The State Of Nature : A Questionable Conceit Of The Enlightenment Essay

The State Of Nature : A Questionable Conceit Of The Enlightenment Essay

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The State of Nature: A Questionable Conceit of the Enlightenment
Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are all Enlightenment-era philosophers from the disciplines of early social and political science that each propose and outline their own forms of civil society (all of which rely on the idea of a social contract in some way) and corresponding models of sovereignty. The three authors fall along a spectrum of ideologies. Hobbes argues for an absolute monarchy enforced by a social contract that requires citizens to divest all their power into a single leader, known as the “Leviathan” (Hobbes 120-121). Locke takes a similar, but more moderate approach, where citizens relinquish some rights for some protections, though still provided by a monarch. And Rousseau stands opposite of Hobbes, suggesting that a social contract is employed as a tool of the rich to steal power from the poor and thus, the contract must become dynamic to allow for a more democratic representation of the people (known in his writing as the “general will”). With such varying theses, the authors seem to logically work backwards from their ideal societies, with each first presenting an articulation of the state of nature in order to justify their proposals. Consequently, as with their modes of society, they represent a spectrum of interpretations of the state of nature—which will be unpacked below. But all come to the conclusion that people inevitably enter into a decidedly non-natural society based on a human need for self-preservation, though, again, each has a different idea about the ability of society to ensure such preservation.
For Hobbes, more than Locke and Rousseau, the state of nature is cruel and in an eternal state of war, as is best ex...


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...the laws of nature due to man’s equally characteristic ability to reason (Locke 269-271). The only place where this sort of absolute liberty exists in nature is in man’s ability to be his own “judge, jury, and executioner” (Locke 272-273), or to enact their own idea of justice. It is here, in nature’s source of absolute liberty, that a state of war emerges because man’s tendency to focus on self-preservation, and again, in a way similar to Hobbes, the state of war subsequently necessitates the establishment of society (Locke 274-278). To put it more simply, when physical battle becomes the only way to settle disputes, a institution which furthers human self-preservation must become arbiter. For Locke, it is important to note that he puts an emphasis on the significance of property, it is namely property over which such conflict arises and society must protect for man.

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