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.” 

Half a century after Hobbes came Locke, who discovered a different kind of state of nature, in which people possessed natural rights, and their property was secure, because agricultural land belonged naturally to the man who did the farming. Another half a century passed, and along came Montesquieu who philosophized about a state of nature where men were a timid lot, so timid that they avoided war and violence. And finally, there came 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.

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 got transformed, as if by the magic of philosophy, into a utopia by the time Rousseau had finished his work.

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