Hobbesian State of Nature

Thomas Hobbes attempted to justify the existence of a state by describing what life would be like without one in his book Leviathan. The central argument in the book describes the conditions that would exist in a state of nature—at a time where there would be no organized government or no laws to influence human behavior.

Throughout the book Hobbes attempts to justify his claims about what a state of nature would be like with arguments that are false when examined closely. According to Hobbes, life would be “ war of every man against very man” (Hobbes 106) lived in “continual fear and danger of violent death” (Hobbes 107) where there would be “no knowledge” (Hobbes 107), no society, and no culture.

In sum, Hobbes’ argues that life in a state of nature would be “ solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes 107). Hobbes’ argument is structured in a Modus Ponens form, with his main premise being that humans’ inborn qualities drive them towards competitiveness, fearfulness, suspiciousness, arrogance, increasing their power, and attempting to glorify themselves (Hobbes 106).

Another premise is that men are naturally “equal in the faculties of the body and mind” (Hobbes 104) since “the difference between man and man is not so considerable that” (Hobbes 105) one man is at a huge disadvantage to another man. His last main premise is that if people were equal, competitive, fearful, suspicious, arrogant, power hungry, and glory seeking, the state of nature would be a state of constant war as he had stated. Therefore, the state of nature is as Hobbes has described it.

Although the argument presented is valid, it is not sound. Hobbes’ main premise is that all men are naturally competitive, suspicious, arrogant, power hungry, and glory seeking. To support this claim, Hobbes brings up the fact that men do not walk to places alone and regularly lock their doors because they are suspicious and fearful of being attacked by others even though there is a government in place to punish offenders (Hobbes 107).

His reasoning is also justified by examples of revolutions or civil wars, where the government’s authority has fallen apart and chaos takes over. Hobbes claims that every action is caused by man’s will to either bring glory or gain power. Even though these claims are at least partially true for the vast majority of people, not all men or situations can be described with these arguments. Although most men lock their doors and walk around with companions, there exist men who do neither. Additionally, there are reasons men would walk with others that are not tied to safety, competitiveness, arrogance, glory, or power.

For example, two individuals may walk together because they enjoy each other’s company and want to get to know each other better. Chaos and disorder as a revolution or civil war is taking place exist, especially since men would want to gain both glory and power in this case. However, it is presumptuous to assume that these events occur merely because men are naturally prone to behave in such a way. Every revolution or civil war has history tied to it, and so acts of violence against others can be explained. During the French Revolution, the citizens were violent against their government officials, but in this particular situation their actions can be explained by the fact that the government had mistreated the people, so the revolution did not occur without justification.

Additionally, Hobbes’ assumption that people are naturally solitary is unfounded. Hobbes states that humanity has never been in a state of nature (Hobbes 108), which is in accordance with the idea that people naturally band together, so a state of nature would never exist. A state of nature has never existed, as even our primate ancestors had societies of their own. Noble actions are not always premeditated in order for glorification as Hobbes believes they are, as could be illustrated by rare situations in which a person simply has no time to think but still naturally leans towards helping others.

Hobbes should have made a clarification between glory and morality, as it is possible to perform noble actions because it feels right not because they would help someone become renowned. However, Hobbes would not be impressed with this theory, because he believes that a fundamental right of nature is to promote a person’s self-interest (Hobbes 111) and that morality ultimately appeals to this idea. Hobbes states that every act occurs partially because man wants to increase his self-interest (Hobbes 112).

It is true that people pursue self-interest and things that make them feel good, but the two do not necessarily go together as Hobbes seems to think they do. People can pursue pleasure without promoting self-interest—smoking cigarettes, for example. This relates to morality because someone can perform a moral action to derive satisfaction when the action has nothing to do with the person’s self-interest.

An example of this is donating money to build schools in third world countries. All actions are based on pleasure instead of self-interest, which can be confusing because self-interest and pleasure are usually on the same path. Morality has more to do with getting pleasure from helping people than with going after glory or promoting a person’s self-interest.

Hobbes’ premise that all men are equal is based on the assumption that although some men are naturally smarter and stronger than others, this intelligence and strength is not enough to give these men an advantage over others (Hobbes 105) is false. If men were not equal, Hobbes’ state of nature could not exist because the weaker men would always be dominated by the stronger ones, so there would be a type of forced regime, which Hobbes considers a legitimate state.

The justification for Hobbes’ assumption of equality is twofold. Firstly, although men are born with different intellectual capacities, life revolves around “prudence” (Hobbes 105), which every man gains through experience. Additionally, Hobbes argues that a man’s belief in his own wisdom is founded on his arrogance. Hobbes’ second justification for man’s equality is his claim that “the weakest [human]” (Hobbes 105) would be able to kill “the strongest” (Hobbes 105) whether through deception or with the help of others.

There is no significant difference between the intelligence or strength of men when these factors are considered alone, but there is a large discrepancy between the combination of cunning and physical power that men possess. Hobbes’ main endpoint revolves around survival, which cannot be achieved by possessing wisdom or strength alone. A combination of average mental strength and above average physical strength would give someone a better chance of survival, as would a combination of above average intelligence and merely average physical strength, when compared to a person with average intelligence and average physical strength.

Someone with a stronger body than most and average intelligence would be able to fend off physical attacks well while also being able to anticipate the actions of his opponent. An extremely clever person would be able to anticipate the actions of his opponent and prepare for them even if his physical capabilities were sub par. These two extremes with advantages over the rest of the population cancel each other out when they are battling each other, but would otherwise have a significant advantage.

The state of nature does not exist in the way that Hobbes described it. Because people are not inherently equal—weaker people will be conquered by stronger or wiser ones, so a state of nature could never exist in Hobbes’ terms, as he says a forced regime is legitimate nonetheless.

Additionally, Hobbes is wrong about human nature, so his description of people if there ever was a case where a state did not exist would be wrong because it could not be applied to all people. Most importantly, a state of nature has never nor will it ever exist because humans, like primates, are social animals and likely to band together to form societies of some sort. Therefore, a state of nature does not apply to humans, but if it did, Hobbes’ idea would be wrong.