The idea of nature is of fundamental concern to philosophers. Human nature and the existence of humans in their natural settings have attracted arguments from a number of important philosophers. By living together, human beings are more likely to enter into conflicts and disagreements. At the same time, humans are capable of achieving friendship, fraternity, and peace. Modern governments and social settings try to ensure that despite conflicts and disagreements, there is harmony in human relations. The conception of a state of nature where there is no government or organized society is not easy to imagine. Nonetheless, exploring it helps to shed light on human nature. Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau have given great insight into the state of nature. Although these philosophers differ in various areas, nonetheless, their arguments are important. Through human nature, human beings are capable of justice.
State of nature is a conception of human beings in their natural setting. It tries to imagine how a man can exist without the influence of law, government, or organized society. The idea of the state of nature is important to political philosophy (Cranston 13). The State of nature is used to explain the reasons behind the organization of the society or state of society. Various philosophers have given different views toward a state of nature. Some philosophers understand the state of nature as a war, where only the strong survives. On the other hand, other philosophers see the possibility for peace and harmony in the state of nature.
Human beings have been an object of study by various philosophers, psychologists, and theologians. Human nature is a common characteristic that is common to all human beings. The common characteristics explain how humans live and how they relate to other human beings and nature.
State of nature according to Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes understands the state of nature as a war. He views human beings in a natural setting as in constant war where they compete and fight against each other. According to Hobbes, there is no possibility for peace and harmony without an organized society or government. The human nature in state of nature drives human beings towards a condition which he refers to as war. The war in state of nature is between an individual human being against all other human beings in the state of nature (Cranston 56). In this setting, each person fights for self preservation and has liberty to do so. The nature of human life as short, poor and uninteresting does not guarantee peace in the state of nature. The role of every person in a state of nature is also reflected in the relations between individual states in international relation.
Hobbes does not see a possibility of injustice in a state of nature. Since there are no law in state of nature, Hobbes does not see a possibility for injustice. Every person in state of nature has the responsibility for self preservation and all actions that aim at self preservation are justifiable (Cranston 59). There in possibility for peace in a state of nature but this peace in only pursued when the person pursuing it believes that it is possible. For a person to seek peace in a state of nature according to Hobbes, the other individuals in the state of nature should be willing to offer peace in return. From this view, Hobbes shows that the principle responsibility of an individual is to him but can be extended to other individuals with hope for an equivalent. To get out of the state of nature, mutual contracts are essential (Cranston 61). In these mutual contracts, the individuals agree to compromise on their individual interests for the benefit of common good.
State of nature according to Rousseau
Rousseau has a different view of state of nature as compared to Hobbes. While Hobbes views human beings in a state of nature as in constant war, Rousseau sees a possibility for peace in a state of nature. Hobbes shows human beings in a state of nature as evil. On the other hands, Rousseau does not see human being as innately good or bad but view the goodness or badness as a result of civilization. According to Rousseau, human beings in a state of nature do not have direct contact with each other and thus does not learn either virtues or vices (Cranston 89). Vices and virtues in the society result from relationship between human beings and thus are learnt.
State of society according to Rousseau is a result of contractual relations between human beings. Contractual relation between human beings is necessary in a state of society since every person in a state of nature has equal rights. According to Rousseau, contractual relation between individual in based on rights and duties that are equal to all human beings (Cranston 93). The natural liberty that is available to every human in a state of nature is exchanged with civil liberty in state of society. The terms of contractual relation are necessary for harmony in a state of society. Civil laws and rights provided in contractual relation make it possible for justice and common good.
There is a close relationship between human nature and state of nature. Whereas the state of nature postulates human being in natural setting, human nature looks at the innate characteristics to human beings. Human nature and state of nature show possibility for justice in society. In all arguments on human nature or state of nature, there is observed some order. Both Hobbes and Rousseau differ in some areas but both show some order that reflect human nature.
Human beings have common characteristics despite of their differences. There is a wide range of human abilities which each individual may posses but the abilities do not show lack of a human nature. Instead the wide range of human ability is part of human nature. Human beings should not be confused with either human mind or body. Neither of human mind nor human body constitute of human being in isolation. In addition, it is not right to see human nature as a conjunction between human being and human body. It is true that human being have a mind and is not just as moving object as implied by Hobbes’ argument (Cranston 61). Instead human nature constitutes of a human being that is capable of self-consciousness, ability to think, feel, reason and seek relationship.
Hobbes’s argument on state of nature bears some truth on human nature but in some extent it doesn’t. The constant state of war in Hobbes’s argument is consistent to human instinct for self preservation. Human beings are not innately evil as shown by Hobbes argument. Instead, human beings are self conscious and are also conscious of other persons. Hobbes argument for constant war was an influence of his time. Constant wars that were common during Hobbes time could have influenced him to view state of nature with a negative eye.
If we agree with Hobbes view of human beings as evil, then it will be difficult to explain the cooperation and benevolence that are seen in human beings. Some may argue that cooperation and benevolence as a result of contractual relation but, if human beings were innately evil, they could not be capable for cooperation since cooperation is good. The predetermined human behavior is not valid; instead, human beings have the possibility for doing good or evil and choose either by free will.
Rousseau view of human being in a state of nature as neither good nor evil is valid (Cranston 92). The virtues and vices result from relation between human being in a state of society. Human nature provides the potential that is different human beings. This potential such as free will, though and instinct in expressed in human relations. Through these relationships, evil and good evolved as a result of how the human abilities are used.
Justice is possible in a state of society. Human nature allow for justice to be done through free will. However, free will, available to every human being, also allows human beings to choose to do injustice. Unlike in Hobbes’s state of nature, injustice is possible in a state of society. Justice does not allow the strong or the powerful to oppress the weak but constitute the ability of ever human being to comply with the contract of relationship: laws.
Human nature and state of nature has close relation. The human nature can be used to explain the human behavior and relation in a state of nature. Hobbes views state of nature as in constant war between human being. On the other hand, Rousseau’s state of nature has no evil or good but every person has equal rights. The human nature allows for justice; through free will, human being agrees on contractual relation that can allow harmony in human relation.
Cranston, Maurice. Hobbes and Rousseau: a collection of critical essays. New York: Anchor Books, 1972.