According to the general understanding, human beings are making their lives better by applying different aspects of knowledge. Significantly, aspects of life that are meant to make it easier and enjoyable such as modes of communication and modern means of transport have been developed and advanced. Notably, humans use their brains or knowledge to make themselves and their environment better. Contrastingly, earlier lives are seen to be primitive compared to the modern. Even though, the concept of human beings using their ability and inability to determine their better lives seems widely accepted, it should be noted that this aspect of life has as well been challenged by early philosophers such as Socrates and Plato. The two philosophers believed that human lives are composed of the body and the soul and it remains unchanged. On the same note, there are philosophers like Rousseau who believed that human life is characterized with perfection and hence keeps changing. The paper presents a social theory understanding comparing and contrasting the beliefs of Socrates and Rousseau regarding the concept of human life.
According to Socrates, human senses do not grasp reality. In his argument, Rousseau focused on the body and not the soul. As argued by Burton (2015), Socrates who had spent his entire life researching about truth realized that the body had nothing to do with the attainment of knowledge. On this respect, there was no way human beings can gain knowledge that could be used to better themselves as stated by Rousseau.
Socrates went further to state that the human body is concerned only with pleasures for example food, material acquisitions, drink and wealth. Burton (2015) stated that Socrates believed that the body was in itself an impediment to knowledge search and therefore cannot give an accurate account of something. Again, people will never see or hear the same thing in a similar way, and consequently, sensory information can as well never be perceived a similarly. Therefore, human beings cannot rely on their senses for accurate information because they give varying details. Further, Socrates argued that knowledge was not changing and was instead internal and concrete. Notably, Socrates used an example of a stick immersed in water where it looked bent, and when removed out of the water it appeared straight. He then challenges his audiences on the fact that people are misled by their senses and therefore they should not rely on their senses as a source of information.
Socrates considered the body to represent the imperfect sensible world and the soul perfect real world. According to him, the sensible world represented by the body is what human beings see around them. However, he continued to state that it is an illusion. Further, he argues that the real world is invisible but has formed. The forms further represent the standards which cannot be felt but make up the reality (Kuhn, 2016). When trying to link the forms to human lives, it is evident that the forms are unchangeable, perfect and eternal and things human beings see to be changing standards in their lives are fluctuating standards in the illusionary world. Importantly, the forms make the real world and what most people see in their material existence are not the real world but the sensible world. According to Plato and Socrates, the forms keep changing and are in consistent flux and hence cannot be real. Further, Socrates added that instead of getting better, things keep deteriorating and getting worse and cannot last. In this argument, Socrates used an example of objects made from precious metals tarnishing and changing, but the forms of the real world remain unchangeable.
In another argument, Socrates argues that the fact that human beings are comprised of the soul and the body, make them imperfect combination for the acquisition of knowledge. The body has many needs that keep it busy. Again, if it gets sick, it keeps people from concentrating.
Contrary to Socrates argument, Rousseau developed an argument that seemed to counter the narrative that human beings are unchanged. First, he talked about enlightenment where he began with the development of language, mental capabilities, and human reasoning. According to Kuhn (2016), Rousseau linked enlightenment to human development and progress. He further linked enlightenment to its role in human beings reasoning among other things that help in the betterment of human beings life.
The other aspect of changing human beings life is moral inequality which is also referred to political inequality. Rousseau believes that moral inequality is not created by nature but rather by agreement or convention between people (O’Hagan, 2017). Important factors include differences in power, wealth, class, or status are examples of moral inequalities. Markedly, moral inequality is seen to make one person benefiting at the expense of others. Even though many authors argue that such social status differences are linked to the natural state of affairs, Rousseau insists that the inequalities are human beings making according to their ability and inability.
Importantly, Rousseau uses natural law in the Discourse to try to explain whether the inequalities are justified by natural law. According to O’Hagan (2017), Rousseau argues that even though natural laws are laid down by God and that they dictate what is right or wrong, he questions why there can be laws whether human beings have a role in their natural rights. In answering the question, Rousseau stated that human beings can work to change what is perceived to be their natural status. He supported his argument using the natural right and nature. In the natural right, Rousseau human beings have a role of reason to design the best way to protect their lives.
Regarding nature, Rousseau argues that it has a great role in the Discourse. Nature designs human development. For instance, the nature around human beings such as religion determines how human beings progress. Natural calamities and perfectibility design human development and plan.
According to Rousseau, perfectibility is human beings inexhaustible ability to better themselves and to shape their environment. As stated by O’Hagan(2017), perfectibility is the chief characteristic that differentiates men from other animals. Importantly, both the development of language and reason are perfectibility. Arguably, for a human being to strive to be perfect, he or she does not have to achieve perfection. On this respect, Rousseau seems to challenge the concept Socrates that argued human beings have never achieved perfection and what they think is perfection is an illusion and does not exist in the real world.
Socrates and Rousseau offer a distinct description of understanding of whether human life is changing. As Socrates argue human beings’ lives do not change, Rousseau argues that they change when they reason and develop language. It is important to note that Socrates argument is based on the composition of the human beings body while Rousseau focuses on nature and natural laws. Socrates believes that human beings attempts to gain knowledge are futile because it is based on the body which has many needs and is disrupted during illness (Burton, 2015). On the other hand, Rousseau argues that human beings are made in the way that they should develop language and reason to help better their natural status.
Burton, K. F. (2015). Reason and Public Discourse: What Can We Learn from Socrates. Faulkner L. Rev., 7, 257.
Kuhn, B. (2016). Autobiography and natural science in the age of Romanticism: Rousseau, Goethe, Thoreau. Routledge.
O’Hagan, T. (2017). Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Routledge.