Discourse On the Origin of Inequality

The Purpose of Language

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his predecessor, Thomas Hobbes, both encounter the issue of language while constructing a concept of the state of nature and the origin of human society, a favorite mental exercise of seventeenth and eighteenth century philosophers such as themselves. The two agree that language elevates - or, perhaps more appropriately in regards to Rousseau, separates - man from beast, and facilitates man's departure from the state of nature. Their differing notions regarding the state of nature and those of civil society in turn reflect their divergent judgments of the value and consequences of language.

Thomas Hobbes, in his Leviathan, describes the natural state of man to be in constant conflict and misery, that "during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is call war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man...wherein men live [in] continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (Hobbes, 84). One premise behind Thomas Hobbes' notion of the state of nature is the right of nature, "which writers commonly call jus naturale...the liberty each man hath, to use...

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