18th Century Europeans and Classifications of Man

Plaque of Jean-Jacques Rousseau issued by Gene...

Plaque of Jean-Jacques Rousseau issued by Geneva in 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Explain this statement in Outram: “Enlightenment attempts to classify the varieties of mankind were ultimately inconclusive” (p. 56). What were the causes of this inconclusiveness?

I think that Europeans tried to classify and categorize the varieties of mankind in order to better understand themselves. Their technological and intellectual accomplishments made them appear superior to other races they encountered throughout the world, and they wanted to find out why. For example, Linnaeus divided men into 4 categories (white Europeans, red American Indians, black Africans and brown Asians) and 2 subcategories (pygmies and giants). At that time, Europeans were not only classifying people, but also animals, plants, fish, butterflies, etc. All of these efforts were a way to categorize knowledge that they were still in the process of gathering about the world around them. All of these efforts eventually showed to be inconclusive because they did not yet delve into the nuances of the different cultures. Once, nuances like anthropology, archaeology, and other social sciences developed then these early classifications were confirmed to be inadequate, shallow, and inconclusive.

What does Rousseau’s thinking about the nature of “uncivilized” man have in common with that of Captain Cook, according to Outram?

According to Outram, “Cook echoes Rousseau’s argument that civilisation inevitably corrupts because it fills us with inauthentic desires (which are also what propel the economies of the corrupt societies). These inauthentic desires are what cause the wish for luxury” (54). Both Cook and Rousseau saw luxury and the desires for more and more property as a huge negative factor of progressive society. Thus, Rousseau’s and Captain Cook’s thinking about the nature of “uncivilized” man are similar in that they both view the uncivilized man as the  kind that does not desire for more and more property and luxuries, and is at peace in a primitive state of nature. These views have less to do with their lack of knowledge about the realities of life in primitive societies and more with a rejection of their contemporary society’s values. Thus, their romanticized notion about the uncivilized man is really a critique of their own society.

Outram, D. The Enlightenment. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University. 2005. Print.


Rousseau’s Claim: “There is no genuine democracy”

Graeme Garrard traces the origin of the Counte...

Graeme Garrard traces the origin of the Counter-Enlightenment to Rousseau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What might Rousseau mean when he claims “there is no genuine democracy” (141)? Why not?

According to Rousseau, in a genuine democracy “everything is as equal by virtue of morals and talents as maxims and fortune, because choice would make almost no difference” (Williams 141). In other words, Rousseau is arguing that in a genuine democracy everything is equal, including social status, economic status, individual abilities and morals, language, etc., and if everything is equal then the choice of who is elected makes no difference. He states that “in every genuine democracy, magistracy is not an advantage but a burdensome charge, which one cannot justly impose on one individual rather than another” (Williams 141). For Rousseau, equality is an ideal that can only be approached and never reached, and elections are choices between equivalents. As democracy approaches equality, it becomes more and more unnecessary or meaningless. Thus Rousseau concludes that there is no genuine democracy.

Williams, David. The Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.

Rousseau’s notion of “Sovereign” in the Social Contract

English: Book "The Social Contract" ...

English: Book “The Social Contract” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, translation into Spanish by Mariano Moreno (1810). Printed at the “Real Imprenta de niños expósitos” Español: Libro “El Contrato social” de Jean-Jacques Rousseau, traducido al castellano por Mariano Moreno (1810). Impreso en la “Real Imprenta de niños expósitos”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How does Rousseau explain the creation of a Sovereign” (or king) in the Social Contract?

Rousseau argues that with the development of society, man started to acquire property and interests that led to numerous social tensions. “A perpetual conflict arose between the right of stronger and the right of the first occupant, which only led to fights and murderers” (Williams 116). As a result of these barbaric acts both by the rich and the poor, men became “greedy, ambitious and wicked” (Williams, 116). In order to curb this chaos, the stronger members with the society argued for the formation of “a supreme power” that would govern the society “according to wise laws,” which would protect private property (Williams, 117). Thus, the “Sovereign” (or king) in the Social Contract was created. According to the social contract, the powers invested into the sovereign were shared, meaning thatthere is no associate over whom one does not acquire the same right as one grants him over oneself,” and, as a result, “one gains the equivalent of all one loses” (Williams, 121).

Williams, David. The Enlightenment. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print.