Descartes and Rousseau on Inequality

Published: 2021-06-29
616 words
3 pages
6 min to read
Middlebury College
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Two Philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Rene Descartes have different points of view on the issue of inequality. Descartes thrived on the idea that people should use rationalism as a way of attaining knowledge about different views in the world. His drive towards the movement of rationalism was termed as a modern philosophical movement by recent scholars. On the issue of inequality, the two authors or rather philosophers seemed to be supporting different points of view. To comprehend their different perspectives, we have to get a clear understanding on the issue of inequality. Inequality is ideally defined as the lack of equal chances to succeed in different aspects of the life. This paper aims to analyze the different perspectives on inequality held by both philosophers in an endeavor to comprehend what inequality is all about.

Rousseaus main perspective on the topic of inequality was that it is unnatural. The philosopher argues that there are two distinct types of inequality, moral and natural. Moral inequality refers to its establishment by an institution of men. On the other hand, natural inequality point to the existing differences between men in physical characteristics. However, he mentions that through mans lack of knowledge of right and wrong, since they are obviously governed by self-instincts, the issue of inequality does not naturally exist in the society of wild man. Nonetheless, he acknowledges that poverty is the main reason for the creation of inequality in men. The struggle to attain food and industrialization which has led to the civilization of men is what also led to the ruin of the human race. Such that lack of the defining aspect of agriculture and infrastructural development will define the aspect of inequality in men for years to come.

Descartes, on the other hand, had a more rational view on the issue of inequality. Through his defined modern philosophy, the idea of applying reason as a means to attain knowledge has gained the appraisal of many philosophers who came after him. In his rational explanation, Descartes applies the theoretical way of thinking realistically to conclude that inequality has been existing as long as man has been in existence. In his view, inequality is as real as the sun and the moon. Men have been provided with unequal opportunities for success in different aspects of life since time immemorial. Therefore, the issue of inequality can be traced back to the existence of man. He goes on to illustrate that civilized man thrives on the issue of inequality as it is what creates the economic balance of the world. Essentially, inequality provides the availability of labor on every social level. It is, therefore, rational for inequality to exist but to a certain extent where it will not affect the quality of life being led by a man.

The two philosophers seem to hold different positions on the issue of inequality. However much their different points of view seem to differ, they also seem to hold some truth. Inequality has therefore been in existence since the existence of man himself. That is one pint agreed on by both philosophers. The analysis of texts from both philosophers tends to direct the reader into an activity of debating whether inequality is just in the civilized world and is needed for the existence of man or man can be able to survive in a world without inequality. Such questions strike the reader from time to time as one tries to understand the issue of inequality based on the definitions of the two philosophers.


Descartes, Rene, and John Cottingham. Rene Descartes: Meditations on first philosophy: With selections from the objections and replies. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Williams, David Lay. "Rousseau on Inequality and Free Will." (2016): 0090591716630747.

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