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Thursday, March 4, 2010

A very brief examination of Hobbes' state of Nature

Q2: Examine the “state of nature” in the context of Thomas Hobbes’ view.
The State of Nature is, in Hobbes’ view, the state in which man lived with other men before the emergence of the civil society or the commonwealth. He, however, lays no claim on the actual historical existence of a state of nature, but rather that the state of nature exists in any place or time where civil society is not functioning.
The workings of the state of nature can be understood in its proper context when one takes into account the psychological theory of Hobbes which makes the following assertions, namely, that man is psychologically egoistic and would do nothing except from selfish motives; that there exists no objective good or bad except those things a person desires, which he considers good and those things he averts which he considers bad and those things which he has contempt for, which he considers vile; that the highest desire of man is self-preservation and his worst aversion is death and; that all people are equal in their natural means of attaining the objects of their desire, and this, he terms power . Thus, Hobbes makes the claim that in the state of nature, happiness is judged only by the amount of success he has in pursuing the object of his primary desire, namely, self preservation.
Again, Hobbes makes the claim that morality is nothing apart from the will of the sovereign. Thus, if there exists no sovereign to promulgate laws for the general conduct of the people, there would exist no ethical code, hence no morality. One could even make the concession that the only law of morality is that of self-preservation which necessitates the use of all measures to ensure that the individual protects him/herself from any and all things which he considers a threat to his wellbeing irrespective of how negatively such measures may affect others.
From the above, it is perceived that in the state of nature, conflict is a common feature. This stems from the fact that all individuals are equipped with the same natural powers to achieve self preservation. But since every individual is selfish and not restrained by any central authority though each has to protect himself using the same powers, they are each equally capable of inflicting injury on their neighbours, hence conflicts.
Finally, in the state of nature, there is anarchy. Morality is primarily dictated by the desire for self-preservation which is itself a product of vital and voluntary motion. In the absence of a sovereign, individuals lack that awareness which reason imparts on their actions. Thus, in Hobbes’ view, without any law to restrain people’s actions there would be total lawlessness since each person would only act in order to maximize happiness .
BONEVAC, Daniel, Today’s Moral Issues, (3rd ed.), Mayfield Publishing Company, California, 1999.
KOLAK, Daniel, Questioning Matters, Mayfield Publishing Company, California, 2000.
WHITE, James E., Contemporary Moral Problems, (5th ed.) West Publishing Company, New York, 1997.

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