Rousseau was a writer and theorist of the Romantic type. Some of his key works include ‘A Discourse on the Sciences and Arts’ (1750) and ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality’ (1755). The focus is on the positive nature of humans in comparison to the impure and fake nature of the modern industrialised world.
In ‘Discourse on the Arts and Science,’ Rousseau expressed that art and science can be detrimental to human nature and society. It may be that art can portray underlying meaning to control the masses like propaganda, advertising, or enforcing social norms. Science can lead to destructive and unnatural creations like nuclear bombs, GMO foods, and genetic engineering. Rousseau was against modernity with the presence of social honour, prestige, dependence, servitude, selfishness, vanity, and atheism (1). Rousseau considered these vices that affect the goodness of human nature leading to evil.
In ‘Discourse on Inequality,’ Rousseau emphasised that inequality in society is unnatural. Class inequality may be unnatural. In nature, there is not a monetary system or a state that imposes authority and rules. Humans have characteristics that differentiate them, but there are also universals like empathy to others and self-care. These are natural universal aspects of human nature that are truly beautiful and important. The domination of certain social groups can be maintained through comparison, vanity, and monetary gain.
Rousseau had a romantic view of nature and human nature. Theories about humans of romantic nature are concrete, varied, infinite, natural, organic, free, creative, emotional, imaginative, and intuitive (2). An open approach to analysing human nature involves not limiting the human capabilities and the possibilities of our good nature to strictly defined conventions, stereotypes, or expectations.
Humans are naturally emotional beings who feel an array of feelings and a desire for a higher connection. Rousseau believed that religious piety is based on emotions and not intellect (3). Devotion to God and respect for each other requires a combination of emotional regulation and the ability to feel a range of deep emotions. Rousseau felt opposing feelings about human nature and the state of civilization. He had pessimistic emotions about the journey of civilization and much optimism about human nature (4). Society can change an individual much and draw them to depart greatly from their inner goodness.
As well as being a wise philosopher on the value of human nature, Rousseau was a vegetarian advocate. Rousseau noted in his written work ‘Emile’ that children are naturally more satisfied by plant food and that cultures that are more vegan are more friendly (5). Cruelty to one species may influence one’s behaviour to another, including eating animals, whilst there is much evidence that humans are vegan in nature.
Rousseau quoted Plutarch’s ‘Essay,’
“The further we remove from a natural mode of living the more we lose our natural tastes; or rather habit makes a second nature, which we substitute to such a degree for the first that none among us any longer knows what the latter is. It follows from this that the most simple tastes must also be the most natural, for they are those which are most easily changed, while being sharpened and by being irritated by our whims they assume a form which never changes. The man who is yet of no country will conform himself without trouble to the customs of any country whatever, but the man of one country never becomes that of another. This appears to me true in every sense, and still more so applied to taste properly so-called”
(Plutarch’s Essay) (6)
(1) Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 2022. An Introduction to the Work of Rousseau. [online] Available at: <https://thegreatthinkers.org/rousseau/introduction/> [Accessed 1 March 2022].
(2) Infed.org. 2022. Jean-Jacques Rousseau on nature, wholeness and education. [online] Available at: <https://infed.org/mobi/jean-jacques-rousseau-on-nature-wholeness-and-education/> [Accessed 1 March 2022].
(3) Imagining-other.net. 2022. Rousseau’s views on human nature. [online] Available at: <http://www.imagining-other.net/enl4humannaturerousseau.htm> [Accessed 1 March 2022].
(4) Philosophy & Philosophers. 2012. Rousseau and Human Nature. [online] Available at: <https://www.the-philosophy.com/rousseau-human-nature> [Accessed 1 March 2022].
(5) Ivu.org. 2022. History of Vegetarianism – Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 1778). [online] Available at: <https://ivu.org/history/renaissance/rousseau.html> [Accessed 1 March 2022].
(6) Williams, H. 1883. History of Vegetarianism – The Ethics of Diet – Jean Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778. [online] Available at: <https://ivu.org/history/williams/rousseau.html> [Accessed 1 March 2022].