Saturday, March 20, 2021

Four Philosophers: Four Views of the State of Nature

Hobbes was horrified by the idea of life in the state of nature—he depicts the state of nature as an environment in which there is no property, no security, no possibility of practical arts; where man’s life is marked by violence and fear, and is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” But Locke, who arrived about half a century after Hobbes, discovered an entirely different state of nature, in which people possess natural rights, and their property is secure, natural property in agricultural land being the rule. Another half a century pass, and along comes Montesquieu who discovered a state of nature where men are a timid lot, so timid that they avoid war and violence. And lastly, there is Rousseau, in whose writing the state of nature becomes a sort of Eden of liberty—a place where man is endowed with natural rights and is free. Thus, in a span of three hundred years (sixteenth century to eighteenth century), four major philosophers have presented four different conceptions of the state of nature—what was dystopia for Hobbes magically transforms into a utopia that man must strive to achieve by the time Rousseau has finished his work.

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