Hobbes and Rousseau's Account of the State of Nature Essay

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In the Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes provides a blatantly pessimistic portrayal of humans in the state of nature. According to Hobbes, self-preservation is the driving force of all decision making. The state of nature is referred to as a war of every man against every man (p. 79). Hobbes goes on to say that this unending season of war is fueled by competition, diffidence, and the quest for personal glory (p. 77). Humans in the state of nature, motivated by fear of violent death and the desire to survive, are willing to give up their own private wills in order to obtain peace. Rousseau, in his Discourse on Inequality, illustrates a completely different state of nature. He asserts that other philosophers including Hobbes actually depicted the civilized man in their account of the state of nature (p. 46). Rousseau keenly suggests, in an attempt to prove that there was a state of nature that predated the one described in the Leviathan, that Hobbes discussed possessions without taking into account where the idea of possession came from. Rousseau, therefore, stripped man of all characteristics that could have only been developed over time and examined the primitive being that remained (p. 47). Humans in the state of nature were animal-like. They were not aggressive, social or rationally calculated. While he agreed that self-preservation was a critical aspect of human function in the state of nature, he also explained the importance of the natural repulsion of humans to all types of suffering (p. 62). He firmly believed that these two characteristics, self-preservation and compassion, were engrained into human nature prior to reason. Even though humans were animal-like, their ability to imitate instincts of other animals and ignore the forces of nature differentiated them from all other species. Furthermore, Rousseau recognized that there were stages in the transition of

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