Imagine for a second a society without governing authority
Imagine for a second a society without governing authority, state, and laws. This idea represents the concept of state of nature. To imagine a state of nature we think about a society without any governing authority. The first question that comes into our mind is was there ever a state of nature? Throughout the history, many political philosophers argued about the idea of state of nature, and the purpose was to understand whether people need to live under the authority of government. Different philosophers had various viewpoints on what would happen if people lived in the state of nature. These perspectives give some understanding about how free group of people decides to obey the laws of nature. The concepts state of nature and law of nature are strongly interconnected with each other. The law of nature can be considered as a system of morality and a law that people need to obey while being in the state of nature. The question is would people follow the laws of nature while being completely free in the state of nature? The major philosophers who focused on this central questions of political philosophy are Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Each philosopher wrote about the ability of mankind to live in a state of nature and the outcomes of the situation. Their perspectives about the state of nature and the law of nature were completely different. To get a better understanding of the principles of the two concepts, it is crucial to examine the ideas of the two great philosophers and understand their beliefs thoroughly.
First of all, I want to start with the Hobbesian view of state of nature. Hobbes considered state of nature as a state of war. According to Hobbes “self-preservation” is the most fundamental desire of a human being and if there is no authority to put limits on people’s actions, they will do anything possible to stay alive. People aim at their own good, and their biggest desire is to preserve their own lives. Hobbes thought that people are born with equal abilities and have equivalent intelligence and strength. Finally, Hobbesian view states that there is material scarcity and this is also one reason for society to fight against one another. Hobbesian theory claims that there were wrongs in the state of nature but they were not wrong according to the judgment of the individual because their aim was self-preservation. Hobbes brings an example of a son who killed his father. The killing of his father would not be a wrong action if it was done for the self-preservation. However, if the son didn’t believe that the murder was done for his self-preservation and killed for some other reason, then the action was wrong against God and natural law. Hobbesian view somehow conflicts with the “natural right,” because if a person has the right to life, everyone has a responsibility not to kill him and if a person has a right to what he owns then everyone has a duty not to steal from him. As a result, each person’s right to self-preservation conflicts with everyone else’s rights. The outcome of Hobbesian view is a state of war because people will always be fighting with each other and will live in continual fear, lack of trust and violence.
According to the Hobbesian view on the law of nature he thought that every man must endeavor peace as long as he is sure that everyone will act in the same way. In case he cannot obtain it, he is free to use all advantages of attacking. This law is not enough to keep society in peace because one cannot be sure that the person in front of him will not break the agreement and attack. The first issue is that there will be surely lack of trust. The second one is that people are short sighted in making their decisions and will not see the long-term benefits of keeping the agreement to live in peace. People are even suspicious to other people when they live in a state with governing authority, and the proof is that people hide their valuable items, lock the doors of their houses and so on. Again, because people cannot trust each other, they will have a reason to act violently.
John Locke’s view about the state of nature and the law of nature is somewhat different from the Hobbesian view. According to Locke, the state of nature is an environment of perfect freedom and equality. In this condition, people should be free and equal. His view of state of nature is based on morality and the premise that there are some limitations of what people can do while being in the state of nature. In Locke’s opinion, people should act out of morality and acting out of morality brings to a conclusion that no one has an ethical right to hurt someone. In this case, the Law of Nature states that no one can harm another person’s life. Where does this law come from? According to Lock the natural law comes directly from God himself and that human beings are subject to moral law. People have an obligation to respect others’ rights and the source of this obligation is the natural law. The property right also comes from nature and Lockean view states property ownership is morally justified. There is a concrete set of principles to which people have a duty to follow and these principles turn out to be the law of nature. Obedience to natural law leads people to the peak of virtue and happiness. People are free to enjoy their rights and act as the want as long as they fit within the bounds of law of nature.
There are many differences between the Hobbesian view of natural low and Lock’s view. Hobbes and Locke have entirely opposing understanding about human nature. The first difference is that Hobbes states that people are independent creatures and have the right to pursue their self-interest and have no moral obligations to other people. Nature has granted every person to defend himself. Locke’s opinion is completely different because he claims that people have a moral duty to endeavor peace and respect each other. The next main difference between the two philosopher’s viewpoints is that they disagree about the rights connected to the property. Both of them agree that individuals have rights of property in the state of nature. However, Hobbes rejects the point that individuals are obliged to respect other’s property rights. Locke position is that individuals have to respect other’s property rights and that this duty is directly connected to natural law. In other words, natural law and property rights coexist. Finally, the third difference is about material scarcity. Hobbes thought that there is material scarcity which will provoke people to fight against one another. Many people can desire the same thing which will eventually make them enemies. Conversely, Lock thought that if God put us on Earth and it is absurd to think that he put us to starve. According to him, nature gave us everything we need very generously and granted every person the chance to feed himself. There is natural abundance of and other resources and due to this there is plenty of room for everyone. People can be secure in the enjoyment and use of products if they try to use the resources rightfully.
Hobbes views about the state of nature are less secure than Locke’s, and the human beings in the Locke’s scenario would experience greater security and advantages from the state of nature. However, in my opinion, Hobbesian view about state of nature and natural law is more realistic for several reasons. Hobbes said, “In every human, there is an endless desire for power which ceases only with his death.” This is very close to reality even nowadays because people usually act of self-interest. Locke’s view is very idealistic because it views man as a peaceful creature who acts from good-will. In reality, human nature is selfish, greedy and people lack trust towards one another. I agree with Hobbes that there are limited resources and as people have unlimited wants which leads them to harm one another. People can’t trust each other to be rational and seek peace in the first place. In any case, some people will be irrationally moved by their wills and desires, taking more than they need and getting pleasure from obtaining power. Feelings such as honor, dominion and authority are a greater motivation for human beings than morality. People are likely to pursue their own good and do as they wish. Human beings are naturally in a war with one another, and the state of nature will eventually turn into chaos. Mostly, that is the reason that individuals create societies and obey governments to escape the state of war with one another. The main purpose of the government is to safeguard everyone’s rights which is not possible to keep under the state of nature.