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The Animal-Human Relation in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality

Inston, K; (2019) The Animal-Human Relation in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality. Paragraph , 42 (1) pp. 37-53. 10.3366/para.2019.0287. Green open access

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Abstract

The Discourse on Inequality disputes the human–animal hierarchy in its denunciation of social inequality as unnatural. Stripping away social artifice, it reveals a deep physical continuity between man and animals. As embodied creatures, they share mortality and vulnerability. Human animality does not, however, negate human difference. Man differs from animals through perfectibility: the freedom to change. That difference comes from the lack of any specifically human property, thereby challenging rather than confirming anthropocentric hierarchies. Any properties seen to distinguish man from animals are in fact improper, contingent and artificial. Human impropriety renders man always dependent on external relations for his development. Compassion, vital for a Rousseauian approach to animal ethics, allows man to experience this relationality, transporting him towards others as he identifies with their suffering as recalling the finitude and vulnerability shared by all creatures. For Rousseau, human difference, it is argued, enables rather than blocks identification with animality.

Type: Article
Title: The Animal-Human Relation in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.3366/para.2019.0287
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.3366/para.2019.0287
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10055397
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