State of Nature

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Using an imaginary state of nature has proven to be a crucial factor in forming the ideas

of the natural rights philosophers. An imaginary state of nature is imagining what society would be like without government. Natural rights exist even when not given or enforced by the government. In an imaginary state of nature, it is possible to see what rights are necessary to all people, and a government can be built around those rights.

A state of nature looks at a civilization in its most basic form, with no rules. It can be used to see what laws are necessary, by observing human nature, and seeing what problems would occur with no laws. The role that a government should have in the life of its citizens can be determined from this.

John Locke, perhaps the most influential of the natural rights philosophers, thought that human nature was generally good and reasonable. However, he recognized that people are also very self-interested, so those citizens who had an advantage would try and take away the rights of the weak. The weak could then band together against the stronger citizens, and there would be chaos without laws. This part of human nature makes it necessary to have a government. Locke felt that the best type of government was something along the lines of a constitutional monarchy. Other philosophers, however, disagreed. Thomas Hobbes, for example, thought that humans were generally evil in nature. Because of this, a very strong ruler is needed for a successful government. Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that a state of nature became a nasty and immoral condition. He felt that people should unite through the social contract, and disregard the ideas of natural rights. He thought that society depended on the will of the people, and was an advocate of socialism.

Locke determined that there were three primary laws of nature: the right to life, liberty, and property. These unalienable rights are said to define our purpose and life, and serve...
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