Day: April 10, 2019

A Brief Analysis of Rousseau’s Ethics of Compassion in “Discourse on Inequality” and Relation to Buddhist Teachings

Last week, I read Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Discourse on Inequality.”  It’s a fascinating work of political philosophy written in 1754 by Rousseau as an entry for an essay contest that challenged authors to address the question: What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?  In order to thoroughly answer this question, Rousseau expounds a philosophy  of man, discussing who and what man is as an individual, what is freedom, what are man’s essential and accidental qualities, what is the effect of society on man and the ideal political situation.  As someone who is interested in Buddhism’s answers to these same questions, I was curious if there was any similarity between Rousseau’s answers and Buddhist views. I think there are at least two similarities.  The first similarity concerns Rousseau’s account of man’s natural morality of compassion; this corresponds with the Buddhist view of compassion as constitutive of morality.  The second similarity arises out of Rousseau’s lamenting about the detriments of rational thinking to man’s mental constitution; likewise, Buddhism teaches that …