Political Philosophy: Unit 2 The state of nature

2.7 State of nature

Now please answer the questions in the state of nature quiz, which draws on all three philosophers studied here. Questions 5 and 6 are less straightforward than the others, and you might not agree with my answers. In fact, I prefer it when students disagree, provided that they can back up their disagreement with well-reasoned arguments! If you do disagree, you are very welcome to bring this up in the discussion. Recording your thoughts on these questions in your blog or elsewhere may help you remember interesting points to raise in the forum.

Individual activity: State of nature quiz

  1. What is the main aspect of human nature that, for Hobbes, draws man in the state of nature into war? Reveal

    The pursuit of felicity, which leads to the desire for ‘power after power’.

  2. What, for Locke, is the main aspect of human nature that prevents the state of nature from being a state of war? Reveal

    Humans are motivated to obey the moral law.

  3. What for Rousseau, is the main aspect of human nature that prevents the state of nature from being a state of war? Reveal

    Human beings are motivated by compassion.

  4. Hobbes sees three sources of war in the state of nature: competition, diffidence and glory. Explain what each of these mean. Reveal

    Competition is to attack for the sake of gain. Diffidence is to attack for the sake of self-defence by means of a ‘pre-emptive strike’. Glory is to attack for the sake of reputation.

  5. Would any of Hobbes’s sources of war exist in Locke’s state of nature? Reveal

    If people lived according to the law of nature, Hobbes’s sources of war would not exist, but it is probably not realistic to think that the motives of competition, diffidence and glory would never occur. Nevertheless, for Locke the existence of the right to punish might mean that people would be less inclined to attack for competition, and would take away some of the motive for attacking for diffidence, and perhaps glory.

  6. Would any of these sources of war exist in Rousseau’s state of nature? Reveal

    Rousseau seems to suggest that people would prefer to get what they need through peaceful means, although there may be some competition. Diffidence and glory are much less likely as Rousseau suggests that the savage does not plan for the future, and these are future-oriented goals.

Group activity: State of nature

In your view, has the work of any philosopher discussed in this unit - Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau - provided a plausible picture of what life would be like in the state of nature?

Using the notes you have made up to now, answer the question above, posting to the State of nature forum. Please make your first post by the evening of day 4, to allow some time for participants to read each other’s posts and to comment on them.

In your discussion you may want to raise the issue of whether there is any historical – or indeed any other – evidence of what life would be like in a state of nature. You may also wish to consider whether it matters for this issue whether there is any evidence for any of the views. Philosophers, on the whole, are mainly concerned with exploring the consequences of particular beliefs or principles or hypotheses than to test their truth, for this latter task they have to rely on more empirical disciplines. In this case, however, philosophers seem to appeal to their ideas of how things would be in the real world. Does this strengthen their case, weaken it, or make no difference?