Human Nature in Hobbes’ Works

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Hobbes believed that the State of Nature was one where humans consisted of dominating others and violence, where no person has any concept of property, justice or law. The absence of these three concepts makes people in the state of nature at a constant state of war. If the state of nature is a state of war, there is naturally no security. Security in this instance is living without fear, and with comfort in their own personal safety. Hobbes believed that people in the State of nature had a life that consisted of the following things: ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ (Hobbes, Leviathan). The desire to live creates competition. The arguments for The State of Nature existing in a state of war; this is down to three main points: competition, diffidence and approval from others.

Competition in the State of Nature is predominantly the need for food, water, shelter and sexual partners. Because these resources are limited, Hobbes thought that the only way these people would be able to resolve this was through violence, since there were no loyalties to anyone, and no one owned anything. Hobbes also believed that not only did the other being violently take the resource, but also kill to remove the excess competition. I do not believe this is true. There was competition for resources, as there is now, but the reaction to this is not as drastic as Hobbes suggests.

You can compare the State of Nature to the animal kingdom, and our closest relatives, chimpanzees, whom do not simply kill all for their necessities. This is the case in most animal species, animals do have a sense of property. Seen simply in a dog, owning a bone. If someone were to try and take away the bone, it is possible for the dog to act violently, but they are also plenty intelligent to know that is unnecessary in most situations. An act of violence could also end badly for them. A small act, such as a growl, or baring of teeth, would be enough to put a competitor off. Humans would act similarly, or even more sensibly, due to their intelligence.

One of the other points is diffidence. The humans that lived in the State of Nature according to Hobbes, were very insecure, the word meaning fearful in this setting. Everyone’s life was at risk, at all times according to Hobbes. The people’s distrust in others also meant they were more likely to kill others who they came across, in order to avoid being killed themselves. The sense of security only comes from Hobbes idea that everyone kills everyone in the State of Nature. This is an over-dramatization of the fear people would’ve had. Many people are scared of what could happen to their property, and of it being stolen from them, but this doesn’t motivate them to kill anyone. For example, most people think about prevention, by preventing someone from taking your property you can also remove the fear of losing it.

The third, approval from others, is something that Hobbes also believed made people insecure. Seeking approval from others is something to be observed throughout the whole of the existence of the human race. Hobbes believed that this was due to trying to obtain a higher status. This is interesting, as there was no society to have a status in. It would make sense to care about other judgements of you if you were trying to mate or find a mate. But Hobbes says that ‘Joy, arising from imagination of a man’s own power and ability’ (Leviathan).

This quotation shows that it was actually perceiving yourself as powerful, that Hobbes thought would bring you joy. This is again quite puzzling. According to Hobbes, humans were able to have an ego, but not able to solve any problems apart from with violence. This doesn’t seem likely. People in the State of Nature would have acted as we see chimps act. They care for their young, mate and hunt for food. They have basic survival instincts, but are also curious and intuitive, attempting to make life easier for themselves.

Overall, Hobbes’ version of the State of Nature is a negative and unrealistic, considering facts we have about the animal kingdom, and the observation that Hobbes’s ideas do not generally fit together well to make a consistent opinion of people.


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Human Nature in Hobbes’ Works. (2020, Nov 25). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/human-nature-in-hobbes-works/

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