At its root is a difference between being and appearing.
Savage man can only "be", and has no concept of pretence: civil man is forced to compare himself to others, and to lie to himself.
Differences in wealth, power, status or class are moral inequalities; they involve one person benefiting at the expense of another.
Whilst many authors have confused it with the natural state of affairs, Rousseau insists that this type of inequality is a recent creation.
For man to "perfect himself" is not necessarily for him to become perfect, but rather for his physical and mental capacities to be remolded, time and time again.
Perfectibility draws man out of his original condition, and is responsible for his extraordinary adaptability, but it is also the source of all his miseries.
Much of the Discourse is an attempt to imagine what such a state would be like, and a critique of similar attempts by other thinkers.
Rousseau is particularly critical of Thomas Hobbes, who presented the state of nature in Leviathan as a "war of all against all." Hobbes also said that man's natural condition (his life) is "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." Rousseau insists that this model confuses the man who is deformed by the evolution of society with the natural man; it also confuses the state of nature with the civil state. Perfectibility - Man's inexhaustible ability to improve himself, to shape and to be shaped by his environment.
Natural Law - Natural law theory is a complex tradition to which Rousseau reacts in the Discourse.
Its chief modern figures were theorists such as Hobbes, Grotius and Pufendorf.