The is used to portray a society in

The state of nature is a concept used in philosophy to
create an image of a hypothetical condition in which there is no political
authority or association. This concept is used to portray a society in which we
no longer abide by the rule of law. Philosophers have used the idea of a state
of nature to argue that the state is based on an agreement between people to
live together under laws, or a social contract. Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau take
opposing stances on the state of nature, and therefore take differing views on
the authority and justification of the state.

Hobbes developed his state of nature theory amongst the
context of the time, the English civil war. Hobbes was becoming more and more
worried about the outcome of the war, and the disastrous consequences of a
world without authority. He felt that the ‘state of nature’ would become a
state of war. Hobbes’ state of nature argument is aligned with his argument of
human nature. Hobbes took a negative view of human nature, with the idea that
man was solely self-interested, and was only interested in the pursuit of
power. Geraint Williams’ view of Hobbes’ understanding of human nature was that
man’s obsessive pursuit of self-interested passions leads to only frustration,
and that in the state of nature this natural human nature benefits nobody (Williams, 1991). Hobbes believed that
human beings naturally desire the power to live well and that they will never
be satisfied with the power they have without acquiring more power. Because of
this view of human nature, Hobbes believed that the natural state of nature
would be anarchical and violent as there is no rule of law to restrain human
nature. Existence
in the state of nature is, as Hobbes states, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Hobbes, 1651). Hobbes believed that
without a strong state to referee and umpire disputes and differences amongst
the population, everyone fears and mistrusts other members of society. Also,
with no overarching authority, there can be no justice or functioning society. The
only way of bringing this untenable state of nature is if the individuals
surrender their natural rights and self-sovereignty to a higher political
authority, or state. This is known as the social contract, a theory developed
by Hobbes which was a trade between individuals and a political authority,
offering the individuals’ self-sovereignty in return for social benefits such
as state protection. The social contract, therefore, is a means in which
individuals can leave the state of nature, and join civilised society. Hobbes
expresses the idea that humans can only be happy and flourish when locked into
the social contract, Jonathan Wolff’s interpretation of Hobbes’ ideology was that
without the protection of the state, there is no worse alternative (Wolff, 1996). And therefore, it was
vital to have a strong government, to protect its citizens and enforce the laws
of nature, and lapse into a state of war.

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By contrast, Locke disagreed with
Hobbes’ idea that the state of nature was a state of war. He believed that
human nature was characterised by ‘tolerance and reason’, and because of this,
he felt that human beings could live good lives, even in the absence of a state
or a higher authority. Jonathan Wolff states that Locke’s view of the state of
nature was that it was, in a sense, a state of perfect freedom (Wolff, 1996). By this he meant that
humans could live in a world, free to do what we want, though only if we abide
by the laws of nature. David Gress in his book, ‘From Plato to Nato’, describes
that the law of nature is God’s rules for how his creations should operate. (Gress, 1998). Locke, in the Second
Treatise, states that, ‘The state of
nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone; and reason,
which is that law which teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being
all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health,
liberty, or possessions.’ (Locke, 1690). What Locke meant by this is that,
humans are free to do as they please, as long as they are not harming others in
the process. Locke believed that the law of
nature was encompassed by our natural rights, which he stated were, ‘the right
to life, liberty and property’, therefore we are all free to do what we want,
as long as we are not encroaching on others natural rights. Geraint Williams stated
that it was clear that, before government, men in the state of nature were
naturally free and equal. Williams goes on further to stress that they were
free within a structured way of living by the existence of natural laws (Williams, 1991). Though Locke felt
that in the state of nature, the law of nature cannot be truly enforced, and
therefore, the contract is made with a political authority to enforce the law
of nature and natural rights more consistently and to institute an
impartial power capable of adjudicating their disputes and to right wrongs. Alex
Tuckness describes that Locke’s support for the social contract stems from the
idea of people in the state of nature conditionally transfer some of their
rights in order to better ensure the stability of their lives and natural
rights. (Tuckness, 2005). This furthers Locke’s idea that humans consciously transfer some of
their rights and sovereignty to a higher power in order to strengthen their
natural rights, of life, liberty and property. Though Locke suggests that as
the government exists by consent, if they fail to protect the natural rights,
they can be resisted and replaced with a new authority.

The state of nature
concept was also central to the philosophy of Rousseau. He took a different
stance to both Hobbes and Locke on human nature, and the state of nature. Like
Hobbes and Locke, he agreed that the most basic feature of human nature was the
motivation for self-preservation. But Rousseau felt that both Hobbes and Locke
had overlooked a key aspect of human nature, compassion, which he felt meant
they had misjudged the probability of conflict in the state of nature.
Christopher Bertram states that Rousseau claimed that human beings were
naturally good by nature, but had been corrupted by society (Bertram, 2010). This is a direct
opposition to Hobbes, who claimed that humans were naturally selfish by nature.
therefore argued that the state of nature could only be the state preceding
society. Rousseau felt that the state of nature was naturally morally neutral
and peaceful, as it was comprised of individuals who act on their basic needs,
such as hunger, and the desire for self-preservation. Though Rousseau believed
that the desire for self-preservation was equally matched by an equal sense of
compassion for others.  In the discourse
on the origin of inequality, Rousseau criticised other theorists such as Hobbes
and Locke for portraying man in the state of nature with attributes they found
in their own corrupted societies.   Rousseau states that individuals leave the
state of nature by becoming increasingly civilised, and through this gradual
process, we see humans become more and more corrupted by society (Rousseau 1754). Rousseau depicted the contract through
which government is manifested as a deception perpetrated by the wealthy upper
class upon the poor working class. In the social contract, written by Rousseau,
he writes what he believes would be the best way to establish a political
community. The Social Contract, Rousseau lays out ideas to to recapture as much
of the natural state of humans as possible into the ‘new contract’. He
implements his views of human nature into the social contract, “In a well governed state, there are few
punishments, not because there are many pardons, but because criminals are
rare; it is when a state is in decay that the multitude of crimes is a
guarantee of impunity.” (Rousseau, 1762). This quote
from the Social Contract illustrates the point that Rousseau views humans as
compassionate beings, and in a well governed state which is not corrupted,
humans will remain in this state.

In conclusion all
three theorists put forward different arguments in relation to the state of
nature. Hobbes’ state of nature argument was characterised by his cynical view
of human nature, depicting humans as selfish and only interested in man’s
pursuit of power. Because of this, the state of nature would naturally lead to
a state of war, as there is no strong government to referee its civilians.
Because of this, Hobbes was an advocate of strong government, to stop its
citizens drifting back into a state of nature. Locke, on the other hand,
disagreed with the idea of the state of nature being a state of war. Locke
believed that humans were naturally characterised tolerance and reason,
therefore believing that even in the state of nature, humans can live good
lives. Though Locke was a firm believer in the natural laws, and he felt it was
best that there was a strong government to protect our natural rights. Rousseau
took a completely different stance from both Hobbes and Locke. He took a much
more positive view of human nature, labelling humans as compassionate. He felt
that that the state of nature, in complete opposition to Hobbes, was peaceful
and moral, suggesting that society was corrupted this. 


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