The noble savage
Rousseau is derogating the social man when he says "the savage lives in himself; the man accustomed to the ways of society is always outside himself and knows how to live only in the opinion of others. And it is, as it were, from their judgment alone that he draws the sentiment of his own existence" (Discourse on the Origin of Inequality). The problem with his view is not just that he romanticizes the savage, but also that his evaluation of our social nature is one-sided. It is not true, as Rousseau thinks, that we are "always asking others what we are and never daring to question ourselves on the matter". Being social, we have to question ourselves as well as ask others; being social, we do not simply conform to the values and reasons of others but share many of those values and reasons. This is the case when we make normative judgments generally, and when we make judgments about meaningfulness particularly. A savage, even a noble one, if completely non-social, cannot have a life that is meaningful (or meaningless).
Posted by W. Wong at 9:40 AM