Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and Wollstonecraft

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Looking to the science of the day, Hobbes determined that there was no soul and attempted to describe human nature as pure mechanics. Human nature was therefore driven by the need to satisfy the physical demands of the body and based on basic passions in life. These are to satisfy physical appetites, to seek power to maintain their wealth and to be superior to others by seeking glory. Hobbes saw the state nature as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." The state of nature is anarchy, with constant violence (or potential violence) by amoral leaders terrorizing the population. Reason is the answer that will lead to a social contract and government. Individuals will give up their individual rights and freedoms to secure peace. Morality and property can then be dictated by the state, since human nature is not equipped to handle those concepts without conflict. This will allow each person to then pursue their own self-interests without fear of violence.

The sovereign authority is the office or institution of government that is contracted by the people. It is the artificial construct onto which the powers are conveyed by the social contract. The only limits to the sovereign’s powers are self-imposed, since it must exist outside of the population; although it should always strive for the good of the people to remain legitimate. Civil law is dictated by the sovereign. Civil law should be designed to promote well-being and progress for society with appropriate punishments for law breakers. Hobbes believed in an absolute monarchy. By making one man in charge, it would make it easy for the people to understand their roles and obey laws. With no confusing dissension or contrary views, people do not have to waste time and effort making political decisions; after all, that’s why they entered the social contract in the first place. He did not, however, believe in the ‘divine right’ or hereditary kings; the contract was conveyed upon an ancestor, which has no bearing on the legitimacy of the heir to rule.

Although Locke’s views are similar to Hobbes’, they are not quite as grim and fearful. Similar to Hobbes, he believes that people are naturally free and equal. Locke believes that man is social by nature and is naturally moral, rational and egoistic. In a state of nature, man will generally act with a mutual trust and respect and honor their commitments and obligations to other. Although he emphasizes these positive traits of humanity, he recognizes that since that is not always the case, people will need to form a type of social contract to preserve their rights and liberties. For Hobbes, natural law is a selfish state where people do not recognize the rights of others’ property and liberty. Locke believes that, although they don’t always act in accordance with it, man inherently knows right from wrong and are capable of acting in a lawful manner. The goal of government is to preserve the rights to life, liberty, health and property of its society and to pursue the public good even where this may conflict with the rights of individuals. It is also to punish wrongdoers and transgressors of the laws it sets for the common good. Since ones path to salvation and religious preferences fall outside those boundaries, government should not enforce or espouse any one form of religion over another. Class and hierarchy is a natural outgrowth of Locke’s views on property. Credited as the founder of the “Protestant work ethic”, Locke believed that those who worked hard will possess more. By agreeing to have money be an equalizing factor for trade, this will naturally contribute to some having more wealth than others. This is fine and natural, as long as the producers are working without injustice or injury to others. In retrospect, Locke may be considered the father of feminism. Although he still believed women should be subordinate to men, he also noted that women were capable of rationality and equally shared in the paternal power of...
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