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'The State of Nature' in the philosophy of Hobbes and Rousseau

'The State of Nature' in the philosophy of Hobbes and Rousseau

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sarah O'Neill. Originally submitted for Philosophy and Political Science at None, with lecturer Stan Erraught in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Sarah O'Neill. Originally submitted for Philosophy and Political Science at None, with lecturer Stan Erraught in the category of Philosophical Studies & Theology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
‘The State of Nature’ in the philosophy
of Hobbes and RousseauAbstract
Revealed in each philosopher’s account of the state of nature is their conception of human
nature in general and these different perspectives have clear consequences for their political
theory. This essay is an articulation of Hobbes and Rousseau’s respective accounts of pre
-
social man, the origin of each philosopher’s theory and the consequences each conception has
for the remainder of their political theory. Although both authors consented to the opinion of 
the ‘state of nature’ as existing in some embodiment as a historical reality, it is primarily used
as a conceptual device to scrutinize the fundamental essence of mankind and consequently
illustrates each philosopher’s under 
standing of human nature. I will discuss how both authorshave used their respective accounts of pre-civil society to support their central theory of theworld and the essence of the individual. This essay intends to establish the viability of political so
ciety under each of the theorist’s recommendations and critically evaluates and
compares the implications of their differing accounts of un-socialized man on the likelihoodof organized political society.The fundamental separation between Hobbes and Rouss
eau’s understanding of pre
-social
man originates from their alternative views on the consequences of man’s natural equality.
Both contend that all men are born equal but differ in how they understand the source of competition between individuals. For Rouss
eau, man’s competitive nature is awakened
during the socialisation process. The discovery of relative advantages and the benefits of labour division transformed the peaceful nature of solitary man into an impulse towardsdomination over his fellow man. This transformation and the inequalities that result from itare formalized by political institutions when the need to establish ownership over propertynecessitated the organisation of political society.
 
The key difference in Hobbes’ thesis lies in his belie
f that the solitary state of man isnecessarily competitive independent of labour division. This essay investigates the nuances of 
Hobbes’ writings on the brutality of the state of nature and assesses whether his account truly
deserves its reputation for being overly pessimistic. Civil society emerges from the need toprotect each citizen from the dangers of moral relativism and consequently, the resultingpolitical system is a minimalist account that legitimizes the involvement of the state in theprotecti
on of each citizen’s bare survival and nothing more.
 
The distinction between the two theorists’ views on human nature is revealed in their account
of language. For Rousseau, language progresses along with the development of humaninteraction. Speech and society develop together and this interaction between the individualand the world is essential to human development. This view is consistent with a belief in theessential mutability of humanity
 – 
human nature is not defined but susceptible to beingshaped and formed. For Hobbes, the world confronts the individual who is constrained by hisinvariable human nature. This essay explores the implications of human nature as both amutable and constant concept.I conclude my essay with an evaluation of each philos
opher’s proposed form of government
in overcoming the issues arising from their understanding of human interaction in anuncivilized society.
Full submission
For the purpose of this essay I have chosen to examine the work of Hobbes and Rousseau inan attempt to establish the impact of their conception of the state of nature on theirsubsequent political theory. Both philosophers use an account of pre-social man todemonstrate the necessity of civil society in accommodating the needs of a collective groupof individuals forced to cooperate with each other. This essay will assess the implications of 
 
this necessity and how both philosophers arrived at this conclusion. Although both authorsconsented to the opinion of the
‘state of nature’
as a historical reality, it is primarily used as aconceptual device to scrutinize the fundamental essence of mankind and consequentlyillustrates each
 philosopher’s understanding of human nature. I will discuss how both authors
have used their respective accounts of pre-civil society to support their central theory of theworld and the essence of the individual. This essay intends to establish the viability of 
 political society under each of the theorist’s recommendations
and critically evaluates theimplications of their differing accounts of un-socialized man on the likelihood of organizedpolitical society.
The fundamental distinction between Hobbes and Rousseau’s account of the
state of nature is evident in their opposing
views on the consequences of man’
s natural equality. ForRousseau, natural equality is sustainable in so far as it is consistent with a fundamentallypeaceful and uncompetitive natural condition for man (1913, pg 179). The gradualsocialisation of man encouraged the recognition of relative advantages between individualsand it was this recognition that facilitated the transformation of natural distinctions intopolitical inequalities
, ‘ the fundamental compact substitutes, for such physical inequality as
nature may have set up between men, an equality t
hat is moral and legitimate’
(SocialContract, pg 199). This transformation occurred when the need to establish ownership overproperty necessitated the organization of political society. Rousseau essentially placesmankind within the animal system, depicting the natural condition as a past reality andconceiving of man as an animal living in isolation; thus reconciling the issue of maintainingharmony in an apolitical society by eliminating any notion of competition for resources(Masters, 1972). The
central issue for the rest of Rousseau’s political writings then becamereconciling this need for governance with man’s claim to freedom , ‘ the essence of the body politic lies in the reconciliation of obedience and liberty’ (1913, pg 80).
 

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