A state of nature is a hypothetical state of being within a society that defines such a way that particular community behaves within itself. English philosopher Thomas Hobbes proclaimed that, “A state of nature is a state of war.” By this, Hobbes means that every human being, given the absence of government or a contract between other members of a society, would act in a war-like state in which each man would be motivated by desires derived solely with the intention of maximizing his own utility.
He claims that acts of kindness, charity and benevolence are always actions that the performer believes will result in a beneficial consequence for himself. Hobbes’ basis for this argument lies in the concept of reason. He writes that human beings are logical creatures and unlike other animals, use reason to make all of their decisions (Leviathan 2, 17). A law dictated by reason that will benefit a man is called a law of nature. Hobbes lists three fundamental laws of nature that promote the primary motivation of men, which is self-preservation.
Hobbes believes that all men are equal insofar as that the weakest man has the power to kill the strongest man. Thus given that every man is vulnerable to any other man, all men have a very strong desire to escape the state where killing each other is acceptable, escape the state of nature. This can be done, simply put by endeavoring peace which coupled with not making war except to defend oneself, is the first law of nature (Leviathan 1, 14).
The second law of nature is derived directly from the first. It insists that man lay down his right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men liberty against himself,” (Leviathan 1, 14). Essentially, in the state of nature, a man has a right to all things. By following this second law of nature, a man gives up certain rights in hopes that other men do the same in pursuit of peace with one another.
This mutual transference of rights is called a contract, or covenant. By adhering to the contract, a man gives up whatever rights set forth by the contract. However, man cannot give up his right to defend himself, for the entire purpose of entering the contract is self-preservation. Once the contract is formed, one must obey Hobbes’ third law of nature, which is to adhere to the contract (Leviathan 1, 14). It follows the laws of reason, Hobbes argues for man to keep his promises if he hopes to persevere over the long run.
The most highly organized social network is called a commonwealth, a web of contracts between members of a community, which according to Hobbes is synonymous to the formation of an entirely new person of which each individual is but a working part (Leviathan 2, 17). Hence the title of Hobbes’ most famous work, Leviathan, which is a sea monster that lives off of the “sea of individuals.” And who is to rule this commonwealth?
Hobbes answers that there needs to be a sovereign,...