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The State of Nature in Social Contract Theory

The State of Nature in Social Contract Theory

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Published by: ranjitharun on Apr 22, 2011
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III ² ¶B·School Of Excellence in Law
Thomas Hobbes (1651), John Locke (1689), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) arethe most famous philosophers of contractarianism.State of nature is a termin political philosophy used in social contract theories to describe the hypotheticalcondition of humanity before the state's foundation.
he state of nature is thecondition before the rule of positive law comes into being, thus being a synonymof anarchy. The idea of the state of nature was a part of a classicalrepublicanismtheory as a hypothetical reason of entering a state of society byestablishing a government. According to a few Philosophers, we would live in a state of nature, where eachperson has unlimited natural freedoms, including the "right to all things" and thusthe freedom to harm all who threaten our own self-preservation; there would be anendless "war of all against all". To avoid this, free men establishpolitical community i.e. civil society through a social contract in which eachgains civil rights in return for subjecting himself to civil law or to politicalauthority. Alternatively, some have argued that we gain civil rights in return for accepting theobligation to respect and defend the rights of others, giving up some freedoms to doso; this alternative formulation of the duty arising from the social contract is oftenidentified with arguments about military service.The social contract and the civil rights it gives us are neither "natural rights" norpermanently fixed. Rather, the contract itself is the means towards an end ³ thebenefit of all. Therefore, when failings are found in the contract, we renegotiate tochange the terms, using methods such as elections and legislature. Locke theorizedthe right of rebellion in case of the contract leading to tyranny.Hobbes advocated absolute monarchy, Locke advocated a liberal monarchy, andRousseau advocated liberal republicanism. Their work provided theoreticalgroundwork of constitutional monarchy, liberal democracy and republicanism.
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
bellumomnium contra omnes - war of all against allThe concept of state of nature was posited by the 17th century Englishphilosopher Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan.Hobbes wrote that"during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, theyare in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man againstevery man" (
).In this state any person has a natural right to the liberty to do anything he wills topreserve his own life, and life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".He believed that in the international arena, states behave as individuals do in astate of nature.Within the state of nature there is no injustice, since there is no law,excepting certain natural precepts, the first of which is "that every man ought toendeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it"[
] ; and the second is "that aman be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and becontented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other menagainst himself"[
] .From this, Hobbes develops the way out of the state of nature into civil governmentby mutual contracts.Using the Galileo·sprinciple of conservation of motion, Hobbes explains that ahuman being is perpetually seeking for something. ´Life itself is but Motion, andcan never be without Desireµ.
Leviathan, ch. XIII
Leviathan, ch. XIV
Leviathan, ch. XIV

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