Compare and contrast hobbes’ and locke’s accounts of the state of nature.
PLT 4100A: Major Political Thinkers
Dr. Paul Rekret
February 26, 2015
[WORD COUNT: 1,074]
The state of nature as one would say is a concept in social contract theories to represent the supposed condition in which the live of man may have possibly been like before the existence of societies. Two 17th century political philosopher, which have both given their views and ideas of what a state of nature is and what comes about after this occurrence, are Thomas Hobbes I and John Locke I. Both philosophers’ writings have been of a great influence to those in the following centuries in modern political thought. Hobbes as well as Locke have similar views when referring to the state of nature, where man can exist without a sovereign government, also they have a similar view with the threat brought about by this state. However, though they speak of the risks of state of nature, Hobbes has more of a negative approach, while Locke states that there might be benefits. This essay will evaluate the juxtaposition of Locke’s and Hobbes’ state of nature in an attempt to explain the differences between these two philosophers. The only mutual thread between Hobbes’ and Locke’s state of nature is that they both express the dangers of it and the equality of men in this state. Hobbes’ expresses, “nature hath made men equal in the faculties of mind and body” (Wotton, pg.158, 1996). In the same way Locke states, “state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority” (Wotton, pg.288, 1996). Regardless of equality they both refer to being in the state of nature as dangerous. For Hobbes, while man is in the state of nature he will always be in a state of war, “if any two men cannot enjoy the same thing, they become enemies” (Wooton, pg.158, 1996). Like wise Locke says that without the law of nature it will lead men to a state of war (Wooton, pg.290, 1996). Locke uses the state of nature as a means to begin his book Second Treatise of Government (Wotton, 1996). He refers to the state of nature as “a State of perfect Freedom to order their action and dispose of their possessions, and persons as they think fit, without the bounds of the Law of Nature” (Wooton, pg.312, 1996). Locke suggests that it follows the Natural Law’s tradition, which implies that men are innate with morals. Consequently, for Locke, the state of nature does not suggest that it is a state of license, “he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession” (Wooton, pg.313, 1996). As such reason teaches man to not harm anyone’s life, liberty or possessions, however man has “a right to punish transgressors” (Wooton, pg.313, 1996). In comparison, Hobbes’ look on the state of nature is much more pessimistic. He discards the idea that man is born with morals and instead proposes within himself a behavior on a basis of appetites and aversions. For Hobbes, man is selfish and with self-interest in thought only, as he in the end tries to guarantee the maximum amount of pleasures and avoid aversions, with the thought of other out of mind. Hobbes states as a result of men being in competition with one another, “every man has a right to every thing; even one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man endureth, there can be no security to any man.” (Wotton, c.XIV, 1996). As humans we are all inclined to abide by the Law of Nature however the need for self-preservation with always take precedence. Because of the equality between men, he is not safe in the state of nature and therefore not achieving his own potential. Contrasting with Locke, humans are unable to construct a civil society, and in fact require a sovereign to unite humans. Thus as human we is try to escape the so dangerous, state of nature. Nevertheless Locke believes that man will only escape the state of nature to search for a way in which he can apply this state to protect one’s estate. When man enters a society, he will only give up his power over the law of nature, but not his life, liberty or property. Men will agree on joining for the comfort of a community and for safe and peaceful living without the sovereign taking charge, instead only having someone how is able to maintain the comfort and safety and not imply any rules, for the rules to which man must follow are those of the law of nature. With a sovereign in place it is stated by Locke that one may rebel against it in there is a violation of the law of nature and therefore one must take control and reject the government and return to the state of nature before selecting a new government. Locke denotes that man has an understanding of the law of nature and will as a result not need a powerful government, however he only need someone who is reliable and responsible to apply the law. On the contrary, for Hobbes a man would be unable to live in such society. He states that humans cannot live with a sovereign government, as without it man would disregard the law of nature and enforce our right of nature. “The final cause, end, or design of men, (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others,) in the introduction of tat restraint upon themselves, (in which we see them live in commonwealth,) is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby.” (Wooton, c.XVII, 1996). Fundamentally human say to each other, “I authorize and give up my right of governing my selfe, to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner,” (Wooton, c.XVII, 1996).With being said by Hobbes man authorize the actions of the sovereign, and therefore being unable to resist them as we have given up own right to do so for the price of peace. The only freedom man now has is that of which there are no laws on. From the above analysis it is concluded that Hobbes and Locke oppose views on human nature, one sees man with innate morals while the other sees man as a selfish creature. Then again, both men are consistent with their argument and the form of sovereign is logical as a conclusion for mankind.
Hobbes, T. Leviathan (1651), found in Wooton, D. (1996) Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, pgs, 122-302. United States: Indianapolis, Ind. : Hacket Pub., c1996. Locke, J. Second Treatise of Government (1689), found in Wooton, D. (1996) Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche, pgs,310-386. United States: Indianapolis, Ind. : Hacket Pub., c1996.