Chapter 2

The Four Laws of Nature

by Montesquieu Icon

Antecdent to the above-mentioned laws are those of nature.

  • They get their force entirely from our frame and existence.
  • To know these laws, we must see man before the establishment of society.

The laws received in such a state would be those of nature. The most natural law is to love the Creator, though it is not the first in sequence.

Man, in a state of nature, would have the faculty of knowing before he had acquired any knowledge. His first ideas would not be of a speculative nature.

  • He would think of preserving his being before he would investigate its origin.
  • Such a man would feel only impotency and weakness at first.
  • This is seen in savages found in forests trembling at the motion of a leaf, and flying from every shadow.

In this state, every man would think himself inferior. There would, therefore, be no danger of their attacking one another. Peace would be the first law of nature.

Hobbes attributes a natural impulse or desire in mankind to subdue one another. This is wrong.

The idea of empire and dominion is so complex. It depends on so many other notions, that it could never be the first which occurred to humans.

Hobbes asks= Why do men go armed, and have locks and keys to fasten their doors, if they are not naturally in a state of war?

But is it not obvious, that he attributes to mankind, before the establishment of society, what can happen but in consequence of this establishment, which furnishes them with motives for hostile attacks and self-defence?

Next to a sense of his weakness, man would soon find that of his wants. Hence, another law of nature would prompt him to seek for nourishment.

Fear would induce men to shun one another. But the marks of this fear are reciprocal. It would soon engage them to associate.

Besides, this association would quickly follow from the very pleasure one animal feels at the approach of another of the same species.

Again, the attraction of male and female would enhance this pleasure. The natural inclination they have for each other would form a third law.

Beside the sense or instinct which man possesses in common with brutes, he has the advantage of acquired knowledge; and thence arises a second tie, which brutes have not.

Mankind have therefore a new motive of uniting, and a fourth law of nature results from the desire of living in society.

  1. Weakness
  2. Association
  3. Procreation
  4. Society


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