Pub. date: 2010 | Online Pub. Date: May 06, 2010 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412958660 | Print ISBN: 9781412958653 | Online ISBN: 9781412958660| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
State of Nature
Jacob T. Levy
The state of nature refers to a hypothesized natural human condition, before or outside political community. It is a standard feature of social contract theories, used in order to illustrate that which is distinctive and created about the state. The differences among conceptions of the state of nature correspond to important differences among social contract theories. While nature and naturalness are among the oldest categories in political theory, the idea of the state of nature is ordinarily associated with the distinctively early modern development of social contract theory. The state of nature is humanity's prepolitical state, the condition in which relations of political and legal authority and obedience have not yet been established. Rejecting the Aristotelian doctrine that man is naturally political, contractarians treated nature as a contrast to political and civil society. The state of nature was sometimes understood as a real moment in the past; sometimes as The ...