The article examines the relation between the works Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and the Social Contract. The author argues that Rousseau in the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality is a philosopher of inter-subjectivity. „The happy youth“ of mankind is the school of mutual evaluation and self-evaluation by which a person enters into inter-subjective relations. The author holds that the other and others have a special value for Rousseau because they allow an individual to pass from the animal state to the status of man as man. Already in the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, however, the worth of the other as a partner in mutual evaluation changes into the worth of the other as the subject of general consent by which possession becomes publicly-recognised property. In this way the individual becomes the subject of public space of general consent. Property then becomes security against the trespasses of the individual with regard to the other and, in this way, justice arises according to which trespasses towards another become trespasses towards all. From the Discourse on Political Economy onwards, the public space in which the individual is an autonomous subject is described as the general will. The standing of the individual with regard to others in this shared domain is the main theme of the Social Contract. The analysis of this paper begins by emphasising Rousseau’s rejection of the thought that a person may give himself away (se donner) or sell himself (se vendre). This leads to the rejection of feudalism and to a qualified critique of the kind of wealth that enables one individual to buy another (Rousseau is not referring here to wage-labour, but to the abuse of wage-labour). This leads to Rousseau’s proposals of relatively equitable ownership. The author argues that Rousseau’s critique of disproportionate wealth is not driven by animosity or fanaticism, but rather by an attention to the independence of each individual as a member of democratic society. In addition Rousseau cleaves to a conception of man which treats the monolithic power of money as inimical to the special character and individual worth of each person, subjecting them to an artificial measure. The author shows that despite Rousseau’s declared opposition to ownership and civilisation, he is a philosopher who is actually positively disposed towards ownership and civilisation. His estimation of the „noble savage“ is very low, and the function of that motif is only to show that the self-dependence of the savage is a measure of the fully-fledged status of the individual in civilised society. Finally, the author briefly discusses Rousseau’s philosophy of history even if we cannot prevent the depravation of society in despotic communities, history has always observed a return to proper community. In conclusion, the influence of Rousseau on Hegel is brought to our attention. Hegel in the Philosophy of Right (Philosophie des Rechts) assents to Rousseau’s thesis that possession becomes ownership by virtue of the mutual recognition of individuals, and in the Phenomenology of Spirit we even find agreement with Rousseau’s thesis that the people, as the subject of the general will, cannot be mistaken, even if they can be deceived.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.