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The Nature of Man “early Modern” anthropological suppositions and their role in the construction of the State

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Hobbes' notion of the nature of man.
    1. Hobbes' man: A very cynical or at least pessimistic.
    2. The nature of man in Hobbes: The composition of two dimensions.
    3. Speech and reason.
    4. Pessimistic assumptions.
    5. Hobbes' anthropology.
  3. Locke's notion of the nature of man.
    1. What does Locke exactly do when proposing his vision of man?
    2. The principle at stake in Locke's anthropology.
  4. Conclusion.
  5. Bibliography.

The opposition between the Ancients and the Moderns is often criticized. If there is anything like this, one may find it in the opposition of natural rights. In classical natural right, the nature is an essence to be realized; it is an aim, not a presuppose of society. On the contrary, in early modern natural right, nature is a series of subjective rights attached to the person.
But if these rights exist before society, this does not mean they disappear with it: the citizens may suspend or limit the use of some rights; they will not relinquish them to the sovereign. What I would like to show is that these subjective natural rights remain central in civil society. Modern natural right is very diverse: what is understood as subjective rights remain very different from one author to another. I will here present Hobbes and Locke's anthropologies, often considered to open the two main directions of modern natural right: on Hobbes' side, positivism, on Locke's side, modern jusnaturalism. One may consider Hobbes' man a very cynical or at least pessimistic anthropology. Everyone heard of man being wolf to man, homo homini lupus, as said in De Cive. But actually, Hobbes' description of man, in the first part of Leviathan, goes far beyond that.

[...] But still, this implies to qualify our idea that the nature of man necessarily leads to the institution of the State: the nature of man, always latently present, may lead to a return to the state of nature. Finally, Hobbes' theory of the nature of man makes us enter modernity: he produces an individualistic anthropology in which man is no more defined by the aims of the polis, as Aristotle did. Rather, the polis is there only to guarantee the rights of the individual, the nature of man. [...]


[...] of man is not at all man in the state of nature: it remains present when the sovereign has been instituted, which we try to show later. What I will intend to see, therefore, about the nature of man in Hobbes is not only the descriptive content of Hobbes' anthropology, but the place the nature of man has in his theory. That way, I will try to see how Hobbes is characteristic of modernity. The nature of man in Hobbes may be the composition of two dimensions: one is what we may call reason or speech, something closed to the Greek logos, the other being passions or desire. [...]

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