Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Man in a State of Nature?

Rommen continues with an analysis of the thinkers that transformed the old natural law into something more modern – more individualistic.

Samuel von Pufendorf

I briefly introduced him earlier.  As a reminder, he was a seventeenth century German jurist, political philosopher, economist and historian; he was influential to the founding generation of Americans.

Pufendorf did not view man as teleologically a social creature; instead, he saw man as developing socially only because it proved advantageous to him – a “mere capability, mere impulse.”  In a state of nature, man was an isolated being – having the choice to develop socially…or not. 

From this isolated starting point, all positive laws could be defended as natural law.  Everything from property, the family and inheritance – all in tremendous detail.  This as opposed to the earlier understanding of natural law which, via the Decalogue, conceded only a few basic norms.

Christian Thomasius

A late seventeenth / early eighteenth-century German jurist and philosopher.  Temporal happiness should be the aim of ethics:

“Whatever renders the life of men long and happy is to be done, but whatever makes life unhappy and hastens death is to be avoided.”

The happiness of the individual is the purpose of natural law.  I think it depends on just what is meant by “happy.”

Immanuel Kant

The eighteenth-century German philosopher.  Rommen describes Kant’s philosophy as the individualist natural law in its final, highest form.

Liberty or autonomy is the sole right that belongs originally to every man in virtue of his humanity.

Kant would be known for his achievement of separating ethics and law.  Rommen disapproves of this, yet I find it necessary if one is to secure liberty.  Law and physical punishment are blunt instruments for perfecting man – God gave the Israelites hundreds of statutes and also did His share of punishing, and look what good it did.  If it didn’t work for God, well…

Rommen’s summary of these views of these philosophers?  Rommen describes this era of the individualist natural law, based on the imaginary starting point of man in a state of nature, as having birthed dozens of natural law systems.  Every year, eight or more new systems of natural law would appear at the Leipzig book fair.

Anselm Desing, an eighteenth-century Catholic philosopher and historian, would describe these new natural law systems not as dictates of reason, but, instead, as rationalizations of the positive laws of the period.  The new natural law would find not only a right to liberty and equality, but could also teach feudalism; alongside the French constitution of the revolution, it would find for the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire; the postal system was shown to be a natural law institution.

Whoever was desirous of representing something as good and worth while had now to make of it a requirement of the natural law, and to show that it is a conclusion of reason and that it existed in the state of nature.

Reason divorced from man’s social nature could be used to defend any and every construct of natural law.  Those who would battle against this during the scientific nineteenth century would be the ones identified as fighting against natural law.  But it was just in that scientific nineteenth century when some of the most destructive political philosophies would be born.


After Adam, man was born into a family and community.  For however many generations that have passed since then, this has been true.  It would seem, therefore, reasonable to use this social condition – as opposed to man in the purely hypothetical state of nature – as a starting point to discover natural law.

Many issues that libertarians struggle with could be dealt with much more easily if this is taken as the starting point.  Libertarians, for example, have no idea what to do about children; answers come much more easily if natural law is built on the social foundation.

Of course, easy doesn’t make it right.  But for this, I suggest and have long suggested that liberty cannot be found on a basis that denies man’s nature.


Anselm Desing is an interesting character.  He planned the Observatory of Kremsm√ľnster, in Austria (pictured here).  Already a thousand years since the founding of the monastery, Desing would plan a new structure for the purpose of scientific and theological study:

Planned by Friar Anselm Desing, the building was to be a reflection of all of nature in a nine-story building. The height and design of the building was a feat in and of itself and is said to be one of the first examples of modern high-rise architecture.

Known as “The Mathematical Tower, “ it was designed by Desing, and construction was completed in a period of ten years from 1749 – 1758:

This nine-story structure was meant to house a universal museum in which the visitor would be led from inanimate nature (minerals and fossils on the second floor) over to lower living nature (plants and animals), on to the human sciences and arts (art chamber and picture gallery on the third and fourth floors), then on to the cosmos (the observatory on the sixth floor) and finally to the reflection of God (the chapel on the seventh floor).

Somehow, I can’t square the nine-story structure with the seven-floor description – even if counting the ground floor as zero.  But this is a triviality.


  1. Bionic, I’m not sure how this fits into your narrative, but it might be helpful.

    In his book, “Miracles”, C.S. Lewis discusses the issue to confound the viewpoint that reason and moral law ‘evolved’ out of Nature. (ch. 3, The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism)

    “If there is nothing but Nature, therefore, reason must have come into existence by a historical process.”

    Evolution, in other words, over millions of years in which we gradually learned, through trial and error, that harmful processes were to be abandoned in favor of more beneficial ones. Supposedly, out of this arose the moral code.

    “Once, then, our thoughts were not rational. That is, all our thoughts once were...merely subjective events, not apprehensions of objective truth.”

    That is, at one time in history (or before history was thought of), man did not think rationally. He merely reacted to the situation he found himself in, a response to a stimulus. He did not think, he just did. There was nothing moral or reasonable about it. Man, at that point, was really nothing more than an animal, a brute beast, driven entirely by instinct.

    “...natural selection could operate only by eliminating responses that were biologically hurtful and multiplying those which tended to survival. But it is not conceivable that any improvement of responses could ever turn them into acts of insight, or even remotely tend to do so. The relation between response and stimulus is utterly different from that between knowledge and the truth known.”

    It is not possible to learn any moral or ethical lesson simply by responding to stimulus. The two are on completely different planes—one metaphysical and spiritual, the other merely physical. If you fall out of a tree and break your arm, you learn to either be more careful while climbing trees or, out of fear, you simply do not ever again climb one. What you don’t learn is any ethical or moral rationale about climbing trees—the rightness or wrongness of doing so.

    “...our psychological responses to our environment—our curiosities, aversions, delights, expectations--could be indefinitely improved (from the biological point of view) without becoming anything more than responses. Such perfection of the non-rational responses, far from amounting to their conversion into valid inferences, might be conceived as a different method of achieving survival—an alternative to reason.”

    Physically speaking, in the raw state of Nature, we could become better and better at surviving without ever having any conscious thought about morality or reason. Those subjective responses would never translate into an objective reasoning about life, society, or why we are here. An adult male tiger in the jungle is at the pinnacle of his evolution, biologically speaking, but he never thinks in a rational way. He only knows three things—eating, defending his territory, and siring offspring—that is, basic survival driven by instinct. Similarly, man, in this state, would have never progressed beyond that. We might have become superb physical specimens, but we would never have attained the status of Man. Society would never have risen.

    Reason, ethics, morality, the sense of right and wrong, what it means to be Man, were not learned through the processes of Nature. Rather, they were imposed on us from the outside, by a super-natural force, which we know as God.

    1. Roger, this is very good and helpful.

      Man has absolutely zero of the tools, features, characteristics to survive in a state of nature - before evolution supposedly resulted in reason. Believers in this idea think only in terms of man surviving against other men - until evolution taught them to co-operate or some such.

      How on earth could a pre-man - pre-reason - survive in a world of lions, tigers and bears (or sabre-tooth tigers or dinosaurs)? There is no way that pre-humans could have survived long enough (many multiple generations) without reason in a world filled with creatures who were suited to easily kill all pre-human life.

      Who knows, maybe the lions, tigers and bears were much more polite all those years ago....

    2. Thank you, Bionic.

      From your text above:

      "Pufendorf...saw man as developing socially only because it proved advantageous to him...In a state of nature, man was an isolated being – having the choice to develop socially…or not."

      Squaring this with your comment above, it seems that if man, in a state of nature was an isolated being, then he would have been at an extreme disadvantage to the world around him. In fact, isolated man would have probably gone extinct. Therefore, man did not have the choice to become social, instead it was a necessity for survival. Pufendorf was correct--it was advantageous to man to socialize, but only as a means of staying alive.

      Did this socialization precede reason as a mere instinct or did reason prevail upon man to group together?

      If we proceed from a viewpoint of pure evolution, then my gut tells me that the understanding that we group together for our benefit came later than the fact that we do so. In other words, socialization before reason.

      If we proceed from a viewpoint of creation, then both socialization and reason became part of Man at the same time, at God's behest.

      I do not entertain the notion that man socializes out of pure reason--because he wants to. Either he does so instinctively or he does so because he was made that way. Maybe these aren't so far apart.

  2. Roger, that is very well said. My succinct restatement is:

    An adult male tiger has every bit as ability to survive as a man, and even moreso. There is no natural, physical reason, no natural selection, that would lead to mankind as we know ourselves today.

  3. BM, I will take your statement and expand on it a bit to further prove your point.

    "After Adam, man was born into a family and community. For however many generations that have passed since then, this has been true. "

    Even in Adam's creation do we see that the natural (intended) state of man is as a social creature. God didn't create society ex nihilo. He let it develop, but it was always the point. Three things about the creation story make this obvious.

    1. In Genesis 1:26-27, the Godhead declared, let Us make man in Our own image. Then he did. God is trinity and therefore in not individually isolated Himself but there is an eternal relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community is inherent in God and to man.

    2. Following in Genesis 1, God created not just Adam but Eve, though being unnamed. Part of being in God's image is paralleled in mankind being created male and female. Then the prime directive is to be fruitful and multiply. Voila! Society as we see develop from history. Humans are meant to live within social groups.

    3. In that period of time when Adam was the only human on earth, God declares his individual human isolation is "not good", in Genesis 2:18. Animals already existed. God's solution was a wife.

    Within one generation after creation, society existed. I think that is the natural state of man.

  4. Even if reason and rational thinking arose spontaneously out of the brute state of Nature, the concepts we now know as morality, ethics, and right and wrong could only have come about much later, as a result of the reasoning process. It would not be possible for them to have arrived earlier.

    If we were to introduce a timeline into the argument, it would be reasonable to ask a simple question. At what point on the timeline can it be said that, prior to this, man (if he was man) did not reason, while afterward he was a thinking machine? The moment he stood on his hind legs for the first time and wiped the hair out of his eyes? The moment he learned what fire could mean for him? The moment he felt shame because of his nakedness? The moment he felt compassion for someone less fortunate? Those last two cannot be true, however, since they involve morality and we have already established that morality came about after the development of reason, not earlier.

    This question cannot be answered. There is no time in the history of man to which someone can point and declare that this is the moment (millenium, eon) when man left a life ruled by instinct and started thinking for himself. It should be evident that man has always been able to reason. If people don’t wish it to be so, it is because admitting this would completely destroy the faith they have in their religion—random chance.

    There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

    1. Genesis 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

      It seems to me that this is when reason came to man - when God breathed into his nostrils.

      It is a far better and more rational explanation than anything that science or anthropology can come up with. For sure, evolution cannot explain it.

    2. Not only is it far better and more rational, it is also easier to believe.


  5. “Whatever renders the life of men long and happy is to be done, but whatever makes life unhappy and hastens death is to be avoided.”

    Apparently, for Christian Thomasius, life is to be just an endless stream of pleasure, that is, until the moment of death. But what comes after that?

    It is possible that a man's life can be one of increasing wealth and as long as that is his only goal, every time he experiences an increase, happiness would come to him. It is also possible that, due to his abundance, he could purchase the very best medical care possible, ensuring that his life was extended to the utmost maximum, but, eventually he will die. What happens after that?

    A drug addict might be 'happy' while the high remains, but his life will be shortened by his habit. Therefore, according to Thomasius, his life is not worth living. Furthermore, a man might be in a marriage which is not happy, but is stretched out over decades. Does this mean that he has wasted his life?

    Pleasure, for the sake of pleasure, is fleeting and extremely selfish. To say that, "...whatever makes life unhappy and hastens death is to be avoided.", is to say that anything which hurts, regardless of time, must be avoided. How, then, does one deal with a broken heart? How does one deal with rejection? Disdain? Hatred? Malicious words? Avoid them? How do you avoid them? As any high school girl could tell you, there is no way to avoid them. There is only resistance to them and rising above them, because if you succumb to them, you will be destroyed.

    Pleasure for its own sake? A life lived for pleasure only? And at the end of it, the Lazarus effect?

    1. It still seems to me that it is through difficulties where we find the most meaning.

      "To really feel the joy in life
      You must suffer through the pain"

      Surrender, Trust, & Passion; Illumination Theory, by Dream Theater


    2. Bionic, I followed this link and read the lyrics, then read the lyrics on all the other songs on the album. Powerful stuff!

      I have to admit my ignorance. I'd never heard of Dream Theater before and had to look them up. But, then, a lot of the authors you write about are new to me as well.

    3. Roger, I used a different part of the lyrics from this same song in another post:


      I have often used their lyrics; same goes for Rush lyrics. You will find both sprinkled throughout my writing.

  6. “Homemaking is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government, etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? The homemaker’s job is one for which all other’s exist.”
    -C.S. Lewis

    The family and extended family were are born into is critical to our development and to our happiness.

    "Contemporary libertarians often assume, mistakenly, that individuals are bound to each other only by the nexus of market exchange. They forget that everyone is necessarily born into a family, a language, and a culture" -- Rothbard

    The guru of market-anarchy plainly saw that family and nation were of prime importance in analyzing what systems mankind should be building. I use "nation" here in its original meaning, and NOT as a synonym for State.

    I would further point out that Jesus never advised us to use any earthly State, but to work inside our tribe.

    BM, this has been a great series of posts. Thanks for all you do.

    1. Thank you, Mark.

      It is a great and valuable Rothbard quote.

    2. Mark, please will you provide a reference for that Rothbard quote. Many thanks. Peggy

    3. I will appreciate it if a reader will provide a source for the Rothbard quote above, offered by Mark Stoval. Many thanks. Peggy

    4. Peggy

      The quote is to be found here:


      It is an excellent essay, not terribly long.