Laws. We all must obey them, but why? For fear of going to jail, or being fined? Those are the individual effects of civil disobedience, but what happens what is the purpose of law in society? Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all attempted to interpret the need for laws in society, in order to maintain the good of the whole and the individual. Each of there examination of the need for laws in society arose from the individual’s departure from the “state of nature” to community living. It is important to examine each philosopher’s idea of the “state of nature” to then understand what laws are important and why obedience is necessary.
The State of Nature
Thomas Hobbes saw the state of nature, not as a period in history, but a rather how individuals would act in the most fundamental state, a state where there was “continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A state where the most natural condition for the human race was the pursuit of power and a constant struggle to survival. Nothing about the state of nature to Hobbes was warm and happy, rather it was a constant solitary, poor nasty brutish and short struggle to survive, where all men were equal. Equal because they all were capable of killing each other. No man would want to live in this state of nature. So therefor, man seeks to leave this state and enter governed human existence.
John Locke saw the state of nature as being almost as horrible to that of Hobbes’ but he believed that God’s law still existed and created morality for humans. In the state of nature, Locke hypothesized that all men had perfect freedom and all were equal. They also, being to the service of their creator God, had a moral obligation to protect all of mankind rather than just the protecting the liberty of oneself. The problem that occurred in Locke’s state of nature was one where every man held executive and legislative power and governs for themselves and were able to determine crimes and punishments. This absolute power and desire for power deteriorates into the state of war, which is only avoidable if man enters into society, and thus he can preserve his life and property.
The state of nature Hobbes and Locke describe are undoubtedly undesirable and unsatisfying ways to live, so it is easy to see why man would find an organized society more alluring, however Rousseau’s state of nature is almost the opposite. The state of nature to Jean-Jacque Rousseau was a state of freedom. He did not see the state of nature as an abstract idea of how it would be if there was no society; rather he saw it as the way things were before humans were forced into the chains of society. The state of nature was an ideal but now unattainable state. Because there can never be a return to a state of nature, Rousseau believes that man must enter into the only other alternative, a state of morality, which he sees as feasible through a sovereign society.