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Is Savage Man Moral?

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Man himself is one who seeks survival, approval, and a sense of belonging. The man will go to great lengths to ensure his role in society. We as men have our rooted primal instinct of survival, which plays an immeasurable role in the actions we take to fill our roles in society. We set a goal and we strive to achieve it, and the achievement or failure of that goal is the essence of our lives. Yet, we fail to ever ultimately succeed at our goal, as man himself is never satisfied. Since we are never satisfied with our ultimate goal, we must turn to the face of morality and the effect we have on the world and those around us. Plato wrote “Man is declared to be that creature who is constantly in search of himself, a creature who at every moment of his existence must examine and scrutinize the conditions of his existence. He is a being in search of meaning”. The savage man is one who unaccompanied by any external forces, can recognize his enemies and distinguish what he can and can not defeat. Although, as Rousseau said “The body of a savage man being the only instrument he understands” (Rousseau, 11). Since a man who understands nothing other than his physical presence, the current state of his being, and disregards subsequent events in relations to his actions, the savage man is not moral.

To first view what makes the savage man immoral we must look at that separates man from and animal driven by instinct. Men are the only being that has freedom of decision on their side. Since man has the ability to be free and make decisions, he also has the ability to fail. Failure is derived from the goal of perfection, which ultimately man can not achieve, therefor leading to the daily pressures man faces. An animal unlike man desires nothing, the animals drive is driven by instinct, and nothing else. Man is filled with desire, and is driven by goals and the promise of nothing, which is perfection. An animal requires no life supplements, as life is a prescribed set of events, and they will live that life with the goal of survival. Man on the other hand requires more than a prescribed life, such as the prolonging of life in the pursuit of their goal. The savage man would act as the animal, and not expect or require anything more from life in the face of death, as death to a man with no morals has no meaning other than for their existence to cease. A moral man, when nearing death will behave in what we as a society consider a “moral” way to handle death. He will think of family, how his passing will affect others, and reflect on the life he lived. While the savage man will consider nothing but the nearing death and hold no morality. Rousseau explains this when he states “If the savage, when he is sick and left to himself, has nothing to hope but from nature, he has, on the other hand, nothing to fear but from his disease; which renders his situation often preferable to our own” (Rousseau, 12). Where morality falters is the sense of fear that it creates within the mind.

It would be necessary to next evaluate the desires of societal men as opposed to those of savage men in a natural state. This area is where we can view some of the benefits of the savage mans simplistic reality and lack of desires. While we can observe the lack of societal issues with the savage man, we must understand how the operations of men differ. A savage man does not think rationally or in regards of what may happen, as in a natural world the implications of his actions would not be prevalent in his mind. A savage man lives in the instinctive moment acting on what is necessary to be done at that exact moment. A savage man does not need anything but requires three essential things which are sleep, sexual reproduction, and food. With no desires the man has no inclination to benefit or harm others and has no moral standpoint. A man encumbered by society is filled with needs and desires that require collaboration with other men in order to fill his desires. Modern men need friendship, wealth, happiness, and the feeling of being wanted. “The passions, again, originate in our wants, and their progress depends on that of our knowledge; for we cannot desire or fear anything, except from the idea we have of it, or from the simple impulse of nature” (Rousseau,14). The social interpretation of what we need in this modern age is what fuels our worst desires as explained by Rousseau. In modern society the overwhelming amount of additives a man requires in the search of perfection, has created the morality of modern men.

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Appearance is what has created the morality of modern man as opposed to the savage man. When man desires friendship and so many other things, he is forced to look at himself. In a society where appearance is such a prevalent factor, we have developed the mask of man. With the need of having an appearance that is adequate to society, we must consider what is actually right and wrong. We must look at our primal instinct of what we want to reactively do, and think of the implications of it on our appearance. This furthers the question to modern man of what we are actually required to do versus what is socially required for us to do. With the idea of morality and appearance we have become superficial, often putting on the mask of man, hiding what lies beneath, and adhering to the confinements of moral law. Rousseau explains “The moderns, understanding, by the term law, merely a rule prescribed to a moral being, that is to say intelligent, free and considered in his relations to other beings, consequently confine the jurisdiction of natural law to man” (Rousseau,7). Where the modern man may feel free he is actually a slave to the standards of society, as opposed to the savage man who is free of standards. We as men seek the approval of our morals by society, often performing questionable actions to gain this approval. Rousseau explains this when he states “The difference between good and bad men is determined by public esteem; the magistrate being strictly a judge of right alone; whereas the public is the truest judge of morals, and is of such integrity and penetration on this head, that although it may be sometimes deceived, it can never be corrupted” (Rousseau, 42). The savage man desired nothing among others, no friendship, or a need of being wanted. Therefor his appearance to those surrounding him did not matter as they did not affect what he required. Where the savage man failed to consider societal approval, he also could be considered genuine in the fact that he did not shelter what he actually was with the mask of modern man. So what a savage man did actually held no moral standards to others, and he held no other man to the same moral standard. What one did in the eyes of the savage man was required, meaning that he should not be questioned or be forced to look at his actions. There is no good, bad, or evil to the savage man; there is only what was necessary.

Rousseau believes that the creation and notion of private property is what led to deception and the artificial face of man. The first savage man held no moral standard for what we now consider family and they had baseless intercourse practically at random when the time arose. Savage man did not confine himself to one location or set of people with a home or family. He would often move from place to place and interact with new people constantly. Man eventually built shelter to protect themselves, therefor creating a place where others could confine themselves and leading to families. Rousseau states “This was the epoch of a first revolution, which established and distinguished families, and introduced a kind of property, in itself the source of a thousand quarrels and conflicts” (Rousseau, 25). With families and homes came the idea of what is one mans and not another mans. This led to the idea of property and the ownership that modern man dictates over others. The morality of one when being compared to ones neighbor was formed. Savage man were not dictated by the thoughts of those surrounding them, as a person they see on one occasion they will likely not see again. The savage man also held no relationships or ties to property or other beings. With no attachment or mental tie to something as with the modern man, the savage men fail to consider morality from the perspective of others.

Consideration is what has become the main consideration in the mind of modern moral man. Savage men eventually began to gather in social settings; which is what led to the development of leisure, needs, consideration, and inequality. Rousseau speaks of how singing and dancing in groups became prevalent and began to take interest in the leisure of spending time with others. He speaks of the beginning of consideration when he says “Each one began to consider the rest, and to wish to be considered in turn; and thus a value came to be attached to public esteem” (Rousseau, 26). The value of connectivity and morality between man started to become observable between them. Where as savage men never functioned by cooperation or with the need for others, modern man had developed a society that required others. Rousseau recognizes the value that men placed among one another and stated “As soon as men began to value one another, and the idea of consideration had got a footing in the mind, every one put in his claim to it, and it became impossible to refuse it to any with impunity. Hence arose the first obligations of civility even among savages; and every intended injury became an affront” (Rousseau, 26). With such close relations to one another man began to look at himself in comparison to others, which was the beginning of contempt, revenge, and inequality. Man began to look at what he had compared to others, and with the differences of abilities in society now comparable among men, led to certain men being considered over others. What men considered of others led to contempt and inequality and created the distance between natural men and modern men. Rousseau states “Thus, as every man punished the contempt shown him by others, in proportion to his opinion of himself, revenge became terrible, and men bloody and cruel” (Rousseau, 26). Consideration where it holds moral value led to what could be considered our most savage state, where modern men seek revenge for the considerations of others.

As modern society developed, the single mindedness that the naturalistic savage men derived from started to disappear. The savage men were content men with independent thoughts and actions. They led lives based purely of what was necessary to survive. They held no thought of it being advantageous to work along side of other men. They were immoral men with thoughts and actions that they only took in regards of themselves. As soon as man started to develop relationships, considerations, and the need for others they required moral standards. Without morality between interconnected men there would be purely haste and controversy between them. The formation of morality in our modern society has also led to the deterioration of the peace savage men found in their most natural state of no need. Modern society has hence created a man enslaved by his needs constantly being provoked by his morality. We can not return to our original state of nature but must instead understand its essence to maintain civility among men. “But from the moment one man began to stand in need of the help of another; from the moment it appeared advantageous to any one man to have enough provisions for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, work became indispensable, and vast forests became smiling fields, which man had to water with the sweat of his brow, and where slavery and misery were soon seen to germinate and grow up with the crops” (Rousseau, 27).

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Is Savage Man Moral? (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
“Is Savage Man Moral?” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
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