Rousseau discusses the concept of nature and natural law as the basis from which human beings originated and over time moved away from. He also has a recurring theme of nature as a teacher for mankind. He contrasts modernity against nature and natural law, describing man as a creature that is no longer a natural beast, and is worse off because of it.
In the Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, Rousseau answers the academy’s question in the negative, using the development of arts and sciences as a means of describing how mankind has moved away from its original ways and way of life, and into societies, eventually leading to the creation of arts and sciences. Rousseau sees mankind as continually moving away from the natural state, as he writes, “One cannot reflect on morals without delighting in the recollection of the simplicity of the earliest times. It is a lovely shore, adorned by the hands of nature alone, toward which one incessantly turns one’s eyes and from which one regretfully feels oneself moving away” (Rousseau 53, 54). Rousseau seems to acknowledge the fact morals existed in the earliest times of mankind, but sees the progression of society as inevitable, with the complications of morality growing alongside society’s advancements. While the movement away from the natural way of life is something Rousseau disagrees with, at the same time he describes this movement in a way that seems, in itself, to be natural.
Rousseau also discusses a theme of nature as a teacher to mankind. As Rousseau describes it in his Discourses on the Arts and Sciences, as well as his Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men, in the earliest times mankind was left alone to survive in the wilderness without the structure of society and formal education.
However Rousseau describes how that would not impede someone whose mind was truly remarkable, “Those whom nature destined to be her disciples needed no teachers. Verulam, Descartes, Newton, these...