Daniel Davis Philosophy D 12/01/11 What is amour-propre? What role does it play, according to Rousseau, in the Discourse on Inequality? Tutor: Robert Cowan In May 1755, Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality was published. The Discourse challenged contemporary philosophers in regards to the nature of man, and the fundamental principles of inequality. He highlighted that the inequality in current society developed due to the increase amour-propre has had on individuals.
Examining amour-propre shows that it is fundamentally much more complex than simply being misconstrued as vanity; it could be described as a range of things such as pride, aggrandizement and prestige within society. It has played a decisive role within the development of society and has been attributed to being the source of the existing inequality within modern society. Although amour-propre is described in the Second Discourse as largely negative, it is responsible for the development of socialization and the individual drive for recognition.
Amour-propre is a reflective trait that is triggered when human beings started coming together, as it requires a human to be compared with another being. It is the need for self-love and the intrinsic need to feel a sense of importance within society. Rousseau suggests this trait is the fundamental drive in all human beings. It gives way for the need to be recognised as a rational human being.
Amour-propre could also be described as the drive to find distinction within society; this could be manifested as the need to be championed as the best at something, having your views being considered as rational and valued, or establish superiority over one’s peers. The nature of amour-propre is interminable, and the more it is used the greater of an influence it becomes on a person’s character; the more someone is held in esteem, the more passionate they become in maintaining their status. As it becomes more powerful, it becomes a source of athologies such as shame and vanity; it is described as the ‘’the source of personal corruption and suffering and social evil’’ (Dent, 1992, pg. 34) due to the overwhelming nature of it. Moreover, as people are influenced more by amour-propre, their drive for a fulfilled life relies solely on their status. As everyone has the same drive it creates ‘’a world in which the amour-propre of all but himself is ignored’’ (O’Hagan, 1999, pg. 173). Rousseau highlights amour-propre as being a reflective trait by examining the state of nature.
As savage man is an unreflective and solitary being, the awareness of status would not yet be in his realms of understanding. Moreover, at this point, Rousseau highlights that they have no sense of morality, and only possess two main unreflective traits: amour de soi (self-preservation) and pitie (compassion). The former gives the savage man a drive for survival, addressing only the most basic needs e. g. food, water, sex. Rousseau highlights the primary distinctions of amour de soi and amour propre in the Second Part in the Discourse.
He believes that amour-propre is a modification of our amour de soi. The two are very different by virtue of their nature; if amour de soi could be described as the wellbeing of self, amour-propre could be described as the wellbeing of social status. This wellbeing of self doesn’t impose on other savage humans for a number of reasons: being naturally solitary beings, having an abundance of supplies to adequately satisfy their basic needs, as well as not having the unreflective concept of what another savage human is. Although there is a basic natural inequality between savage humans (i. . strength, height) the absence of society as well as reasons that led to one imposing on another makes this somewhat inexistent, further highlighting in Rousseau’s argument that society and the existence of amour-propre leads to the essence of inequality and corruption. As amour-propre displaces amour de soi it leads to it ‘’substituting for the intact self-possessed good with which the latter is concerned the delusive good which consists in procuring invidious personal dominance over others’’ (Dent, 1992, pg. 34).
As amour-propre is the main drive for distinction and self-importance, competition between humans becomes more violent and deceitful which creates a greater degree of inequality within society. Moreover, as the sentiment is an artificial and reflective trait, it could be described as morally unjustified. The artificial trait is highlighted by Rousseau when he writes ‘’amour-propre is a purely relative and factitious feeling which arises in the state of society’’ (Rousseau, f/n pg. 73); it is due to the need for comparison with other human beings that it arises only in society and the coming together of human beings.
It is this correlation that the trait has with society that leads it to having a significant role within the development of society. The development of amour-propre has played a pivotal role within society: Rousseau believes it is solely responsible for the ills, and inspires all evil in modern society. Civil society was founded when ‘’the first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine’, and found people simple enough to believe him’’ (Rousseau pg. 84).
The state of civil society could not have happened overnight, that leap would require great conceptual development in humans, but from the moment that men started staying in communities was the first real sign in the development of amour-propre; humans started comparing themselves with other beings and ‘’from these first distinctions arose on the one side vanity and contempt and on the other shame and envy’’ (Rousseau pg. 90). Although in early stages of society ‘’amour-propre is morally neutral’’ (O Hagan, 1999, pg. 162) Rousseau suggests that it is the true cause of society’s discontent.
This is due to the pathologies that develop from the first distinctions of men. These first distinctions also gave way to the prestige of status; status is the main ambition behind the trait of amour-propre; the egocentric need to prove your importance and standing in society. From this point, amour-propre becomes more established within human behaviour and becomes a major influence on the development of society. The pathologies, such as vanity and pride, then have a chance to develop. The overpowering nature of these pathologies begins to overshadow the fundamental needs for survival.
As the influence of these pathologies grows, human beings initial drive becomes overwhelmed by their reliance on artificial needs. Although the initial drive for status can create a healthy competition, this drive can quickly become vehement and deceitful as we start to expect it from others. Moreover, the progress of these pathologies shows how our nature changes due to increased influence from amour-propre. In modern society, the omnipresence of amour- propre has changed people from being championed for what they can to do to what they can appear to do.
This increases the amount of influence deceit has on society as people can be held in greater esteem for having the quality of convincing their peers of their abilities rather than showing them in practice. Amour-propre can have more negative effect on society: as the growth inequality increases, this attribute becomes consuming as we become obsessed about our status, esteem and personal possessions. As more sentiment is bestowed on our artificial needs, such as personal possessions, the unreflective attributes of human beings are overshadowed.
Moreover, the need for such possessions becomes more overwhelming, as it gives humans a greater thirst for more materialistic things; as we own more things, our amour-propre not only lets us believe that we rely on such possessions, but more are needed in order to sustain our prestige and esteem. Rousseau gives evidence that these possessions don’t give any substantial happiness to their beholder, however in the Second Discourse: ‘’men would be unhappy at the loss of them, though the possession did not make them happy’’ (Rousseau pg. 8). The envious side of amour-propre is also heightened as competition between peers starts a tit-for-tat relationship on who possesses most of these personal possessions. Furthermore, the role amour-propre plays in society creates social standing, and inequality, by comparing your possessions with others: if you have more possessions, you are held in higher esteem. The more people own, however, the more they tend to rely on such things to maintain their social standing and in a way become enslaved by their personal possessions.
Rousseau highlights this in the Social Contract by claiming ‘’man is born free and everywhere he is in chains, one thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they’’ (Rousseau pg. 181): Rousseau believes human behaviour is consumed by amour-propre to the extent it enslaves an individual’s very nature. Rousseau also claims that amour-propre acts as a catalyst for the growth of inequality within society. We also become more enslaved to our status the higher we are held in esteem, desperate to maintain societies’ high opinion of ourselves.
Politicians are a good example of this, as their behaviour is constantly scrutinized they are bounded by constantly playing the role that society expects (that of an upstanding and honest role model; their freedom to behave in any manner they want is extinguished by constantly trying to uphold their status. Although it is described as largely negative within the Second Discourse, it is essential for the foundations of society. If humans didn’t have the drive for competition and standing, the socialization between humans would not happen as we require interaction to hold comparison between ourselves and our peers.
Within modern society, the innate drive to better one’s self could stem for the overwhelming nature of the trait. Without this drive, the determination within the human nature may only extend to necessities of survival and not the technological and scientific advances that society has discovered. Although Rousseau argues that many ills that exist in modern society are born through society itself, the advancements in dealing with such problems surely have been spurred on with the drive for recognition and status that is bestowed on people responsible for these advancements.
Amour propre also develops the desire to be respected and acknowledged, and gives us the sense that we matter. As we start to expect eminence from other humans, our nature changes due to ‘’societies which amour-propre runs rampant, people are alienated from their authentic or natural selves’’ (Riley, 2001 pg. 117). Our nature is augmented so much so, we would become vexed if we are individually disregarded in society, as it vitiates our status as a rational human being.
From this viewpoint, amour-propre could be regarded as a fitting trait to tackle the problem of inequality; examples of this in society could be the struggle for inequality in America during the 1960s when the black community fought to improve their status within society and decreased the level of inequality within the country. This concept is somewhat counter intuitive, however, as it suggests amour-propre spurs on inequality but also reduces it. Amour-propre is the intrinsic need for distinction within society.
The egocentric trait is fundamental in the development of human beings as it gives us a drive not only for this distinction but also gives rise to inequality due to its competitive nature. As each human being is only concerned with their own status, conflict and inequality are increased as people develop a competitive nature due to the need for prestige. This has led to amour-propre playing a pivotal role within society. Due to the overwhelming nature of the trait, social class and rank have developed which has led to an unequal society that is driven solely by the need to surpass ur peers. Moreover, the fundamental needs for survival are overshadowed by the reliance human beings have for artificial needs such as personal possessions. Bibliography The Social Contract and Discourses, Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1913, Everyman Publishing, Guernsey C. I The Blackwell Philosopher Dictionaries, A Rousseau Dictionary, NJH Dent 1992 Blackwell Publishing, Oxford The Cambridge Companion to Rousseau, Patrick Riley, 2001, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge Rousseau, Timothy O Hagan, 1999, Routledge Publishing London
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