State of nature

State of nature

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State of nature is a term in political philosophy
Political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it...

 used in social contract
Social contract
The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept...

 theories to describe the hypothetical condition that preceded governments. There must have been a time before government, and so the question is how legitimate government could emerge from such a starting position, and what are the hypothetical reasons for entering a state of society
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 by establishing a government.

In some versions of social contract theory, there are no rights in the state of nature, only freedoms, and it is the contract that creates rights and obligations. In other versions the opposite occurs: the contract imposes restrictions upon individuals that curtail their natural rights
Natural rights
Natural and legal rights are two types of rights theoretically distinct according to philosophers and political scientists. Natural rights are rights not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable...

.

Thomas Aquinas' theology


The term "state of nature" appears in the writings of Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

 (born c. 1225) (see De Veritate, Question 19, Article 1, Answer 13). Aside from its influence upon later Political Philosophy, the use of the term in Aquinas is also of key importance for the development of the Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 "Natural Law" Theological Tradition; its biblical theological provenance goes back to a pregnant statement of the Apostle Paul in his Letter to the Romans (Romans 2:12-16).

For Paul, in Romans chapter 2, the "natural law" is contrasted with the Mosaic Law posited on Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai , also known as Mount Horeb, Mount Musa, Gabal Musa , Jabal Musa meaning "Moses' Mountain", is a mountain near Saint Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. A mountain called Mount Sinai is mentioned many times in the Book of Exodus in the Torah and the Bible as well as the Quran...

 in that the Jewish Nation possessed the latter while the Gentile Nations lacked the Law of Moses but possessed the former in virtue of knowing (some of its central commandments) and obeying it (partially) "by nature." From this theological interpretation (one now controversial among leading Paulinists, i.e., it is disputed that Paul actually intended all of the later machinery of the "Natural Law" tradition) it was but a small step to speak of this perceived natural condition of the Gentile Nations (i.e., their "natural" nomological condition) as a "state of nature."

However, for Aquinas, following Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, the State of Nature is not logically (or temporally) prior to the politically constituted community but is that community, i.e. for both Aristotle and Aquinas the political state is natural for human beings (see Encyclopedia of Political Theory, by Mark Bevin, s.v., "Thomism, "Natural Law"). In later Political Philosophy (e.g., Hobbes and Locke) the (hypothetical if not temporal) positing of the priority of the State of Nature will become a standard move.

Aquinas also employed the terms "primitive state" (statum primi) and "state of innocence" (statu innocentiae) (see Summa Theologica, Part I, Question 97, "Of the Preservation of the Individual in the Primitive State").The State of Nature is not logically (or temporally) prior to the politically constituted community but is that community, i.e. for both Aristotle and Aquinas the political state is natural for human beings (see Encyclopedia of Political Theory, by Mark Bevin, s.v., "Thomism, "Natural Law").

Hobbes' philosophy


The concept of state of nature was posited by the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury , in some older texts Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy...

 in Leviathan
Leviathan (book)
Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil — commonly called simply Leviathan — is a book written by Thomas Hobbes and published in 1651. Its name derives from the biblical Leviathan...

. Hobbes wrote that "during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man" (Leviathan, ch. XIII). In this state any person has a natural right to the liberty to do anything he wills to preserve his own life, and life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (loc. cit.). Hobbes' view of the state of nature helped to serve as a basis for theories of international realism.

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 to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it" (Leviathan, ch. XIV); and the second is "that a man 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 be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself" (loc. cit.). From this, Hobbes develops the way out of the state of nature into civil government by mutual contracts.

Hobbes described the concept in the Latin phrase bellum omnium contra omnes
Bellum omnium contra omnes
Bellum omnium contra omnes, a Latin phrase meaning "the war of all against all," is the description that Thomas Hobbes gives to human existence in the state of nature thought experiment that he conducts in De Cive and Leviathan ....

, (meaning war of all against all) in his work De Cive
De Cive
De Cive is a book by Thomas Hobbes published in 1642, and one of his major works.It anticipates the classical republican line of argument in the better-known Leviathan...

.

Locke's view on the state of nature


John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

 considers the state of nature in his Second Treatise on Civil Government written around the time of the Exclusion Crisis in England during the 1680s. For Locke, in the state of nature all men are free "to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature." (2nd Tr., §4). "The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it", and that law is Reason. Locke believes that reason teaches that "no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, and or property"; and that transgressions of this may be punished. This view of the state of nature is partly deduced from Christian belief (unlike Hobbes, whose philosophy is not dependent upon any prior theology).

Although it may be natural to assume that Locke was responding to Hobbes, Locke never refers to Hobbes by name, and may instead have been responding to other writers of the day, like Robert Filmer
Robert Filmer
thumbnail|150px|right|Robert Filmer Sir Robert Filmer was an English political theorist who defended the divine right of kings...

. In fact, Locke's First Treatise is entirely a response to Filmer's Patriarcha, and takes a step by step method to refuting Filmer's theory set out in Patriarcha. The conservative party at the time had rallied behind Filmer's Patriarcha, whereas the Whigs, scared of another prosecution of Anglicans and Protestants, rallied behind the theory set out by Locke in his Two Treatises of Government; as it gives a clear theory as to why you should be allowed to overthrow a monarchy who abuses the trust set in it by the people.

Montesquieu


Montesquieu makes use of the concept of the State of Nature in his The Spirit of the Laws
The Spirit of the Laws
The Spirit of the Laws is a treatise on political theory first published anonymously by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu in 1748 with the help of Claudine Guérin de Tencin...

 first printed in 1748. One of the unique features of Montesquieu's presentation pertains to his initial method of grounding the thesis that the State of Natures, and its Laws, are antecedent to Positive Law and the Civil Society which Positive Law engenders: Montesquieu argues from the a priority of Possibility over Actuality relative to divine Creation. (see Book 1.1). This represents a more sophisticated use of the Aristotelian tradition and is in contrast to other political philosophers who tend to simply assert the antecedence of the State of Nature or who imply its priority by simply associating it with Edenic biblical themes (e.g., Locke).

Montesquieu's Political Philosophy was enormously influential upon the thinking of the U.S. Founding Fathers who cite him more than any other political philosopher.

Rousseau


Hobbes's view was challenged in the eighteenth century by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

, who claimed that Hobbes was taking socialized persons and simply imagining them living outside of the society in which they were raised. He affirmed instead that people were neither good nor bad. Men knew neither vice nor virtue since they had almost no dealings with each other. Their bad habits are the products of civilization. Nevertheless the conditions of nature forced people to enter a state of society by establishing a civil society
Civil society
Civil society is composed of the totality of many voluntary social relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state , the commercial institutions of the market, and private criminal...

.

Hume's theory


David Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 offers in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), that human beings are naturally social: "’Tis utterly impossible for men to remain any considerable time in that savage condition, which precedes society; but that his very first state and situation may justly be esteem’d social. This, however, hinders not, but that philosophers may, if they please, extend their reasoning to the suppos’d state of nature; provided they allow it to be a mere philosophical fiction, which never had, and never cou’d have any reality." (Book III, Part II, Section II: "Of the Origin of Justice and Property."

Hume's ideas about human nature expressed in the Treatise suggest that he would be happy with neither Hobbes's nor his contemporary Rousseau's thought-experiments. He explicitly derides as incredible the hypothetical humanity described in Hobbes's Leviathan (Book II, Part III, Section I: "Of Liberty and Necessity"). And he argues in "Of the Origin of Justice and Property" that if mankind were universally benevolent, we would not hold Justice to be a virtue: "’tis only from the selfishness and confin’d generosity of men, along with the scanty provision nature has made for his wants, that justice derives its origin."

20th century


John Rawls
John Rawls
John Bordley Rawls was an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy. He held the James Bryant Conant University Professorship at Harvard University....

 used what amounted to an artificial state of nature. To develop his theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice is a book of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls. It was originally published in 1971 and revised in both 1975 and 1999. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls attempts to solve the problem of distributive justice by utilising a variant of the familiar device of the social...

, Rawls places everyone in the original position
Original position
The original position is a hypothetical situation developed by American philosopher John Rawls as a thought experiment to replace the imagery of a savage state of nature of prior political philosophers like Thomas Hobbes. In it, the parties select principles that will determine the basic structure...

. The original position is a hypothetical state of nature used as a thought experiment
Thought experiment
A thought experiment or Gedankenexperiment considers some hypothesis, theory, or principle for the purpose of thinking through its consequences...

 to develop Rawls' theory of justice. People in the original position have no society and are under a veil of ignorance that prevents them from knowing how they may benefit from society. They lack foreknowledge of their intelligence, wealth, or abilities. Rawls reasons that people in the original position would want a society where they had their basic liberties protected and where they had some economic guarantees as well. If society were to be constructed from scratch through a social agreement between individuals, these principles would be the expected basis of such an agreement. Thus, these principles should form the basis of real, modern societies since everyone should consent to them if society were organized from scratch in fair agreements.

Rawls's Harvard colleague Robert Nozick
Robert Nozick
Robert Nozick was an American political philosopher, most prominent in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a professor at Harvard University. He is best known for his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia , a right-libertarian answer to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice...

 countered the liberal A Theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice
A Theory of Justice is a book of political philosophy and ethics by John Rawls. It was originally published in 1971 and revised in both 1975 and 1999. In A Theory of Justice, Rawls attempts to solve the problem of distributive justice by utilising a variant of the familiar device of the social...

with a libertarian Anarchy, State, and Utopia
Anarchy, State, and Utopia
Anarchy, State, and Utopia is a work of political philosophy written by Robert Nozick in 1974. This minarchist book was the winner of the 1975 National Book Award...

, also grounded in the state of nature tradition. Nozick argued that a minimalist state of property rights and basic law enforcement would develop out of a state of nature without violating anyone's rights or using force. Mutual agreements among individuals rather than social contract would lead to this minimal state.

Between nations


In Hobbes's view, once a civil government is instituted, the state of nature has disappeared between individuals because of the civil power which exists to enforce contracts. Between nations, however, no such power currently exists and therefore nations have the same rights to preserve themselves - including making war - as individuals possessed. Such a conclusion led some writers to the idea of association of nations or worldwide civil society
Civil society
Civil society is composed of the totality of many voluntary social relationships, civic and social organizations, and institutions that form the basis of a functioning society, as distinct from the force-backed structures of a state , the commercial institutions of the market, and private criminal...

. Among them there were Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

 with his work on perpetual peace
Perpetual peace
Perpetual peace refers to a state of affairs where peace is permanently established over a certain area .Many would-be world conquerors have promised that their rule would enforce perpetual peace...

.

Rawls also examines the state of nature between nations. In his work the Law of Peoples, Rawls applies a modified version of his original position thought experiment to international relationships. Rawls says that people, not states, form the basic unit that should be examined. States should be encouraged to follow the principles from Rawls's earlier Theory of Justice. Democracy seems like it would be the most logical means of accomplishing these goals, but benign non-democracies should be seen as acceptable at the international stage. Rawls develops eight principles for how people should act on an international stage.