Discourse On the Origin of Inequality

The Divergent Opinions of Smith and Rousseau: Natural Sociability and Criticisms of the Division of Labor

Although Adam Smith is considered a great defender of commercial society and Jean-Jacques Rousseau one of its prominent critics, both thinkers share certain criticisms of the division of labor. The two acknowledge that splitting tasks among people leads to the creation of social distinction and to the futile pursuit of happiness in luxury. For Rousseau, the division of labor causes moral inequality- difference established by social convention. Cooperation with others enslaves the modern man by creating the right to property, which allows for the domination of the rich over the poor. Furthermore, the division of labor gives man new needs, those for other people and for material objects, that are meaningless compared to his natural needs (Rousseau 67). For Smith, the division of labor also creates frivolous needs, giving expression to human egoism. He finds it imprudent that people pursue luxury although the poorest members of society have enough to survive (Theory 181). In addition, Smith asserts that division of labor diminishes intellectual and physical competence because of its highly specialized nature (Wealth 782). Yet, despite his misgivings, Smith regards the division of labor as a beneficial economic mechanism. Thus, it...

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