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Chapter 2

DISCOURSE FIRST PART

However important it may be, in order to form a proper judgment of the
natural state of man, to consider him from his origin, and to examine
him, as it were, in the first embryo of the species; I shall not
attempt to trace his organization through its successive approaches to
perfection: I shall not stop to examine in the animal system what he
might have been in the beginning, to become at last what he actually
is; I shall not inquire whether, as Aristotle thinks, his neglected
nails were no better at first than crooked talons; whether his whole
body was not, bear-like, thick covered with rough hair; and whether,
walking upon all-fours, his eyes, directed to the earth, and confined
to a horizon of a few paces extent, did not at once point out the
nature and limits of his ideas. I could only form vague, and almost
imaginary, conjectures on this subject. Comparative anatomy has not as
yet been sufficiently improved; neither have the observations of
natural philosophy been sufficiently ascertained, to establish upon
such foundations the basis of a solid system. For this reason, without
having recourse to the supernatural informations with which we have
been favoured on this head, or paying any attention to the changes,
that must have happened in the conformation of the interior and
exterior parts of man's body, in proportion as he applied his members
to new purposes, and took to new aliments, I shall suppose his
conformation to have always been, what we now behold it; that he
always walked on two feet, made the same use of his hands that we do
of ours, extended his looks over the whole face of nature, and
measured with his eyes the vast extent of the heavens.

If I strip this being, thus constituted, of all the supernatural gifts
which he may have received, and of all the artificial faculties, which
we could not have acquired but by slow degrees; if I consider him, in
a word, such as he must have issued from the hands of nature; I see an
animal less strong than some, and less active than others, but, upon
the whole, the most advantageously organized of any; I see him
satisfying the calls of hunger under the first oak, and those of
thirst at the first rivulet; I see him laying himself down to sleep at
the foot of the same tree that afforded him his meal; and behold, this
done, all his wants are completely supplied.

The earth left to its own natural fertility and covered with immense
woods, that no hatchet ever disfigured, offers at every step food and
shelter to every species of animals. Men, dispersed among them,
observe and imitate their industry, and thus rise to the instinct of
beasts; with this advantage, that, whereas every species of beasts is
confined to one peculiar instinct, man, who perhaps has not any that
particularly belongs to him, appropriates to himself those of all
other animals, and lives equally upon most of the different aliments,
which they only divide among themselves; a circumstance which
qualifies him to find his subsistence, with more ease than any of
them.

Men, accustomed from their infancy to the inclemency of the weather,
and to the rigour of the different seasons; inured to fatigue, and
obliged to defend, naked and without arms, their life and their prey
against the other wild inhabitants of the forest, or at least to avoid
their fury by flight, acquire a robust and almost unalterable habit of
body; the children, bringing with them into the world the excellent
constitution of their parents, and strengthening it by the same
exercises that first produced it, attain by this means all the vigour
that the human frame is capable of. Nature treats them exactly in the
same manner that Sparta treated the children of her citizens; those
who come well formed into the world she renders strong and robust, and
destroys all the rest; differing in this respect from our societies,
in which the state, by permitting children to become burdensome to
their parents, murders them all without distinction, even in the wombs
of their mothers.

The body being the only instrument that savage man is acquainted with,
he employs it to different uses, of which ours, for want of practice,
are incapable; and we may thank our industry for the loss of that
strength and agility, which necessity obliges him to acquire. Had he a
hatchet, would his hand so easily snap off from an oak so stout a
branch? Had he a sling, would it dart a stone to so great a distance?
Had he a ladder, would he run so nimbly up a tree? Had he a horse,
would he with such swiftness shoot along the plain? Give civilized man
but time to gather about him all his machines, and no doubt he will be
an overmatch for the savage: but if you have a mind to see a contest
still more unequal, place them naked and unarmed one opposite to the
other; and you will soon discover the advantage there is in
perpetually having all our forces at our disposal, in being constantly
prepared against all events, and in always carrying ourselves, as it
were, whole and entire about us.

Hobbes would have it that man is naturally void of fear, and always
intent upon attacking and fighting. An illustrious philosopher thinks
on the contrary, and Cumberland and Puffendorff likewise affirm it,
that nothing is more fearful than man in a state of nature, that he is
always in a tremble, and ready to fly at the first motion he
perceives, at the first noise that strikes his ears. This, indeed, may
be very true in regard to objects with which he is not acquainted; and
I make no doubt of his being terrified at every new sight that
presents itself, as often as he cannot distinguish the physical good
and evil which he may expect from it, nor compare his forces with the
dangers he has to encounter; circumstances that seldom occur in a
state of nature, where all things proceed in so uniform a manner, and
the face of the earth is not liable to those sudden and continual
changes occasioned in it by the passions and inconstancies of
collected bodies. But savage man living among other animals without
any society or fixed habitation, and finding himself early under a
necessity of measuring his strength with theirs, soon makes a
comparison between both, and finding that he surpasses them more in
address, than they surpass him in strength, he learns not to be any
longer in dread of them. Turn out a bear or a wolf against a sturdy,
active, resolute savage, (and this they all are,) provided with stones
and a good stick; and you will soon find that the danger is at least
equal on both sides, and that after several trials of this kind, wild
beasts, who are not fond of attacking each other, will not be very
fond of attacking man, whom they have found every whit as wild as
themselves. As to animals who have really more strength than man has
address, he is, in regard to them, what other weaker species are, who
find means to subsist notwithstanding; he has even this great
advantage over such weaker species, that being equally fleet with
them, and finding on every tree an almost inviolable asylum, he is
always at liberty to take it or leave it, as he likes best, and of
course to fight or to fly, whichever is most agreeable to him. To this
we may add that no animal naturally makes war upon man, except in the
case of self-defence or extreme hunger; nor ever expresses against him
any of these violent antipathies, which seem to indicate that some
particular species are intended by nature for the food of others.

But there are other more formidable enemies, and against which man is
not provided with the same means of defence; I mean natural
infirmities, infancy, old age, and sickness of every kind, melancholy
proofs of our weakness, whereof the two first are common to all
animals, and the last chiefly attends man living in a state of
society. It is even observable in regard to infancy, that the mother
being able to carry her child about with her, wherever she goes, can
perform the duty of a nurse with a great deal less trouble, than the
females of many other animals, who are obliged to be constantly going
and coming with no small labour and fatigue, one way to look out for
their own subsistence, and another to suckle and feed their young
ones. True it is that, if the woman happens to perish, her child is
exposed to the greatest danger of perishing with her; but this danger
is common to a hundred other species, whose young ones require a great
deal of time to be able to provide for themselves; and if our infancy
is longer than theirs, our life is longer likewise; so that, in this
respect too, all things are in a manner equal; not but that there are
other rules concerning the duration of the first age of life, and the
number of the young of man and other animals, but they do not belong
to my subject. With old men, who stir and perspire but little, the
demand for food diminishes with their abilities to provide it; and as
a savage life would exempt them from the gout and the rheumatism, and
old age is of all ills that which human assistance is least capable of
alleviating, they would at last go off, without its being perceived by
others that they ceased to exist, and almost without perceiving it
themselves.

In regard to sickness, I shall not repeat the vain and false
declamations made use of to discredit medicine by most men, while they
enjoy their health; I shall only ask if there are any solid
observations from which we may conclude that in those countries where
the healing art is most neglected, the mean duration of man's life is
shorter than in those where it is most cultivated? And how is it
possible this should be the case, if we inflict more diseases upon
ourselves than medicine can supply us with remedies! The extreme
inequalities in the manner of living of the several classes of
mankind, the excess of idleness in some, and of labour in others, the
facility of irritating and satisfying our sensuality and our
appetites, the too exquisite and out of the way aliments of the rich,
which fill them with fiery juices, and bring on indigestions, the
unwholesome food of the poor, of which even, bad as it is, they very
often fall short, and the want of which tempts them, every opportunity
that offers, to eat greedily and overload their stomachs; watchings,
excesses of every kind, immoderate transports of all the passions,
fatigues, waste of spirits, in a word, the numberless pains and
anxieties annexed to every condition, and which the mind of man is
constantly a prey to; these are the fatal proofs that most of our ills
are of our own making, and that we might have avoided them all by
adhering to the simple, uniform and solitary way of life prescribed to
us by nature. Allowing that nature intended we should always enjoy
good health, I dare almost affirm that a state of reflection is a
state against nature, and that the man who meditates is a depraved
animal. We need only call to mind the good constitution of savages,
of those at least whom we have not destroyed by our strong liquors; we
need only reflect, that they are strangers to almost every disease,
except those occasioned by wounds and old age, to be in a manner
convinced that the history of human diseases might be easily composed
by pursuing that of civil societies. Such at least was the opinion of
Plato, who concluded from certain remedies made use of or approved by
Podalyrus and Macaon at the Siege of Troy, that several disorders,
which these remedies were found to bring on in his days, were not
known among men at that remote period.

Man therefore, in a state of nature where there are so few sources of
sickness, can have no great occasion for physic, and still less for
physicians; neither is the human species more to be pitied in this
respect, than any other species of animals. Ask those who make hunting
their recreation or business, if in their excursions they meet with
many sick or feeble animals. They meet with many carrying the marks of
considerable wounds, that have been perfectly well healed and closed
up; with many, whose bones formerly broken, and whose limbs almost
torn off, have completely knit and united, without any other surgeon
but time, any other regimen but their usual way of living, and whose
cures were not the less perfect for their not having been tortured
with incisions, poisoned with drugs, or worn out by diet and
abstinence. In a word, however useful medicine well administered may
be to us who live in a state of society, it is still past doubt, that
if, on the one hand, the sick savage, destitute of help, has nothing
to hope from nature, on the other, he has nothing to fear but from his
disease; a circumstance, which oftens renders his situation preferable
to ours.

Let us therefore beware of confounding savage man with the men, whom
we daily see and converse with. Nature behaves towards all animals
left to her care with a predilection, that seems to prove how jealous
she is of that prerogative. The horse, the cat, the bull, nay the ass
itself, have generally a higher stature, and always a more robust
constitution, more vigour, more strength and courage in their forests
than in our houses; they lose half these advantages by becoming
domestic animals; it looks as if all our attention to treat them
kindly, and to feed them well, served only to bastardize them. It is
thus with man himself. In proportion as he becomes sociable and a
slave to others, he becomes weak, fearful, mean-spirited, and his soft
and effeminate way of living at once completes the enervation of his
strength and of his courage. We may add, that there must be still a
wider difference between man and man in a savage and domestic
condition, than between beast and beast; for as men and beasts have
been treated alike by nature, all the conveniences with which men
indulge themselves more than they do the beasts tamed by them, are so
many particular causes which make them degenerate more sensibly.

Nakedness therefore, the want of houses, and of all these
unnecessaries, which we consider as so very necessary, are not such
mighty evils in respect to these primitive men, and much less still
any obstacle to their preservation. Their skins, it is true, are
destitute of hair; but then they have no occasion for any such
covering in warm climates; and in cold climates they soon learn to
apply to that use those of the animals they have conquered; they have
but two feet to run with, but they have two hands to defend themselves
with, and provide for all their wants; it costs them perhaps a great
deal of time and trouble to make their children walk, but the mothers
carry them with ease; an advantage not granted to other species of
animals, with whom the mother, when pursued, is obliged to abandon her
young ones, or regulate her steps by theirs. In short, unless we admit
those singular and fortuitous concurrences of circumstances, which I
shall speak of hereafter, and which, it is very possible, may never
have existed, it is evident, in every state of the question, that the
man, who first made himself clothes and built himself a cabin,
supplied himself with things which he did not much want, since he had
lived without them till then; and why should he not have been able to
support in his riper years, the same kind of life, which he had
supported from his infancy?

Alone, idle, and always surrounded with danger, savage man must be
fond of sleep, and sleep lightly like other animals, who think but
little, and may, in a manner, be said to sleep all the time they do
not think: self-preservation being almost his only concern, he must
exercise those faculties most, which are most serviceable in attacking
and in defending, whether to subdue his prey, or to prevent his
becoming that of other animals: those organs, on the contrary, which
softness and sensuality can alone improve, must remain in a state of
rudeness, utterly incompatible with all manner of delicacy; and as his
senses are divided on this point, his touch and his taste must be
extremely coarse and blunt; his sight, his hearing, and his smelling
equally subtle: such is the animal state in general, and accordingly
if we may believe travellers, it is that of most savage nations. We
must not therefore be surprised, that the Hottentots of the Cape of
Good Hope, distinguish with their naked eyes ships on the ocean, at as
great a distance as the Dutch can discern them with their glasses; nor
that the savages of America should have tracked the Spaniards with
their noses, to as great a degree of exactness, as the best dogs could
have done; nor that all these barbarous nations support nakedness
without pain, use such large quantities of Piemento to give their food
a relish, and drink like water the strongest liquors of Europe.

As yet I have considered man merely in his physical capacity; let us
now endeavour to examine him in a metaphysical and moral light.

I can discover nothing in any mere animal but an ingenious machine, to
which nature has given senses to wind itself up, and guard, to a
certain degree, against everything that might destroy or disorder it.
I perceive the very same things in the human machine, with this
difference, that nature alone operates in all the operations of the
beast, whereas man, as a free agent, has a share in his. One chooses
by instinct; the other by an act of liberty; for which reason the
beast cannot deviate from the rules that have been prescribed to it,
even in cases where such deviation might be useful, and man often
deviates from the rules laid down for him to his prejudice. Thus a
pigeon would starve near a dish of the best flesh-meat, and a cat on a
heap of fruit or corn, though both might very well support life with
the food which they thus disdain, did they but bethink themselves to
make a trial of it: it is in this manner dissolute men run into
excesses, which bring on fevers and death itself; because the mind
depraves the senses, and when nature ceases to speak, the will still
continues to dictate.

All animals must be allowed to have ideas, since all animals have
senses; they even combine their ideas to a certain degree, and, in
this respect, it is only the difference of such degree, that
constitutes the difference between man and beast: some philosophers
have even advanced, that there is a greater difference between some
men and some others, than between some men and some beasts; it is not
therefore so much the understanding that constitutes, among animals,
the specifical distinction of man, as his quality of a free agent.
Nature speaks to all animals, and beasts obey her voice. Man feels the
same impression, but he at the same time perceives that he is free to
resist or to acquiesce; and it is in the consciousness of this
liberty, that the spirituality of his soul chiefly appears: for
natural philosophy explains, in some measure, the mechanism of the
senses and the formation of ideas; but in the power of willing, or
rather of choosing, and in the consciousness of this power, nothing
can be discovered but acts, that are purely spiritual, and cannot be
accounted for by the laws of mechanics.

But though the difficulties, in which all these questions are
involved, should leave some room to dispute on this difference between
man and beast, there is another very specific quality that
distinguishes them, and a quality which will admit of no dispute; this
is the faculty of improvement; a faculty which, as circumstances
offer, successively unfolds all the other faculties, and resides among
us not only in the species, but in the individuals that compose it;
whereas a beast is, at the end of some months, all he ever will be
during the rest of his life; and his species, at the end of a thousand
years, precisely what it was the first year of that long period. Why
is man alone subject to dotage? Is it not, because he thus returns to
his primitive condition? And because, while the beast, which has
acquired nothing and has likewise nothing to lose, continues always in
possession of his instinct, man, losing by old age, or by accident,
all the acquisitions he had made in consequence of his perfectibility,
thus falls back even lower than beasts themselves? It would be a
melancholy necessity for us to be obliged to allow, that this
distinctive and almost unlimited faculty is the source of all man's
misfortunes; that it is this faculty, which, though by slow degrees,
draws them out of their original condition, in which his days would
slide away insensibly in peace and innocence; that it is this faculty,
which, in a succession of ages, produces his discoveries and mistakes,
his virtues and his vices, and, at long run, renders him both his own
and nature's tyrant. It would be shocking to be obliged to commend, as
a beneficent being, whoever he was that first suggested to the
_Oronoco_ Indians the use of those boards which they bind on the
temples of their children, and which secure to them the enjoyment of
some part at least of their natural imbecility and happiness.

Savage man, abandoned by nature to pure instinct, or rather
indemnified for that which has perhaps been denied to him by faculties
capable of immediately supplying the place of it, and of raising him
afterwards a great deal higher, would therefore begin with functions
that were merely animal: to see and to feel would be his first
condition, which he would enjoy in common with other animals. To will
and not to will, to wish and to fear, would be the first, and in a
manner, the only operations of his soul, till new circumstances
occasioned new developments.

Let moralists say what they will, the human understanding is greatly
indebted to the passions, which, on their side, are likewise
universally allowed to be greatly indebted to the human understanding.
It is by the activity of our passions, that our reason improves: we
covet knowledge merely because we covet enjoyment, and it is
impossible to conceive why a man exempt from fears and desires should
take the trouble to reason. The passions, in their turn, owe their
origin to our wants, and their increase to our progress in science;
for we cannot desire or fear anything, but in consequence of the ideas
we have of it, or of the simple impulses of nature; and savage man,
destitute of every species of knowledge, experiences no passions but
those of this last kind; his desires never extend beyond his physical
wants; he knows no goods but food, a female, and rest; he fears no
evil but pain, and hunger; I say pain, and not death; for no animal,
merely as such, will ever know what it is to die, and the knowledge of
death, and of its terrors, is one of the first acquisitions made by
man, in consequence of his deviating from the animal state.

I could easily, were it requisite, cite facts in support of this
opinion, and show, that the progress of the mind has everywhere kept
pace exactly with the wants, to which nature had left the inhabitants
exposed, or to which circumstances had subjected them, and
consequently to the passions, which inclined them to provide for these
wants. I could exhibit in Egypt the arts starting up, and extending
themselves with the inundations of the Nile; I could pursue them in
their progress among the Greeks, where they were seen to bud forth,
grow, and rise to the heavens, in the midst of the sands and rocks of
Attica, without being able to take root on the fertile banks of the
Eurotas; I would observe that, in general, the inhabitants of the
north are more industrious than those of the south, because they can
less do without industry; as if nature thus meant to make all things
equal, by giving to the mind that fertility she has denied to the
soil.

But exclusive of the uncertain testimonies of history, who does not
perceive that everything seems to remove from savage man the
temptation and the means of altering his condition? His imagination
paints nothing to him; his heart asks nothing from him. His moderate
wants are so easily supplied with what he everywhere finds ready to
his hand, and he stands at such a distance from the degree of
knowledge requisite to covet more, that he can neither have foresight
nor curiosity. The spectacle of nature, by growing quite familiar to
him, becomes at last equally indifferent. It is constantly the same
order, constantly the same revolutions; he has not sense enough to
feel surprise at the sight of the greatest wonders; and it is not in
his mind we must look for that philosophy, which man must have to know
how to observe once, what he has every day seen. His soul, which
nothing disturbs, gives itself up entirely to the consciousness of its
actual existence, without any thought of even the nearest futurity;
and his projects, equally confined with his views, scarce extend to
the end of the day. Such is, even at present, the degree of foresight
in the Caribbean: he sells his cotton bed in the morning, and comes in
the evening, with tears in his eyes, to buy it back, not having
foreseen that he should want it again the next night.

The more we meditate on this subject, the wider does the distance
between mere sensation and the most simple knowledge become in our
eyes; and it is impossible to conceive how man, by his own powers
alone, without the assistance of communication, and the spur of
necessity, could have got over so great an interval. How many ages
perhaps revolved, before men beheld any other fire but that of the
heavens? How many different accidents must have concurred to make them
acquainted with the most common uses of this element? How often have
they let it go out, before they knew the art of reproducing it? And
how often perhaps has not every one of these secrets perished with the
discoverer? What shall we say of agriculture, an art which requires so
much labour and foresight; which depends upon other arts; which, it is
very evident, cannot be practised but in a society, if not a formed
one, at least one of some standing, and which does not so much serve
to draw aliments from the earth, for the earth would yield them
without all that trouble, as to oblige her to produce those things,
which we like best, preferably to others? But let us suppose that men
had multiplied to such a degree, that the natural products of the
earth no longer sufficed for their support; a supposition which, by
the bye, would prove that this kind of life would be very advantageous
to the human species; let us suppose that, without forge or anvil, the
instruments of husbandry had dropped from the heavens into the hands
of savages, that these men had got the better of that mortal aversion
they all have for constant labour; that they had learned to foretell
their wants at so great a distance of time; that they had guessed
exactly how they were to break the earth, commit their seed to it, and
plant trees; that they had found out the art of grinding their corn,
and improving by fermentation the juice of their grapes; all
operations which we must allow them to have learned from the gods,
since we cannot conceive how they should make such discoveries of
themselves; after all these fine presents, what man would be mad
enough to cultivate a field, that may be robbed by the first comer,
man or beast, who takes a fancy to the produce of it. And would any
man consent to spend his day in labour and fatigue, when the rewards
of his labour and fatigue became more and more precarious in
proportion to his want of them? In a word, how could this situation
engage men to cultivate the earth, as long as it was not parcelled out
among them, that is, as long as a state of nature subsisted.

Though we should suppose savage man as well versed in the art of
thinking, as philosophers make him; though we were, after them, to
make him a philosopher himself, discovering of himself the sublimest
truths, forming to himself, by the most abstract arguments, maxims of
justice and reason drawn from the love of order in general, or from
the known will of his Creator: in a word, though we were to suppose
his mind as intelligent and enlightened, as it must, and is, in fact,
found to be dull and stupid; what benefit would the species receive
from all these metaphysical discoveries, which could not be
communicated, but must perish with the individual who had made them?
What progress could mankind make in the forests, scattered up and down
among the other animals? And to what degree could men mutually improve
and enlighten each other, when they had no fixed habitation, nor any
need of each other's assistance; when the same persons scarcely met
twice in their whole lives, and on meeting neither spoke to, or so
much as knew each other?

Let us consider how many ideas we owe to the use of speech; how much
grammar exercises, and facilitates the operations of the mind; let us,
besides, reflect on the immense pains and time that the first
invention of languages must have required: Let us add these
reflections to the preceding; and then we may judge how many thousand
ages must have been requisite to develop successively the operations,
which the human mind is capable of producing.

I must now beg leave to stop one moment to consider the perplexities
attending the origin of languages. I might here barely cite or repeat
the researches made, in relation to this question, by the Abbe de
Condillac, which all fully confirm my system, and perhaps even
suggested to me the first idea of it. But, as the manner, in which the
philosopher resolves the difficulties of his own starting, concerning
the origin of arbitrary signs, shows that he supposes, what I doubt,
namely a kind of society already established among the inventors of
languages; I think it my duty, at the same time that I refer to his
reflections, to give my own, in order to expose the same difficulties
in a light suitable to my subject. The first that offers is how
languages could become necessary; for as there was no correspondence
between men, nor the least necessity for any, there is no conceiving
the necessity of this invention, nor the possibility of it, if it was
not indispensable. I might say, with many others, that languages are
the fruit of the domestic intercourse between fathers, mothers, and
children: but this, besides its not answering any difficulties, would
be committing the same fault with those, who reasoning on the state of
nature, transfer to it ideas collected in society, always consider
families as living together under one roof, and their members as
observing among themselves an union, equally intimate and permanent
with that which we see exist in a civil state, where so many common
interests conspire to unite them; whereas in this primitive state, as
there were neither houses nor cabins, nor any kind of property, every
one took up his lodging at random, and seldom continued above one
night in the same place; males and females united without any
premeditated design, as chance, occasion, or desire brought them
together, nor had they any great occasion for language to make known
their thoughts to each other. They parted with the same ease. The
mother suckled her children, when just born, for her own sake; but
afterwards out of love and affection to them, when habit and custom
had made them dear to her; but they no sooner gained strength enough
to run about in quest of food than they separated even from her of
their own accord; and as they scarce had any other method of not
losing each other, than that of remaining constantly in each other's
sight, they soon came to such a pass of forgetfulness, as not even to
know each other, when they happened to meet again. I must further
observe that the child having all his wants to explain, and
consequently more things to say to his mother, than the mother can
have to say to him, it is he that must be at the chief expense of
invention, and the language he makes use of must be in a great measure
his own work; this makes the number of languages equal to that of the
individuals who are to speak them; and this multiplicity of languages
is further increased by their roving and vagabond kind of life, which
allows no idiom time enough to acquire any consistency; for to say
that the mother would have dictated to the child the words he must
employ to ask her this thing and that, may well enough explain in what
manner languages, already formed, are taught, but it does not show us
in what manner they are first formed.

Let us suppose this first difficulty conquered: Let us for a moment
consider ourselves at this side of the immense space, which must have
separated the pure state of nature from that in which languages became
necessary, and let us, after allowing such necessity, examine how
languages could begin to be established. A new difficulty this, still
more stubborn than the preceding; for if men stood in need of speech
to learn to think, they must have stood in still greater need of the
art of thinking to invent that of speaking; and though we could
conceive how the sounds of the voice came to be taken for the
conventional interpreters of our ideas we should not be the nearer
knowing who could have been the interpreters of this convention for
such ideas, as, in consequence of their not having any sensible
objects, could not be made manifest by gesture or voice; so that we
can scarce form any tolerable conjectures concerning the birth of this
art of communicating our thoughts, and establishing a correspondence
between minds: a sublime art which, though so remote from its origin,
philosophers still behold at such a prodigious distance from its
perfection, that I never met with one of them bold enough to affirm it
would ever arrive there, though the revolutions necessarily produced
by time were suspended in its favour; though prejudice could be
banished from, or would be at least content to sit silent in the
presence of our academies, and though these societies should
consecrate themselves, entirely and during whole ages, to the study of
this intricate object.

The first language of man, the most universal and most energetic of
all languages, in short, the only language he had occasion for, before
there was a necessity of persuading assembled multitudes, was the cry
of nature. As this cry was never extorted but by a kind of instinct in
the most urgent cases, to implore assistance in great danger, or
relief in great sufferings, it was of little use in the common
occurrences of life, where more moderate sentiments generally prevail.
When the ideas of men began to extend and multiply, and a closer
communication began to take place among them, they laboured to devise
more numerous signs, and a more extensive language: they multiplied
the inflections of the voice, and added to them gestures, which are,
in their own nature, more expressive, and whose meaning depends less
on any prior determination. They therefore expressed visible and
movable objects by gestures and those which strike the ear, by
imitative sounds: but as gestures scarcely indicate anything except
objects that are actually present or can be easily described, and
visible actions; as they are not of general use, since darkness or the
interposition of an opaque medium renders them useless; and as besides
they require attention rather than excite it: men at length bethought
themselves of substituting for them the articulations of voice, which,
without having the same relation to any determinate object, are, in
quality of instituted signs, fitter to represent all our ideas; a
substitution, which could only have been made by common consent, and
in a manner pretty difficult to practise by men, whose rude organs
were unimproved by exercise; a substitution, which is in itself more
difficult to be conceived, since the motives to this unanimous
agreement must have been somehow or another expressed, and speech
therefore appears to have been exceedingly requisite to establish the
use of speech.

We must allow that the words, first made use of by men, had in their
minds a much more extensive signification, than those employed in
languages of some standing, and that, considering how ignorant they
were of the division of speech into its constituent parts; they at
first gave every word the meaning of an entire proposition. When
afterwards they began to perceive the difference between the subject
and attribute, and between verb and noun, a distinction which required
no mean effort of genius, the substantives for a time were only so
many proper names, the infinitive was the only tense, and as to
adjectives, great difficulties must have attended the development of
the idea that represents them, since every adjective is an abstract
word, and abstraction is an unnatural and very painful operation.

At first they gave every object a peculiar name, without any regard to
its genus or species, things which these first institutors of language
were in no condition to distinguish; and every individual presented
itself solitary to their minds, as it stands in the table of nature.
If they called one oak A, they called another oak B: so that their
dictionary must have been more extensive in proportion as their
knowledge of things was more confined. It could not but be a very
difficult task to get rid of so diffuse and embarrassing a
nomenclature; as in order to marshal the several beings under common
and generic denominations, it was necessary to be first acquainted
with their properties, and their differences; to be stocked with
observations and definitions, that is to say, to understand natural
history and metaphysics, advantages which the men of these times could
not have enjoyed.

Besides, general ideas cannot be conveyed to the mind without the
assistance of words, nor can the understanding seize them without the
assistance of propositions. This is one of the reasons, why mere
animals cannot form such ideas, nor ever acquire the perfectibility
which depends on such an operation. When a monkey leaves without the
least hesitation one nut for another, are we to think he has any
general idea of that kind of fruit, and that he compares these two
individual bodies with his archetype notion of them? No, certainly;
but the sight of one of these nuts calls back to his memory the
sensations which he has received from the other; and his eyes,
modified after some certain manner, give notice to his palate of the
modification it is in its turn going to receive. Every general idea is
purely intellectual; let the imagination tamper ever so little with
it, it immediately becomes a particular idea. Endeavour to represent
to yourself the image of a tree in general, you never will be able to
do it; in spite of all your efforts it will appear big or little, thin
or tufted, of a bright or a deep colour; and were you master to see
nothing in it, but what can be seen in every tree, such a picture
would no longer resemble any tree. Beings perfectly abstract are
perceivable in the same manner, or are only conceivable by the
assistance of speech. The definition of a triangle can alone give you
a just idea of that figure: the moment you form a triangle in your
mind, it is this or that particular triangle and no other, and you
cannot avoid giving breadth to its lines and colour to its area. We
must therefore make use of propositions; we must therefore speak to
have general ideas; for the moment the imagination stops, the mind
must stop too, if not assisted by speech. If therefore the first
inventors could give no names to any ideas but those they had already,
it follows that the first substantives could never have been anything
more than proper names.

But when by means, which I cannot conceive, our new grammarians began
to extend their ideas, and generalize their words, the ignorance of
the inventors must have confined this method to very narrow bounds;
and as they had at first too much multiplied the names of individuals
for want of being acquainted with the distinctions called genus and
species, they afterwards made too few genera and species for want of
having considered beings in all their differences; to push the
divisions far enough, they must have had more knowledge and experience
than we can allow them, and have made more researches and taken more
pains, than we can suppose them willing to submit to. Now if, even at
this present time, we every day discover new species, which had before
escaped all our observations, how many species must have escaped the
notice of men, who judged of things merely from their first
appearances! As to the primitive classes and the most general notions,
it were superfluous to add that these they must have likewise
overlooked: how, for example, could they have thought of or understood
the words, matter, spirit, substance, mode, figure, motion, since even
our philosophers, who for so long a time have been constantly
employing these terms, can themselves scarcely understand them, and
since the ideas annexed to these words being purely metaphysical, no
models of them could be found in nature?

I stop at these first advances, and beseech my judges to suspend their
lecture a little, in order to consider, what a great way language has
still to go, in regard to the invention of physical substantives
alone, (though the easiest part of language to invent,) to be able to
express all the sentiments of man, to assume an invariable form, to
bear being spoken in public and to influence society: I earnestly
entreat them to consider how much time and knowledge must have been
requisite to find out numbers, abstract words, the aorists, and all
the other tenses of verbs, the particles, and syntax, the method of
connecting propositions and arguments, of forming all the logic of
discourse. For my own part, I am so scared at the difficulties that
multiply at every step, and so convinced of the almost demonstrated
impossibility of languages owing their birth and establishment to
means that were merely human, that I must leave to whoever may please
to take it up, the task of discussing this difficult problem. "Which
was the most necessary, society already formed to invent languages, or
languages already invented to form society?"

But be the case of these origins ever so mysterious, we may at least
infer from the little care which nature has taken to bring men
together by mutual wants, and make the use of speech easy to them, how
little she has done towards making them sociable, and how little she
has contributed to anything which they themselves have done to become
so. In fact, it is impossible to conceive, why, in this primitive
state, one man should have more occasion for the assistance of
another, than one monkey, or one wolf for that of another animal of
the same species; or supposing that he had, what motive could induce
another to assist him; or even, in this last case, how he, who wanted
assistance, and he from whom it was wanted, could agree among
themselves upon the conditions. Authors, I know, are continually
telling us, that in this state man would have been a most miserable
creature; and if it is true, as I fancy I have proved it, that he must
have continued many ages without either the desire or the opportunity
of emerging from such a state, this their assertion could only serve
to justify a charge against nature, and not any against the being
which nature had thus constituted; but, if I thoroughly understand
this term miserable, it is a word, that either has no meaning, or
signifies nothing, but a privation attended with pain, and a suffering
state of body or soul; now I would fain know what kind of misery can
be that of a free being, whose heart enjoys perfect peace, and body
perfect health? And which is aptest to become insupportable to those
who enjoy it, a civil or a natural life? In civil life we can scarcely
meet a single person who does not complain of his existence; many even
throw away as much of it as they can, and the united force of divine
and human laws can hardly put bounds to this disorder. Was ever any
free savage known to have been so much as tempted to complain of life,
and lay violent hands on himself? Let us therefore judge with less
pride on which side real misery is to be placed. Nothing, on the
contrary, must have been so unhappy as savage man, dazzled by flashes
of knowledge, racked by passions, and reasoning on a state different
from that in which he saw himself placed. It was in consequence of a
very wise Providence, that the faculties, which he potentially
enjoyed, were not to develop themselves but in proportion as there
offered occasions to exercise them, lest they should be superfluous or
troublesome to him when he did not want them, or tardy and useless
when he did. He had in his instinct alone everything requisite to live
in a state of nature; in his cultivated reason he has barely what is
necessary to live in a state of society.

It appears at first sight that, as there was no kind of moral
relations between men in this state, nor any known duties, they could
not be either good or bad, and had neither vices nor virtues, unless
we take these words in a physical sense, and call vices, in the
individual, the qualities which may prove detrimental to his own
preservation, and virtues those which may contribute to it; in which
case we should be obliged to consider him as most virtuous, who made
least resistance against the simple impulses of nature. But without
deviating from the usual meaning of these terms, it is proper to
suspend the judgment we might form of such a situation, and be upon
our guard against prejudice, till, the balance in hand, we have
examined whether there are more virtues or vices among civilized men;
or whether the improvement of their understanding is sufficient to
compensate the damage which they mutually do to each other, in
proportion as they become better informed of the services which they
ought to do; or whether, upon the whole, they would not be much
happier in a condition, where they had nothing to fear or to hope from
each other, than in that where they had submitted to an universal
subserviency, and have obliged themselves to depend for everything
upon the good will of those, who do not think themselves obliged to
give anything in return.

But above all things let us beware concluding with Hobbes, that man,
as having no idea of goodness, must be naturally bad; that he is
vicious because he does not know what virtue is; that he always
refuses to do any service to those of his own species, because he
believes that none is due to them; that, in virtue of that right which
he justly claims to everything he wants, he foolishly looks upon
himself as proprietor of the whole universe. Hobbes very plainly saw
the flaws in all the modern definitions of natural right: but the
consequences, which he draws from his own definition, show that it is,
in the sense he understands it, equally exceptionable. This author, to
argue from his own principles, should say that the state of nature,
being that where the care of our own preservation interferes least
with the preservation of others, was of course the most favourable to
peace, and most suitable to mankind; whereas he advances the very
reverse in consequence of his having injudiciously admitted, as
objects of that care which savage man should take of his preservation,
the satisfaction of numberless passions which are the work of society,
and have rendered laws necessary. A bad man, says he, is a robust
child. But this is not proving that savage man is a robust child; and
though we were to grant that he was, what could this philosopher infer
from such a concession? That if this man, when robust, depended on
others as much as when feeble, there is no excess that he would not be
guilty of. He would make nothing of striking his mother when she
delayed ever so little to give him the breast; he would claw, and
bite, and strangle without remorse the first of his younger brothers,
that ever so accidentally jostled or otherwise disturbed him. But
these are two contradictory suppositions in the state of nature, to be
robust and dependent. Man is weak when dependent, and his own master
before he grows robust. Hobbes did not consider that the same cause,
which hinders savages from making use of their reason, as our
jurisconsults pretend, hinders them at the same time from making an
ill use of their faculties, as he himself pretends; so that we may say
that savages are not bad, precisely because they don't know what it is
to be good; for it is neither the development of the understanding,
nor the curb of the law, but the calmness of their passions and their
ignorance of vice that hinders them from doing ill: _tantus plus in
illis proficit vitiorum ignorantia, quam in his cognito virtutis_.
There is besides another principle that has escaped Hobbes, and which,
having been given to man to moderate, on certain occasions, the blind
and impetuous sallies of self-love, or the desire of self-preservation
previous to the appearance of that passion, allays the ardour, with
which he naturally pursues his private welfare, by an innate
abhorrence to see beings suffer that resemble him. I shall not surely
be contradicted, in granting to man the only natural virtue, which the
most passionate detractor of human virtues could not deny him, I mean
that of pity, a disposition suitable to creatures weak as we are, and
liable to so many evils; a virtue so much the more universal, and
withal useful to man, as it takes place in him of all manner of
reflection; and so natural, that the beasts themselves sometimes give
evident signs of it. Not to speak of the tenderness of mothers for
their young; and of the dangers they face to screen them from danger;
with what reluctance are horses known to trample upon living bodies;
one animal never passes unmoved by the dead carcass of another animal
of the same species: there are even some who bestow a kind of
sepulture upon their dead fellows; and the mournful lowings of cattle,
on their entering the slaughter-house, publish the impression made
upon them by the horrible spectacle they are there struck with. It is
with pleasure we see the author of the fable of the bees, forced to
acknowledge man a compassionate and sensible being; and lay aside, in
the example he offers to confirm it, his cold and subtle style, to
place before us the pathetic picture of a man, who, with his hands
tied up, is obliged to behold a beast of prey tear a child from the
arms of his mother, and then with his teeth grind the tender limbs,
and with his claws rend the throbbing entrails of the innocent victim.
What horrible emotions must not such a spectator experience at the
sight of an event which does not personally concern him? What anguish
must he not suffer at his not being able to assist the fainting mother
or the expiring infant?

Such is the pure motion of nature, anterior to all manner of
reflection; such is the force of natural pity, which the most
dissolute manners have as yet found it so difficult to extinguish,
since we every day see, in our theatrical representation, those men
sympathize with the unfortunate and weep at their sufferings, who, if
in the tyrant's place, would aggravate the torments of their enemies.
Mandeville was very sensible that men, in spite of all their morality,
would never have been better than monsters, if nature had not given
them pity to assist reason: but he did not perceive that from this
quality alone flow all the social virtues, which he would dispute
mankind the possession of. In fact, what is generosity, what clemency,
what humanity, but pity applied to the weak, to the guilty, or to the
human species in general? Even benevolence and friendship, if we judge
right, will appear the effects of a constant pity, fixed upon a
particular object: for to wish that a person may not suffer, what is
it but to wish that he may be happy? Though it were true that
commiseration is no more than a sentiment, which puts us in the place
of him who suffers, a sentiment obscure but active in the savage,
developed but dormant in civilized man, how could this notion affect
the truth of what I advance, but to make it more evident. In fact,
commiseration must be so much the more energetic, the more intimately
the animal, that beholds any kind of distress, identifies himself with
the animal that labours under it. Now it is evident that this
identification must have been infinitely more perfect in the state of
nature than in the state of reason. It is reason that engenders
self-love, and reflection that strengthens it; it is reason that makes
man shrink into himself; it is reason that makes him keep aloof from
everything that can trouble or afflict him: it is philosophy that
destroys his connections with other men; it is in consequence of her
dictates that he mutters to himself at the sight of another in
distress, You may perish for aught I care, nothing can hurt me.
Nothing less than those evils, which threaten the whole species, can
disturb the calm sleep of the philosopher, and force him from his bed.
One man may with impunity murder another under his windows; he has
nothing to do but clap his hands to his ears, argue a little with
himself to hinder nature, that startles within him, from identifying
him with the unhappy sufferer. Savage man wants this admirable talent;
and for want of wisdom and reason, is always ready foolishly to obey
the first whispers of humanity. In riots and street-brawls the
populace flock together, the prudent man sneaks off. They are the
dregs of the people, the poor basket and barrow-women, that part the
combatants, and hinder gentle folks from cutting one another's
throats.

It is therefore certain that pity is a natural sentiment, which, by
moderating in every individual the activity of self-love, contributes
to the mutual preservation of the whole species. It is this pity
which hurries us without reflection to the assistance of those we see
in distress; it is this pity which, in a state of nature, stands for
laws, for manners, for virtue, with this advantage, that no one is
tempted to disobey her sweet and gentle voice: it is this pity which
will always hinder a robust savage from plundering a feeble child, or
infirm old man, of the subsistence they have acquired with pain and
difficulty, if he has but the least prospect of providing for himself
by any other means: it is this pity which, instead of that sublime
maxim of argumentative justice, Do to others as you would have others
do to you, inspires all men with that other maxim of natural goodness
a great deal less perfect, but perhaps more useful, Consult your own
happiness with as little prejudice as you can to that of others. It is
in a word, in this natural sentiment, rather than in fine-spun
arguments, that we must look for the cause of that reluctance which
every man would experience to do evil, even independently of the
maxims of education. Though it may be the peculiar happiness of
Socrates and other geniuses of his stamp, to reason themselves into
virtue, the human species would long ago have ceased to exist, had it
depended entirely for its preservation on the reasonings of the
individuals that compose it.

With passions so tame, and so salutary a curb, men, rather wild than
wicked, and more attentive to guard against mischief than to do any to
other animals, were not exposed to any dangerous dissensions: As they
kept up no manner of correspondence with each other, and were of
course strangers to vanity, to respect, to esteem, to contempt; as
they had no notion of what we call Meum and Tuum, nor any true idea of
justice; as they considered any violence they were liable to, as an
evil that could be easily repaired, and not as an injury that deserved
punishment; and as they never so much as dreamed of revenge, unless
perhaps mechanically and unpremeditatedly, as a dog who bites the
stone that has been thrown at him; their disputes could seldom be
attended with bloodshed, were they never occasioned by a more
considerable stake than that of subsistence: but there is a more
dangerous subject of contention, which I must not leave unnoticed.

Among the passions which ruffle the heart of man, there is one of a
hot and impetuous nature, which renders the sexes necessary to each
other; a terrible passion which despises all dangers, bears down all
obstacles, and to which in its transports it seems proper to destroy
the human species which it is destined to preserve. What must become
of men abandoned to this lawless and brutal rage, without modesty,
without shame, and every day disputing the objects of their passion at
the expense of their blood?

We must in the first place allow that the more violent the passions,
the more necessary are laws to restrain them: but besides that the
disorders and the crimes, to which these passions daily give rise
among us, sufficiently grove the insufficiency of laws for that
purpose, we would do well to look back a little further and examine,
if these evils did not spring up with the laws themselves; for at this
rate, though the laws were capable of repressing these evils, it is
the least that might be expected from them, seeing it is no more than
stopping the progress of a mischief which they themselves have
produced.

Let us begin by distinguishing between what is moral and what is
physical in the passion called love. The physical part of it is that
general desire which prompts the sexes to unite with each other; the
moral part is that which determines that desire, and fixes it upon a
particular object to the exclusion of all others, or at least gives it
a greater degree of energy for this preferred object. Now it is easy
to perceive that the moral part of love is a factitious sentiment,
engendered by society, and cried up by the women with great care and
address in order to establish their empire, and secure command to that
sex which ought to obey. This sentiment, being founded on certain
notions of beauty and merit which a savage is not capable of having,
and upon comparisons which he is not capable of making, can scarcely
exist in him: for as his mind was never in a condition to form
abstract ideas of regularity and proportion, neither is his heart
susceptible of sentiments of admiration and love, which, even without
our perceiving it, are produced by our application of these ideas; he
listens solely to the dispositions implanted in him by nature, and not
to taste which he never was in a way of acquiring; and every woman
answers his purpose.

Confined entirely to what is physical in love, and happy enough not to
know these preferences which sharpen the appetite for it, at the same
time that they increase the difficulty of satisfying such appetite,
men, in a state of nature, must be subject to fewer and less violent
fits of that passion, and of course there must be fewer and less
violent disputes among them in consequence of it. The imagination
which causes so many ravages among us, never speaks to the heart of
savages, who peaceably wait for the impulses of nature, yield to these
impulses without choice and with more pleasure than fury; and whose
desires never outlive their necessity for the thing desired.

Nothing therefore can be more evident, than that it is society alone,
which has added even to love itself as well as to all the other
passions, that impetuous ardour, which so often renders it fatal to
mankind; and it is so much the more ridiculous to represent savages
constantly murdering each other to glut their brutality, as this
opinion is diametrically opposite to experience, and the Caribbeans,
the people in the world who have as yet deviated least from the state
of nature, are to all intents and purposes the most peaceable in their
amours, and the least subject to jealousy, though they live in a
burning climate which seems always to add considerably to the activity
of these passions.

As to the inductions which may be drawn, in respect to several species
of animals, from the battles of the males, who in all seasons cover
our poultry yards with blood, and in spring particularly cause our
forests to ring again with the noise they make in disputing their
females, we must begin by excluding all those species, where nature
has evidently established, in the relative power of the sexes,
relations different from those which exist among us: thus from the
battle of cocks we can form no induction that will affect the human
species. In the species, where the proportion is better observed,
these battles must be owing entirely to the fewness of the females
compared with the males, or, which is all one, to the exclusive
intervals, during which the females constantly refuse the addresses of
the males; for if the female admits the male but two months in the
year, it is all the same as if the number of females were five-sixths
less than what it is: now neither of these cases is applicable to the
human species, where the number of females generally surpasses that of
males, and where it has never been observed that, even among savages,
the females had, like those of other animals, stated times of passion
and indifference, Besides, among several of these animals the whole
species takes fire all at once, and for some days nothing is, to be
seen among them but confusion, tumult, disorder and bloodshed; a state
unknown to the human species where love is never periodical. We can
not therefore conclude from the battles of certain animals for the
possession of their females, that the same would be the case of man in
a state of nature; and though we might, as these contests do not
destroy the other species, there is at least equal room to think they
would not be fatal to ours; nay it is very probable that they would
cause fewer ravages than they do in society, especially in those
countries where, morality being as yet held in some esteem, the
jealousy of lovers, and the vengeance of husbands every day produce
duels, murders and even worse crimes; where the duty of an eternal
fidelity serves only to propagate adultery; and the very laws of
continence and honour necessarily contribute to increase
dissoluteness, and multiply abortions.

Let us conclude that savage man, wandering about in the forests,
without industry, without speech, without any fixed residence, an
equal stranger to war and every social connection, without standing in
any shape in need of his fellows, as well as without any desire of
hurting them, and perhaps even without ever distinguishing them
individually one from the other, subject to few passions, and finding
in himself all he wants, let us, I say, conclude that savage man thus
circumstanced had no knowledge or sentiment but such as are proper to
that condition, that he was alone sensible of his real necessities,
took notice of nothing but what it was his interest to see, and that
his understanding made as little progress as his vanity. If he
happened to make any discovery, he could the less communicate it as he
did not even know his children. The art perished with the inventor;
there was neither education nor improvement; generations succeeded
generations to no purpose; and as all constantly set out from the same
point, whole centuries rolled on in the rudeness and barbarity of the
first age; the species was grown old, while the individual still
remained in a state of childhood.

If I have enlarged so much upon the supposition of this primitive
condition, it is because I thought it my duty, considering what
ancient errors and inveterate prejudices I have to extirpate, to dig
to the very roots, and show in a true picture of the state of nature,
how much even natural inequality falls short in this state of that
reality and influence which our writers ascribe to it.

In fact, we may easily perceive that among the differences, which
distinguish men, several pass for natural, which are merely the work
of habit and the different kinds of life adopted by men living in a
social way. Thus a robust or delicate constitution, and the strength
and weakness which depend on it, are oftener produced by the hardy or
effeminate manner in which a man has been brought up, than by the
primitive constitution of his body. It is the same thus in regard to
the forces of the mind; and education not only produces a difference
between those minds which are cultivated and those which are not, but
even increases that which is found among the first in proportion to
their culture; for let a giant and a dwarf set out in the same path,
the giant at every step will acquire a new advantage over the dwarf.
Now, if we compare the prodigious variety in the education and manner
of living of the different orders of men in a civil state, with the
simplicity and uniformity that prevails in the animal and savage life,
where all the individuals make use of the same aliments, live in the
same manner, and do exactly the same things, we shall easily conceive
how much the difference between man and man in the state of nature
must be less than in the state of society, and how much every
inequality of institution must increase the natural inequalities of
the human species.

But though nature in the distribution of her gifts should really
affect all the preferences that are ascribed to her, what advantage
could the most favoured derive from her partiality, to the prejudice
of others, in a state of things, which scarce admitted any kind of
relation between her pupils? Of what service can beauty be, where
there is no love? What will wit avail people who don't speak, or craft
those who have no affairs to transact? Authors are constantly crying
out, that the strongest would oppress the weakest; but let them
explain what they mean by the word oppression. One man will rule with
violence, another will groan under a constant subjection to all his
caprices: this is indeed precisely what I observe among us, but I
don't see how it can be said of savage men, into whose heads it would
be a harder matter to drive even the meaning of the words domination
and servitude. One man might, indeed, seize on the fruits which
another had gathered, on the game which another had killed, on the
cavern which another had occupied for shelter; but how is it possible
he should ever exact obedience from him, and what chains of dependence
can there be among men who possess nothing? If I am driven from one
tree, I have nothing to do but look out for another; if one place is
made uneasy to me, what can hinder me from taking up my quarters
elsewhere? But suppose I should meet a man so much superior to me in
strength, and withal so wicked, so lazy and so barbarous as to oblige
me to provide for his subsistence while he remains idle; he must
resolve not to take his eyes from me a single moment, to bind me fast
before he can take the least nap, lest I should kill him or give him
the slip during his sleep: that is to say, he must expose himself
voluntarily to much greater troubles than what he seeks to avoid, than
any he gives me. And after all, let him abate ever so little of his
vigilance; let him at some sudden noise but turn his head another way;
I am already buried in the forest, my fetters are broke, and he never
sees me again.

But without insisting any longer upon these details, every one must
see that, as the bonds of servitude are formed merely by the mutual
dependence of men one upon another and the reciprocal necessities
which unite them, it is impossible for one man to enslave another,
without having first reduced him to a condition in which he can not
live without the enslaver's assistance; a condition which, as it does
not exist in a state of nature, must leave every man his own master,
and render the law of the strongest altogether vain and useless.

Having proved that the inequality, which may subsist between man and
man in a state of nature, is almost imperceivable, and that it has
very little influence, I must now proceed to show its origin, and
trace its progress, in the successive developments of the human mind.
After having showed, that perfectibility, the social virtues, and the
other faculties, which natural man had received _in potentia_, could
never be developed of themselves, that for that purpose there was a
necessity for the fortuitous concurrence of several foreign causes,
which might never happen, and without which he must have eternally
remained in his primitive condition; I must proceed to consider and
bring together the different accidents which may have perfected the
human understanding by debasing the species, render a being wicked by
rendering him sociable, and from so remote a term bring man at last
and the world to the point in which we now see them.

I must own that, as the events I am about to describe might have
happened many different ways, my choice of these I shall assign can be
grounded on nothing but mere conjecture; but besides these conjectures
becoming reasons, when they are not only the most probable that can be
drawn from the nature of things, but the only means we can have of
discovering truth, the consequences I mean to deduce from mine will
not be merely conjectural, since, on the principles I have just
established, it is impossible to form any other system, that would not
supply me with the same results, and from which I might not draw the
same conclusions.

This will authorize me to be the more concise in my reflections on the
manner, in which the lapse of time makes amends for the little
verisimilitude of events; on the surprising power of very trivial
causes, when they act without intermission; on the impossibility there
is on the one hand of destroying certain Hypotheses, if on the other
we can not give them the degree of certainty which facts must be
allowed to possess; on its being the business of history, when two
facts are proposed, as real, to be connected by a chain of
intermediate facts which are either unknown or considered as such, to
furnish such facts as may actually connect them; and the business of
philosophy, when history is silent, to point out similar facts which
may answer the same purpose; in fine on the privilege of similitude,
in regard to events, to reduce facts to a much smaller number of
different classes than is generally imagined. It suffices me to offer
these objects to the consideration of my judges; it suffices me to
have conducted my inquiry in such a manner as to save common readers
the trouble of considering them.

Jean Jacques Rousseau

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