How Does Rousseau's Conception of ‘the State of Nature' Differ from Hobbes'?

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Question: How does Rousseau's conception of ‘the state of nature' differ from Hobbes'?

The term ‘state of nature' is used in political philosophy to describe the condition of human life either in the absence of some form of government, or the lack of laws. The notion itself was initiated by philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) within his book Leviathan, in which it is depicted as "the natural condition of mankind" . The state of nature is a supposed state as opposed to an actual state in that it is believed that humans have always been a part of a structure which could be considered a society, bound by some form of social contract (although some have argued there was in fact a time when humans existed in a true state of nature). The argument put forward by Hobbes is hypothetical and does not base itself on any historical evidence of such a state having ever been occupied by humanity.

Philosophers attempted to evaluate and appraise the ‘state of nature' did so due to the belief that through anaylsing and observing the ‘original' state of human nature, hypothetical or otherwise, it is possible to improve understanding of society itself, and as a result ascertain a superior, enhanced and further advanced society

In the 18th century, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) disputed the conception of the ‘state of nature' put forward by Hobbes in the 17th century. This essay aims to establish, and following that, examine, the differences between the views of both Hobbes and Rousseau on this political philosophical stance.

In Leviathan, Hobbes introduced the ‘state of nature'. He portrayed it as a vision of the circumstances humanity would encounter should there be no laws or social contract. He extracted his proposals and thoughts not from the earliest form of human life or historical reference, but from the observation of human life at the time and the implications of a lack of laws and a system of government on society. Hobbes developed his philosophical ideas from basic simplistic concepts, which he then transformed into more complex and intricate initiatives "by deducing necessary propositions from other necessary propositions, which ultimately come from definitions"

Hobbes' ‘state of nature' was one of conflict and divergence, "a war of all against all", a condition in which life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" . Man in the ‘state of nature' is, to all intents and purposes, egotistical; the desire to protect oneself over others causing constant conflict and disruption. A lack of social structure and rule, leaving each person equal to everyone else, results in a state in which each person is an equal in terms of both need and power – a situation which, as Hobbes asserts, can only lead to conflict.

Hobbes' ‘state of nature' is destructive. Each person is constantly competing with another for resources which are in limited supply – resources which in terms of the ‘state of nature' belong to each individual. Having no law means, effectively, everyone is entitled to everything; nothing specifically belongs to one person. When the entire human race is taken into account, there is no possible way in which humans can live peacefully when each person fundamentally owns everything. The destructive nature of this concept can be compared to the effect of two species occupying the same ecological niche – should two species have the same niche, they constantly and directly compete against each other, one stronger species overriding the weaker species, pushing them out and taking over the niche. In Hobbes' ‘state of nature', due to the equality of power, there is no stronger or weaker species, and because of this the only progression, should man remain in this ‘state of nature', appears to be total destruction. In Hobbes' war there is no achievable victory.

Hobbes claims that the only way to protect human beings from falling into this destructive state is to introduce some form of...
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