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A Discourse Upon the Origin and the Foundation of the Inequality Among Mankind

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,