Is The State Of Nature A Hobsian State Of War Of All Against All

Topics: Political philosophy, State of nature, Social contract Pages: 11 (3361 words) Published: March 21, 2015
Do you agree with the Hobbesian position that "the state of nature is a state of war of all against all"?

The argument presented by Thomas Hobbes in chapter 13 of Leviathan, is that the state of nature is a state of war of all against all. Such a view had previously been discussed- earlier versions of the argument appear in other significant works- however it is Hobbes account of a state in “continuall feare of danger and violent death”1 upon which I will focus on and critique in this essay. There are many reasons why many seem to regard Hobbes argument as the most accurate portrayal of a pre-civilised society, many believe it to be so straightforward and seemingly correct that to object it would be to ignore a necessary truth. Secondly, those who accept Hobbes’ view of a human nature that is so egotistical and unforgiving, would seemingly too agree to the assumption of a gloomy, unbearable state of nature. In this essay I shall argue that such opinions are not logically justified as Hobbes’s argument holds its foundations solidly in assumption alone, an assumption that was heavily moulded on his surroundings of a savage Civil War. Hobbes’s argument lies solely on the grounds that human beings are intrinsically wicked and self-centred beings an argument that cannot be completely validated and therefore cannot be a ‘necessary truth’. Yet despite holding such a bleak outlook on the human condition and its simple invalidity the work of Thomas Hobbes still shapes the political word today2 and it continues to impact our understanding of human nature and interactions. In order to justify my critique of Hobbes I will begin by presenting both his original argument and a brief view of some modern interpretations before cross examining their conclusions against that of other social contract theorist such as Locke and Rousseau as well as rational logic to present the argument that the state of nature is most certainly not a state of war of all against all.

The state of nature is a concept one will find used in the fields of moral and political philosophy, mainly adopted by social contract theorists, as a method of justifying the creation of state governments and the legitimacy they had in limiting the liberty of its citizens and imposing interventionist policies. The state of nature is a hypothetical scenario which portrays the living conditions of pre-socialised humanity, existing free from sovereign authority. The thought experiment was used as a method of portraying the benefits of a life under governmental rule by presenting an image of a potentially dangerous pre-existence. The element of looming danger is a common thread that links Hobbes pessimistic view of the state of nature to a more enjoyably inhabitable one presented by John Locke, who’s argument on the state of nature I will be using to counter Hobbes’ state of war of all against all, while the two deliver starkly contrasting hypothetical states they are both in agreement that a world governed by state authority is a safer and more pleasurable environment for human kind to develop in.

Hobbes argues that people living in a state of nature void of a common power to enforce control are in a state of endless war of every person against every other. He defines war not only in terms of a continual state of physical combat as this may be unreasonable to assume3, rather he describes it as a readiness or willingness to fight at any moment4 for even if an actual war never takes place, the possibility alone would be enough to evoke great tension and therefore he sees no reason to differentiate between the two. In order to prove the state of nature exists in this way Hobbes builds his argument on five assumptions5 based on his systematic understanding of human nature which he adopted from his study of Galileo’s Principle of the Conservation of Motion. The principle of physics was used by Hobbes to develop a materialist, mechanist view of human beings on an endless journey,...

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Goodin, R., Pettit, P. and Pogge, T. (eds) (2008) A companion to contemporary political philosophy. United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell (an imprint of John Wiley & Sons Ltd).
Hobbes, T. and Macpherson, C. (1968) Leviathan (The Pelican Classics). United Kingdom: Penguin (Non-Classics).
Locke, J. and Laslett, P. (1988) Locke: Two Treatises of Government. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
McNeilly, F. (1968) The Anatomy of ‘Leviathan’. United Kingdom: St. Martin’s Press.
Peters, R. (1967) Hobbes. United Kingdom: Penguin Books Ltd.
Rousseau, J.-J. (1973) The social contract; and, Discourses. London: London, Dent, c1973.
Rousseau, J.-J., Wootton, D. and Cress, D. (2012) Basic Political Writings: Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Discourse on Political Economy, on the Social Contract, the State of War. 2nd edn. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.
Thomas, D. L. (1995) Locke on Government. Routledge.
Wolff, J. (2006) An introduction to political philosophy. 1st edn. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
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