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Thoughts on Nature

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The study of human nature has experienced much philosophical thought throughout the Modern Age. While many modern thinkers have developed unique ideas about man in the state of nature, none are more influential than the theories of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In this essay, I am primarily concerned with defining what philosophical theory is more plausible in today’s society. Is human nature, just an environment of man against man; full of competiveness and violence, or is it a harmonized lifestyle as being one with nature without the corruption of society?

Each philosopher agrees that men are created equal in the state of nature, but it is this equality which forms two very contrasting theories. Hobbes believed the equality of men is the key factor which sets man against man and makes life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (Leviathan p. 84). For Hobbes, the only law in nature is survivalism; one must do what he must to preserve one’s own life. In contrast, Rousseau believed man is inherently good, independent, and compassionate in nature, it is society that corrupts man. If we replace our large civilizations with small groups in nature humanity would be much better off. As we can see, these theories are very distinct about man in the state of nature, but what led these men to hypothesize these theories.

Each philosopher’s theory is deeply rooted within the historical context in which they experienced their environment. To gain a better understanding of the attitudes adopted by Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, we must explore contributing factors that led to the composition of the theories presented.

Thomas Hobbes theorized that man in the state of nature, in which there is no sovereign, would be a violent, hostile place. In the state of nature there is a state of war, where every man is in competition to survive. For Hobbes the only law in nature is survivalism; one must do what he must to preserve his one’s own life. Man’s desire is what cause this war of man against man.

The turmoil of the English Civil War was the primary factor that contributed to this pessimistic view of the state of nature. In 1642, the rise of the Long Parliament, along with the exile of royalists from England, led Thomas Hobbes to produce a theory of government in relation to the political conflict surrounding the war. He proposed a theory demonstrating the need for centralized government to avoid the evil that occurs in the natural state of man

Thomas Hobbes theory of the state of man was deeply rooted in the turmoil of the English Civil War. In 1642, the rise of the Long Parliament and exile of royalists from England,

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