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Modern and Post Modern – Assignment

English: "A Venerable Orang-outang",...

I had my assignment back today and I received an 8 out of 9. Not bad for someone who has lived with numbers for most of her life. I know you will want to see it so here it is.

Views on the persistent effect of the past of Darwin and Rousseau

Darwin wrote that: “Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”  Our bodies are the result of evolutionary processes throughout our many stages of history. But it is not only our anatomy. There are also many social behaviours and cultures that have developed over time. I am going to look at the development of two features those of language and morality.

Darwin and Rousseau discussed the development of these features at length. They both saw them as persistent effects of past requirements to communicate but from slightly differing angles. My premise is that Rousseau’s revised theories are closely aligned to those that Darwin published 100 years later.

Darwin saw language as instinctive. He didn’t “doubt that language owes its origin to the imitation and modification, aided by signs and gestures, of various natural sounds, the voices of other animals, and man’s own instinctive cries”[2]. He maintained that the capacity for speech is “an instinctive tendency to acquire an art”. He continued to describe how language evolved and assisted in the development of ‘man’s superior mind’. “The mental powers in some early progenitor of man must have been more highly developed than in any existing ape, before even the most imperfect form of speech could have come into use; … the continued use and advancement of this power would have reacted on the mind by enabling and encouraging it to carry on long trains of thought.” He acknowledge that the development of vocal chords aided more sophisticated sound production but viewed man’s “large power of connecting definite sounds with definite ideas” as the main biological factor in speech [1].

Rousseau’s discussion of language in his discourse [3] starts on a different premise to Darwin’s. Man would have no need for language at earlier stages of development being “solitary and self-sufficient” by nature. Once humans started to work together some form of communication was required in order to cooperate. He hypothesised that early words “had a much more extensive signification than those used in languages already formed …… (man) gave every single word the sense of a whole proposition.” After much discussion he was “aghast at the increasing difficulties” and felt it impossible “that languages should owe their original institution to merely human means.” He was unable to address the question of “which was most necessary, the existence of society to the invention of language, or the invention of language to the establishment of society”. Nor could he reconcile why  “in a state of nature, one man should stand more in need of the assistance of another, than a monkey or a wolf….. : or…..what motives could induce that other to assist him.”

For Darwin morality was a natural progression from language as members of the community were able to express their wishes. He viewed morality as “the most noble of all the attributes of man”. Approaching this feature of humanity from the view of natural history, his proposition was that “any animal..with well-marked social instincts, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience as soon as its intellectual power had become as well-developed, or nearly…as in man.” [1] Darwin also believed that “Natural Selection” favoured morality. “When two tribes of primeval man…. came into competition, if one tribe included…a greater number of courageous, sympathetic, and faithful members….this tribe would without doubt succeed best and conquer the other….Thus the social and moral qualities would tend slowly to advance and be diffused throughout the world.”

In Rousseau’s discourse [3] he stated “It appears, at first view, that men in a state of nature, having no moral relations…could not be either good or bad. “ His view was that humans are naturally good but are corrupted by society and morality is not a natural human feature. Morality developed for self preservation.

Darwin saw language and morality as instinctive, improved by evolution but legacies from our origins. Rousseau firstly saw them as developing from living in society. His later works show opinions closer to Darwin’s. In his essay [4] Rousseau’s theory on language is in the title of chapter two “That the first invention of speech is due not to need but to passion.” He describes that it was primordial passions of “love, hatred, pity and anger which drew our first words.” This parallels Darwin’s theory of evolution from early “man’s own instinctive cries.”  In his letters [5] he talks of the moral principal of following one’s nature. “If moral goodness is in conformity to our nature, man cannot be healthy or well constituted unless he is good. [If] ..man is naturally wicked, he cannot cease being so without corrupting himself …..(a) man would be as depraved an animal as a wolf with pity and only virtue would leave us with remorse.”  Man cannot be happy and healthy unless he is good and goodness is in his nature.

Charles Darwin, “The Descent of Man” (1871)[1] :  “Origin of the Species” (1859)[2]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Discourse on the Origins of Inequality” (1754) [3] : “Essay on the Origin of Languages”, (1781 ) [4] :  “Lettres Morals” (1775-1758) [5]


Only one of the two people who assessed my essay commented. I am not sure who gave me which marks as you only see the final score which I assume is an average.  This is what they said:-

Argument Feedback: Did the student develop a point of view in the essay by moving from premises to conclusion using evidence and logic?
peer 2 → The student develops his own point of view moving from premises to conclusion in a logic manner and using evidence extracted from the reading of both selected authors. I think the student also proves the persistence and validity of Darwin’s and Nietzsche’s ideas in the growth of culture.
Score 3
Evidence Feedback: Did the student use quotations or examples from the reading assigned for the week to support their argument?
peer 2 → Student uses enough evidence to prove his point of persistence of Darwin’s and Nietzsche’s ideas.
Score 2.5

Exposition Feedback: Evaluate the quality of the writing. Look for clarity of thought and an organized essay structure.  The writing should be understandable, but do not deduct for errors of grammar or spelling that do not impede the reader’s understanding.  Keep in mind that English is a second or third language for many students, and take this into account when grading.

peer 2 → Quality and clarity of the essay are good; structure of essay is well organized. There are no grammar errors that keep the reader from understanding the arguments.
Score 2.5
I am not at all disapointed in the marks in fact I am very pleased. I would have liked some pointers on what I could do to make it better but I didn’t so…life goes on.

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