This is an idea that virtually defines the Discourse on Inequality. It is summed up in the quote from Aristotle that Rousseau uses to preface his work: "What is natural has to be investigated not in beings that are depraved, but in those that are good according to nature." Aristotle's point is that because what is "natural" is also sets a standard for people to follow, it is vital to look at the correct "nature." Rousseau argues that we need to investigate natural man in the correct way because the idea of nature is used to justify harmful and depraved inequality. The best way to undermine modern inequality is to reveal that it is artificial and "unnatural."

Uncovering the natural is a powerful and difficult act. It involves stripping back many layers that have been deposited on top of man's true nature by centuries of development. This act is powerful because it sets up an unfavorable comparison with modern societies. When Rousseau considers what is natural in man, he discovers that it includes none of the qualities that many would think of as central to human existence, such as reason and language. Nor does it imply structures such as property, law, and moral inequality. However, uncovering the natural can only be undertaken in an imaginary way. Rousseau is clear that it is impossible to return to the state of nature, and that his investigations are only "conjectures." Despite its considerable power, this act of uncovering cannot happen in practice.