State of nature

"State of nature" is a term in political philosophy used to describe the hypothetical or empirical condition of humanity when or if government did not exist. Alternately, a state of nature is the condition before the rule of law comes into being. Some have thought that there was a time before any government, any official monopoly on the initiation of the use of violence, came into being. The concept of a state of nature is an integral part of social contract theories.


The concept of a state of nature was first posited by the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan. Hobbes described the concept in the Latin phrase bellum omnium contra omnes, meaning "the war of all against all.". In this state any person has a right to do any thing to preserve their own liberty or safety.

Hobbes does not base his argument on the historical existence of such a state.

Hobbes believed that human beings in the state of nature would behave "badly" towards one another ("badly" in the sense of the morality that we would commonly apply: but Hobbes argued that people had every right to defend themselves by whatever means, in the absence of order). Famously, he believed that such a condition would lead to a "war of every man against every man" and make life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Hobbes's negative view of human character was shaped at least in part the civil war in England at the time and by the Christian doctrines of original sin and total depravity; the Christian tradition is generally at one with Hobbes in supporting the need for government. However, Hobbes would strongly disagree with the Christian view of the innate, inherent, and inescapable sinfulness of human beings: in Hobbes's view, these problems are soluble by good government. As he incisively stated in its "De cive. Epistola dedicatoria", borrowing a well known aphorism from Plautus's Asinaria: "homo homini lupus" (man is wolf to man).

Hobbes's view was challenged in the eighteenth century by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who affirmed instead that people in a state of nature would be born good; their bad habits are the products of civilization, and specifically social hierarchies, property, and markets. Rousseau's view underlines much of the Romantic period's political thinking, including the thought of Karl Marx.

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 exists and therefore nations have the same rights to preserve themselves - including making war - as individuals ja:自然状態


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