The Correlation of Justice and Sustainability in The First Discourse, a Book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The First Discourse, written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau offers insight unto the teaching of justice; which is heavily discussed in the inclusion of Cyrus’ remarks from his schooling experiences. This marks only the beginning of the dialogue of justice; however it shapes the essence of where Rousseau directs his weight in the topic. Furthermore, Rousseau offers insight as to how justice may replace instinct, which contradicts the theme of Cyrus’ reasoning for his actions within the dialogue. This introduces further points Rousseau makes such as: justice of the rich and the poor and why political life resembles slavery aspects based on the greater need of society.

The correlation of justice and suitability demonstrate Rousseau’s tendency to analyze deep and grasp conversational occurrences. He uses Cyrus as an example to show how suitability has an effect of how justice should be treated. Cyrus elaborates that, “in our school a big boy with a small tunic gave it to one of his smaller schoolmates, and took away the latter’s tunic, which was bigger.

When our tutor made me judge of this dispute, I ruled that things should be left in this condition since both parties seemed to be better fitted in this way,” (page 57). This illustrates a question of whether Cyrus was justified in switching the tunics. Indeed both parties seemingly benefited but is this morally in good faith? One may argue that consent would be needed in order to distill a concept of justice, yet the introduction of the importance of suitability seems to override the traditional view of justice.

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Rousseau is making a point that, “no one be compelled in matters concerning his belongings,” but also saying that suitability may change the conditions as to if it is morally right,” (page 57). Within just this page Rousseau is unable to conclude how suitability should be treated as it has correlations with the definition of justice.

Rousseau establishes an interesting question of how justice may replace instinct. It is in a man’s natural impulse to not enjoy suffering or the sight of suffering; however in order for the morality of general rules to maintain prevalence, this is what must occur in their behavior. A man must set aside instinct and allow himself to be filled with civic order. To generalize, the government is designed to spearhead public policy, and the citizens under the political umbrella are expected to honor and uphold its institutionalization. In contrast to the example of Cyrus, Rousseau offers a new angle of justice, in that may only exist with the cooperation and obedience of citizens. With this in mind, one would argue that Cyrus unjustly switched the tunics as it was against political order to do so. Although he had positive intention and there was suitability, if this is a case of stealing, there is a wrongdoing that has occurred.

Rousseau marvels at Spartan society and believes it to be the greatest example of a perfect state. He recognizes that justice has innumerable ties to keep the society’s cogs running smoothly. With a strict implementation of rules and a mindset “for the greater good” and also “everyone for themselves”, Spartan society was able to exist with a very polarized justice vantage point. A wrongdoing was punished clearly and therefore justice is easily established as acceptable. He has evolved a representation of justice, which it depends on the obedience of citizens, which may resemble a civil slavery disguised with positive intentions to keep order.

Rousseau offers his position of private property, and how justice provides applicable reasoning to claim something as owned. Rousseau quotes, “the first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, to whom it occurred to say this is mine, and found people sufficiently simple to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars, murders, how many miseries and horrors Mankind would have been spared by him who, pulling up the stakes or filling in the ditch, had cried out to his kind,” (page 164). This explains the reality that society is based on the powerful tricking out the weak. Rousseau believes that the relationship between property and inequality are very directly related. This is due to the powerful acting in order to maintain a property’s position and as this continues on, mankind is lost because they are deprived of what they may be able to own. In context to justice, conflicts over ownership of property weigh heavily in who has the wealth and who has the luxury.

Expanding further, Rousseau elaborates the issue of justice to assist in a conversation of rich versus poor. He eludes, “two famous republics competed for World Empire: one of them was very rich, the other had nothing, and it was the latter which destroyed the former,” (page 51). He continues to describe that because Rome had acquired so much wealth, they in fact became more vulnerable as they were the prey to so many other powers which had no concept of wealth on the scale Rome had established. In context to justice, it is important to understand that eventually Rome falls to a power without a greater wealth. This demonstrates that wealth may provide some benefit, but it does not imply moral superiority, in fact it provides the opposite in some cases.

Rousseau continues to move on from this and explain whether it is more important for an empire to be, “brilliant and transitory or virtuous and durable,” (page 52). The conversation describes that an artist may be conditioned to create ordinary works to be admired during his lifetime and forgotten after his death. This is to say that the artist was born during a political and economic time that does not require extraordinary works to be appreciated timelessly. With this in mind, Rousseau then connects this to a topic of luxury. He describes throughout history how simple things seemed to be to his time, and claims that luxury is a factor. This relates to justice as humans have a moral responsibility to recognize their role in society and fulfill it to a satisfaction. In addition, Rousseau makes the claim that the Roman Empire experienced “brilliant and transitory” qualities; however fell by not understanding the importance of remaining durable.

Throughout his work, Rousseau eludes to the definition and importance of justice. He never truly is able to lock down a concrete definition, however uses conversation and examples to assemble an idea of what justice is and how it exists in society. All stemming from an example of Cyrus and his motives for action, he is able to construct multiple arguments and dialogues in order to expand further and resolve more information on justice. He claims that suitability, intent, and other factors have correlations with the treatment of justice as a topic, and furthermore he moves on to praise how Spartan society is able to exemplify such traits. The difference between the rich and the poor also has interesting claims as to how justice is incorporated into society. Rousseau is able to construct an idea of justice and enhances the overall essay piece through tying in justice to his other claims throughout.

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The Correlation of Justice and Sustainability in The First Discourse, a Book by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. (2023, Jan 16). Retrieved from

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