“Our existence is impoverished, contentious, and anxious. We have passions and needs. We want to be happy; and every moment unjust and passion-driven man feels himself driven the do to another what he would not wish to have done to himself. It is a judgment that he pronounces at the bottom of his soul and from which he cannot escape. He sees his own meanness and he has to confess it to himself or accord to everyone else the same authority that he arrogates to himself…” (Diderot, “Natural Law”)
I chose Diderot’s section on the natural law of humans and our existence because I did not fully grasp the argument he was trying to make here, and so my curiosity was sparked. I have come to understand this text better by breaking it down by each sentence, figuring out what they mean individually, and defining any words that may cause confusion. Now I understand that Diderot is actually making the opposite claim than what I originally thought he was making.
I believe Diderot says that deep down humans are flawed and self-centered to help prove his greater argument that it is necessary to have a natural law and general will of society in order to remain a functional society. He says that, at our core, humans would want to be mean and harmful to one another, but we have to confess our faults to ourselves to overcome them. Diderot states in his overall argument that we have to work together in society and must follow with the general will of all people. An enemy of the human race is one who only listens to his or her own private will. The general will of society must come before our own private wants.
A question that this excerpt addresses is “where is power derived from?” People once thought that power was given from God to political rulers, when actually, all power comes from the governed, or in other words, from society. It is the same concept that we all must work together and have a general will as a society, and that general will is going to be what decides where the power in society is going to be placed.