In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley examines the question of nature verses nurture. In doing so, Shelley raises the question of whether or not Victor's creation is evil by nature or evil as a consequence of society. Focusing on Shelley's account of the creature through the lens of Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality indicates that man is, by nature good, and that it is society that turns him into an evil monster.
In his Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau lays out his characteristics of 'natural man'. He defines two key motivating principles: self-preservation and pity (Discourse 54/55). He states that all humans feel a strong aversion when they witness the suffering of another creature. Rousseau argues that because man feels this impulse of pity towards others they will not voluntarily mistreat or harm another creature unless their own self-preservation is at stake. Thus natural man is not by nature characterized by war, nor does natural man does not actively strive to do good towards others, but is instead restrained from having them by the principle of pity. Rousseau's "Golden Rule is established on the principles of pity and self- preservation because for Rousseau they are the most basic impulses that exist in men independent of society (Discourse 85). Rousseau argues that the innate feeling of compassion compels natural man. This natural aversion to seeing others creatures in pain balances out man's desire to preserve himself. Compassion replaced the action of laws, customs or virtues in the state of nature. It assured that everyone behaved according to the simple principle 'do what is good for you with the least possible harm to others'. The state of nature was peaceful; if there were conflicts they were minor and did not escalate into a larger dispute because the connection between self-preservation and compassion restrained natural man from vengeance or unwarranted violence.