Rousseau and aristotle – essay

Rousseau and Aristotle have offered their philosophical ideas to the relation of the individual to society. Both have contrasting opinions about this topic and each provided analysis about what is the natural setting for a human being. Aristotle displays his affection for the city-state and how it was created for the betterment of human life. Rousseau counters with his discourse about how society corrupts the individual. Rousseau writes with a prominence of asserting his beliefs, his style is slow paced, giving the reader time to comprehend significant concepts. He doesn’t appear to care much about the physical transformation of humans of the past to humans of the present day. Instead he focuses on the social and mental transformations of humans. When man exists in his simplest form he exists in nature dispersed among the animals. He doesn’t need clothes on his back, a house to live in, or a language to communicate with. He exists alone, in nature as what Rousseau calls a natural human. A natural human satisfies his own needs. When they need something they provide it for themselves. The natural human uses skill over strength to survive against much more formidable beasts in the wild. Rousseau explains that humans may or may not have original instincts, but they can appropriate all other animal instincts because humans naturally have a thought process. The natural human exists in nature, thus the unnatural human exists in society. Rousseau carries on with a discussion about domestication. Animals that become domesticated loose courage, strength and vigor. This leads to what is referred to as degeneration. When the animal becomes weak, fearful, and servile it is the same as a human dependent upon society. Aristotle authors with the opposite style of Rousseau, he writes with little to no decoration of words. Instead he is very concise and to the point. However when Aristotle makes a point its brevity can cause it to be overlooked. Aristotle firmly believes that it is natural for man to be in a society. This philosophy is intended for the betterment of life for humans. Aristotle describes humans as a political animal, and anyone who is without a city-state is either a poor-specimen or else superhuman. This indicates that the city-state is something that the individual is born into. The city is before the family and the family is before the individual. Aristotle’s reasoning for this is the whole is necessarily prior to the part. The example he describes is a dead body. The hand of the departed body is no longer a hand. So if there is no longer a city, then there is no longer a family and no longer an individual. The natural human that Rousseau described would be considered by Aristotle to be a beast or a god. Rousseau clearly doesn’t believe the natural human to be a beast or a god, but he does believe that humans are capable of being self-sufficient and can do so without civilization. Aristotle simplifies the idea, by saying that the entire focus of a society is to live a better life.