Beginning from a foundation that a man’s highest duty is his own self preservation, it was asked whether or not Hobbes is correct to assert that a state of nature ever truly existed, with its attendant war of all against all, and if so, how does one show others who may disagree with the assertion that they are incorrect to disagree. Hobbes responds to those who may disagree by telling them to look at their own actions, taken while in a civil society. If they lock their doors, if they go about with attendants or armed, or otherwise act in a manner to protect themselves and their property from other men, they, by their own actions are implying that a state of war between themselves and others is natural, and not all men are willingly constrained by the laws of a civil society. If the state of war is natural, as one’s own actions to protect themselves from others implies, even though existing in a civil society, and not in a state of nature, then it can be presumed that man’s nature is generally the same now as it was prior to civil society. Hobbes goes on to say that he is not accusing man’s nature, stating that the presence of the desires and passions that may lead to actions of war are not sins in and of themselves. Furthermore, since he has stated earlier that there is no justice or sin in nature, the actions resulting from the passions are also not sinful or commissions of injustices unless and until the actor knows the act is in violation of a law prohibiting such actions.
What is the right of nature, and what is the law of nature, and are the two synonymous? Hobbes states the right of nature as,
“…the Liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himselfe, for the preservation of his own Nature; that is to say, of his own Life; and consequently, of doing any thing, which in his own Judgement, and Reason, hee shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.”
In other words, a man has a right to do (proceed to action) whatever he deems most appropriate, that serves the end purpose of self preservation. The law of nature is a rule that can only be discerned through the use of reason, and is a general rule Hobbes says is stated thus, “…a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved.” The original question of synonymy is best answered with an acknowledgement that, for all practical purposes, the two rules result in the same end; self preservation. I believe the law and the rule are contra-positive each other, and logically equivalent, though, as stated, one serves to compel actions that leads to the desired end (the right of nature), and the other serves to prohibit actions that lead away from the desired end (the law of nature). However, they are substantially different in practice, if not desired end. The difference is, as far as this writer is concerned, comparable in difference between the “silver rule,” which is what Hobbes asserts is the law of nature, which reason dictates leads to peace, and therefore an environment that makes self preservation more likely, and Hobbes contention that the right of nature is the “iron rule” (might makes right), where “right” is any act that contributes to “self-preservation,” and in a state of nature, would likely result in a continuation of a state of war if the law of nature weren’t adhered to.
The law of nature would dictate, fundamentally,
“That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre.”
So, it follows that if a man cannot best secure his self-preservation through the law of nature, where he willingly surrenders, or forebears, his liberties which are a natural right, and which all should follow to seek peace, which is, by way of reason, determined to be the ideal condition in which to realize the goal of self-preservation, then he has the right of nature to fall back on, a state of war being thereby justified for one’s self-preservation.