view of the State of Nature, everyone has the right to everything, and because this
leads inevitably to competition, everyone is afraid of everyone else, a state he calls
“diffidence”. This in turn leads to a perpetual state of actual or potential war; the only
alternative is for people to give up their “right of nature” to a common power, thus
exchanging freedom for the security of civil society.
These days, state of nature theory has for the most part fallen out of favour, while
at the same time, the idea of universal human rights is widely accepted amongst the
general public. A pre-occupation of liberal political theory has thus been to clarify the
notion of rights, and to determine which rights may be regarded as universal. Without
absolute rights which are not dependent on the laws or norms of a particular society,
life in civil society may be just as poor, nasty, brutish and short (if not solitary) as in
Hobbes’ infamous State of Nature.
I shall argue in this paper that, while rights are indeed necessary, they are not, as
Hobbes claimed, the same as freedoms, but are compensation for the loss of freedom.
Our British society, which is growing evermore materialistic, is becoming more and more insistent on disregarding its reliance on nature in favour of celebrating technology. As our manipulation of nature is now quite apparent, our relationship with it has become indirect; but it is still very much existent and of extreme importance, however much we fail to admit it. This essay will explore the ...
I shall also argue that civil society is not something which replaces a hypothetical State
of Nature, but rather, co-exists with it, and that the “diffidence” inherent in the State
of Nature is actually what guarantees our rights in civil society. Put another way, we
may see ourselves simultaneously as members of a society, bound by its rules, and as
atomistic individuals pursuing our self-interest.
Before examining the issue of rights, though, it is necessary to look briefly at theories
of the good, since a theory of rights is virtually impossible without some notion
of good from which to work from. Like Hobbes, I shall work on the assumption that
what is good is equivalent to what is desirable.
1 A very thin theory of the good
Theories of the good can be roughly divided into three categories: those that assume
something is good because it is desirable, those which assume that goodness is a property
inherent in certain things, and those which apply some other criterion by which
we judge both desires and objects as good. I have argued elsewhere that only the