In his famous book, Leviathan, English scholar Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) describes to readers the “state of nature”, a depiction where mankind exists in an uncivilized, lawless society where fear of eminent death reign. In his words the state of nature represents a “war of all against all, in which the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Shafer-Landau 197). In order to escape such a life man must band together into a commonwealth where they trade unlimited freedom for the prospect of cooperation and increased quality of life. This trade-off is based off the complexities of the situation known as the prisoner’s dilemma, which weighs the value of self-interest versus cooperation. In general, if men are to escape the depths of the state of nature and/or avoid the prisoner’s dilemma, they must be willing to form a commonwealth and thus deviate from their natural reaction.
A state of nature is a situation where there is no government, power figure or any kind of central power. In this situation, people would ruthlessly compete with each other for any and all resources. Because of this, moral principles such as trust, truth and cooperation would become myths and almost no one would remain trustworthy or honorable. In short, imagine a situation similar to Lord of the Flies, except amplified to encompass millions of people. In the 21st century, the closest example of the state of nature exists in unstable countries across the world such as Afghanistan or Somalia. In such a power vacuum everyone is attempting to maximize their own self interest with no regard for others, unfortunately no single individual is smart, strong, or popular enough to be free of danger. Due to the lack of a so...
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In conclusion, while some people may actually claim to want total and unrestricted freedom; limitless liberty is not beneficial to either the vast majority of individuals or a society as a whole. Hobbes is correct to claim the rational course of action is for people to give up small liberties such as free reign to rob, kill and steal in order to live in a commonwealth with increased security. In addition, instances such as the prisoner’s dilemma validates that self-interests motivates people, the result is almost never ideal. Pollution, over fishing and athletes taking steroids are perfect examples of this phenomenon. While a certain small portion of society will have a higher level of utility under the state of nature, such violent and aggressive individuals are rightly discounted when weighing the pros and cons in favor of creating a commonwealth.
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