Discourse on the Sciences and Arts: 3/10: Unless this is a joke (and it might very well be), this is horrible stuff. The one thing of value I can find in here is 'beware of the dangers of new, misunderstood technologies,' a warning that has been uttered many times, in more convincing ways, by better thinkers. The rest of this is pure rubbish. It is intellectually dishonest (he regularly misquotes his authorities, or misrepresents facts to back up his argument, which the editor finds interesting rather than problematic) and the argument is just plain untrue. Rousseau picks examples from history that fit his argument (much like some scholars today only study things they know will confirm their predictions), some which don't actually fit his argument, and he doesn't even consider any counterexamples (and there would be numerous, had he wanted to actually look at them). This argument has been around since people have been thinking about our condition, and it has never proven true. Humans have had issues before and after knowledge, and increasing knowledge in no way increases these issues. He is certainly one of the most overrated thinkers of his era. I have yet to find much of value in anything of his I have read.
Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men: 7/10: I'm with JJ on his critique of abstract reasoning, but his reasoning, though less abstract than others, is still abstract. His state of nature is way better explained than Hobbes' and way more 'scientific' than Locke's, but it still has many problems. Perhaps the biggest is typical of western philosophy: the idea that man had to become animal-like in order to survive. That is preposterous. But I guess that's what happens when you are half-arguing that humans originated by fiat and a rib-cage. He claims that human beings were somehow not humans until they were slowly forced into society; this is nonsense. His description about how we came to form societies is about as accurate as an 18th century thinker could get, me thinks. He makes lots of valid points about humans that I never would have guessed he'd comprehend, but he doesn't see the value of institutions (even as much as Hobbes did) and his plans for a future are not only stupid but dangerous. By claiming there is a perfect past, he creates a secular garden of eden, and as with every other thinker like him, he gives humans the mission of getting back there. Of course that road is paved with millions of dead people. I wish these thinkers could have understood this before they wrote this shit.