The State of Nature and its Implications for Civilization in Hobbes and Rousseau

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The State of Nature and its Implications for Civilization in Hobbes and Rousseau

In his Leviathan Thomas Hobbes expresses a philosophy of civilization which is both practical and just and stems from a clear moral imperative. He begins with the assertion that in the state of nature man is condemned to live a life “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” It is in the interest of every man to rise above this “state of nature” and to give up certain rights so that the violent nature of the human animal can be subdued. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s vision of the state of nature parallels that of Hobbes but for its more optimistic tone: “I assume that men reach a point where the obstacles to their preservation in a state of nature prove
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Hobbes argues for the rule of a monarch for his peace centered civil society. He believes that a monarch who understands the basis for the covenant, who adheres to it and truly recognizes the importance of justice for all of humanity, is the most efficient and trustworthy method of transcending the state of nature. For Hobbes the most important aspect of justice is keeping the peace through adherence to the natural law. Peace reigns supreme in his vision of civilization and a strong ruler who can pass laws to ensure that his subjects respect the covenant is needed. Although such a government might be granted a dangerous amount of power, nonetheless an overarching sovereign with knowledge of the natural laws is needed to keep in line those who would abuse the liberties granted them through the covenant, thus threatening the society with a return to the state of nature.
Rousseau, in contrast, sees a true transcendence of the state of nature as including more than simply peace. His goal is more ambitious than Hobbes’s. Because in Rousseau’s philosophy humans in a state of nature are not suffering as directly as Hobbes suggests, their goal is more than just the peace described in Leviathan: “How to find a form of association which

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