In social-contract theory, a central concept is the idea of a state of nature. But what exactly is a state of nature?
Put simply, a state of nature is a hypothetical scenario in which people live without any form of government or authority. In this state, individuals are free to act as they see fit, without any external constraints or rules. This may sound appealing on the surface, but in reality, it creates a number of problems.
Without any established rules, people in a state of nature may resort to violence or exploitation to get what they want. This can lead to a state of constant conflict and fear. Additionally, there is no way to ensure that resources are shared fairly, which can lead to scarcity and competition.
It is for these reasons that social-contract theorists argue that a state of nature is ultimately unsustainable. To prevent chaos and ensure the well-being of all individuals, a social contract must be established between people and their government. This contract establishes rules and guidelines for acceptable behavior, and gives the government the power to enforce those rules.
Of course, not all social-contract theorists agree on the specifics of what a social contract should look like. Some argue for a strong, centralized government with significant power, while others prefer a more decentralized system with greater individual liberties.
Regardless of the specific details, the concept of a state of nature is a crucial starting point for social-contract theory. By understanding the problems that arise in a state of nature, we can better understand why a social contract is necessary for a functioning society.