liberty, which is bounded only by the strength of the individual, from civil liberty, which is limited by the general will; and possession, which is merely the effect of force or the right of the first occupier, from property, which can be founded only on a positive title.

We might, over and above all this add, to what man acquires in the civil state, moral liberty, which alone makes him truly the master of himself; for the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, while obedience to a law which we prescribe to ourselves is liberty. This is a striking statement, and of course not one that Berlin, among others, accepts. Berlin states that to force a man is to deprive him of freedom. Yet Rousseau’s social contract is not forceful in this sense. Man does not accept the general will through the persuasion of authority, but because it is rational to do so as the general will is equally a manifestation of one’s own true will. Rousseau does not deprive the individual of free will: far from it, he expects that in the social contract man will choose the general will with this very same free will of the individual. By man developing his moral faculties through the conception of the civil state, Rousseau claims that justice triumphs over instinct, intelligence over stupidity and irrationality. Thus, in forming a civil community (state), man develops an appreciation of the liberty of other individuals within that community, which is mutually protective; the moral intelligence that man formulates is of greater benefit to individual freedom and autonomy than his very same (absolute) liberty in the state of nature.


Jean Jacques Rousseau’s theory has attained its quintessential states because he made antic effort to procure the freedom of the individual in trying to evolve a sane social sphere. Many of Rousseau’s ideas were put into practices during the latter and more terrible phases of the revolution. This is because he unearthed the crucial nature and place of ethics within the practice of politics as he was not interested merely in happiness or unity. Rousseau saw the states as the source of morality, freedom and community and its main objective was to liberate the individual from the uncertainties, incongruity and hypocrisy of traditional society and even the civil society after the contract.
Rousseau’s idea is quite different from Hobbes in the Leviathan and Locke in the two treatises of government. He tried to understand the human nature, which amount to the understanding of man in the pure state of nature.

Rousseau discusses two types of inequality; natural or physical inequality, the nature is the difference in the human body such as food, gender physic, it is basically a product of nature and for Rousseau the nature inequality is not the root of the inequality found in the society. While the physical inequality deals with resources, property etc., but there are invention of men in the state of nature which leads the civil society and gives room for comparison, pride, envy and greed and therefore brings about the inequality of man in the civil society. He seeks to elucidate the historical development in human beings to our present-day society. Rousseau’s starts by examining man in his state of nature, man for Rousseau in the state of nature is driven by two principles which are pity and pity preservation.
Man, in the state of nature exists without reason and the concept of good and evil, the only that distinguishes man from a beast is his sense of unrealized perfectibility. The notion of perfectibility for Rousseau is important because it allows an isolated human being to adapt to his environment and to be reshaped by it. When natural disaster force people to leave from one place to other and thereby causing interaction and establishment of little groups and society, the needs of man changes and man then begins to leave the pure state of nature. Rousseau writes that as individuals have more contact with one another and small groupings begin to form, the human mind develops language, which in turn contributes to the development of reason. Lives in the new stage of human also sudden the development of new negative motivation of human actions, Rousseau’s refers to this principle as amour proper, which drives men to compare their self to others, which drives them to seek domination over their follow human beings. Rousseau states that with the development of amour propre and more complex human societies, private property is invented, and the labor necessary for human survival is divided among different individuals to provide for the whole. This division of labor and the beginning of private property allow the property owners and non-laborers to dominate and exploit the poor. Rousseau observes that this state of affairs is disliked by the poor, who will naturally seek war against the rich to end their unfair domination. When the rich recognize this fact, they deceive the poor into joining a political society that purports to grant them the equality they seek. Instead of granting equality, however, it sanctifies their oppression and makes an unnatural moral inequality a permanent feature of civil society.

Basically, Rousseau traced the origin of the inequality to a social contract by individuals after an experience from the state of nature. His state of nature initially guaranteed freedom and good life for the inhabitants until the institution of private property ushered inequality that called for an organized or civil society mainly to protect lives and property. He considered property as being the root cause of inequality and injustice which consequently made the individual to loss his freedom. However, Rousseau argued that property had to be controlled by the General Will which was the universal law that regained man’s freedom and liberty in the civil society. Liberty and individual sovereignty, for Rousseau, was the greatest good; and they were only possible when dependence between human beings were eliminated, if not at least, regulated by law (the General Will). He understood liberty as participation and popular sovereignty. To him, both the individual and the state were simultaneously sovereign. Both were needed to realize a just social and political order.Rousseau was in all proposing a simple and free life for all, a life with no struggles, war and nothing to worry about pain and hunger. But we have gone far pass that. We live in the 21st century and in a world full of advancement. Living a kind of life that was once lived in the state of nature will not fit into our present world. Thus, property and society have not only helped to facilitate a higher standard of living, but also endorse inequality among human beings. Also, for an earthly paradise to be in reach, one must remove the violence of tyrants and enlighten the oppressed majority.

Rousseau’s conclusions to the Discourse are clear: inequality is natural only when it relates to physical differences between men. In modern societies, however, inequality derives from a process of human evolution that has corrupted man’s nature and subjected him to laws and property, both of which support a new, unjustifiable kind of inequality, termed moral inequality. This is an unacceptable situation, according to Rousseau, but he gives few clues about how it can be improved.

Consequently, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s theory of the social contract became relevant in modern day society in a variety of ways. It supplies the basis of location of sovereignty in a social setting as the theory of popular sovereignty; it also serves the basis for democracy and the justification for revolutions against arbitrary rule; it gives impetus for the present day referendum and direct legislation by the people. His analysis on the institution of private property educates much on the root cause of the injustices and corruption that bedevil our contemporary society. Nevertheless, his political submissions were equally inadequate in that he was scarcely aware of the fact the unrestricted power of the General Will might result to absolutism. Therefore, to argue that the General will is always the overall will of the community, devoid of selfish individual interests of members, and is always right, is to forget the fact also that there is no guarantee for the will of the community to always turn out to be for the common good. This is because individuals’ egoistic interests are inextricably perceived inherent in all human interactions. Man, by nature, is a selfish being. The theory’s emphasis on the state as a result of the social contract makes it a historical-without evidence of records in history when such a contract and the state of nature existed. Some critics argued that his submissions are, therefore, illogical and practically dangerous, being favourable to anarchy. Despite these defects, Rousseau’s theory still remains relevant. It is still the originator of those purposes which the state can serve and which alone can justify the state’s existence.To this end, this workestablishes that inequality is present in our society and it cannot be totally wiped out because it has led to an establishment of an organized society through the implementation of laws. However, to forestall abuse and the negative burden of inequality, the burden of cruelty should be removed, the oppressed should be enlightened and human reason should take precedence our sentiment in our mode of operation.


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