After reading Rousseau’s “state of nature” and how Diderot constructs “natural man,” we are left with a number of questions. For one, we ask ourselves the meaning of human nature. Secondly, we ask ourselves how the two thinkers, Diderot and Rousseau locate as well as describe nature. We also ask whether Rousseau’s “state of nature” map onto Diderot constructs of the natural man.
Rousseau is comparable to Diderot in that his intention was essentially to critique his personal society. The similarity between Rousseau and Diderot is that each one of them uses nature as a standard against which to both condemn and judge the civilization, in spite of their dissimilar depictions of the follies of civilization and pure instincts of the nature (France, 1983). Rousseau tried to strip away the current trappings of his personal civilization as well as to present a human image far in the past before they were corrupted by the competition, arts, civil laws, and education.
The natural man of the past according to Rousseau was essentially free from the conventions, which caused the artificial reality. He asserts that whereas a man is born with a number of natural inequalities, there always exists self improvement capacity. Therefore, by far the further evil disparity among men is the inequity formed by the societal conventions. According to Rousseau, the primitive man did not have such conventions and the family unit did not even constrain him, as he lived as an animal in a vastly simplistic state (Norton, 2008).
Nonetheless, there exists a difference between Diderot constructs of ‘natural man’ and Rousseau’s “state of nature.” Diderot’s constructs of the natural man do not map onto the Rousseau’s “state of nature.” Diderot’s Tahitians essentially occupy a consciously constructed and specific social structure. As the creatures of sociability, language — memory, moral reasoning, and intellect, Diderot’s Tahitians occupy a historical development stage that is far removed from the Rousseau’s animalistic state of nature (Sade, 1992 —. According to Diderot, the Tahitian is not the archetypical primitive man, but is a possible incarnation of a natural man. While Rousseau’s homme naturel moves gradually from state of the nature to the state of the civilization in a sweeping human chronicle, Tahitian is essentially a particular savage that is, the product of a string of specific demographic and geographical variables.
Norton, D. F. (2008). An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding and Other Writings, and: An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (review). Hume Studies, 37. doi:10.1353/hms.0.0023
France, P. (1983). Diderot. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sade. (1992). Philosophy in the bedroom. San Francisco, CA: Wooley Comics.