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Hobbes' And Locke's Human Nature and Government

Evaluates the philosphies of Hobbes and Locke outlining the state of nature, natural laws, the social contract theory and government.

The overall aim of this essay is to explain and discuss the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in relation to human nature and government. To achieve this, the essay aims to look at significant pieces of political thinking, namely Hobbes writings in the Leviathan and Locke?s Second Treatise of Government. I will begin this essay by addressing four key areas, firstly the philosophical concept of ?the state of nature? where I shall also include a brief outline of how human nature is defined, secondly natural laws, thirdly the social contract theory and finally government. The final aspect of this essay is to offer a critique of the arguments, which will lead on to a concise conclusion.

The state of nature, to many political philosophers, is the condition by which human beings would find themselves in the absence of civil authority, living without law and order, and the means to rationally coexist with one another in civil order, where human nature is often seen as the driving force behind it. Human Nature, defined as essential qualities shared by all humans. Philosophy has often been concerned with identifying what constitutes and drives human nature and with determining whether human nature is essentially good or evil. These shared needs consist of food and water, shelter (although culturally relevant, for example shelter may be sought from cold harsh environmental conditions but also for the scorching sun) and numerous others. Often compared with the reoccurring social science argument of nature V nurture, and predominately in the works of Abraham Maslow (1908 ? 1970) and his hierarchy of needs (see additional sources 2).

The concept of the state of nature is twofold in its usage: many political thinkers/philosophers use the state of nature in their analysis of what is lawful and just by nature, independent of human conventions and decisions, but also, the question of how individuals living in a state of nature would actually behave and conduct themselves? (Maunter, 2000, Pp538 ? 539) Two prominent political philosophers in this view are Thomas Hobbes (1588 ? 1679) and John Locke (1632 ? 1704). In their collective view (although approached in different ways, which shall be outlined as this essay progresses), the absence of civil authority would create conflicts; yet, there would be no reasonable way to resolve them, as within the state of nature, individuals would be unable to coexist with each other (Wolff, 1996 Pp 7 & 8).

Looking at the works of Thomas Hobbes, a political thinker and philosopher who was greatly influenced by Galileo and fascinated by geometry, Hobbes thought that these logical arguments could be used to produce a political philosophy. In Hobbes? view of human nature, often referred to as ?psychological egoism?, though it is mechanistic and deeply cynical. Hobbes sees that human beings are inevitably selfish and ruthless, so any attempt to make moral beings of them is a complete waste of time, as when left to their own devices within the state of nature, they would inevitably kill each other. Therefore life for everyone within a state of nature would be very pessimistic, consisting of individuals who would be ?solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short? (Heywood, 1992, P27). Hobbes? account of the state of nature is what he termed a ?thought experiment?, designed to clear up the limits of political obligations. The state of nature is a condition of perpetual war, with every man for himself. The state of nature comprises of scarce resources, which are essential to human survival, for example it is sensible for individuals to mount pre-emptive strikes upon others, to whom they feel are or would threaten their own resources and existence. Hobbes accounts that even if there is no violence, the state of nature is still a state of war, as there is a continual threat of warfare and violence breaking out (Robinson and Groves, 2001, Pp50 & 51). Hobbes notes that even in the state of nature there are natural laws. These natural laws are the principles by which any rational individual are bound. Hobbes lists many natural laws, but also states that within the state of nature, everyone has the right to everything. Yet, to Hobbes it is rational for those within the state of nature to yield their absolute freedom in exchange for the promise of the security offered through a social contract (Robinson and Groves, 2001, P52). Those within the state of nature, have to right to ?self-preservation?, this right continues, even if other rights have been yielded in the social contract. Hobbes? in a desperate attempt to stop individuals being murdered in their beds, Hobbes advocates for the selfish and brutish to make a reciprocal social contract with one another (Robinson and Groves, 2001, P52). Once entered into the social contract, certain freedoms are yielded to a powerful sovereign (Warburton, 2001, Pp 62-5). The central argument of the ?Leviathan?; is why it is acceptable for individuals to consent to the ruling of an absolute sovereign (Wolff, 1996, Pp 42 ? 46).

The social contract theory is the concept by which individuals, by nature free and equal, voluntarily choose to surrender part of their natural liberty by entering into civil society, which constitutes political authority. Within this civil society, individuals subject themselves, in order to take full advantage of the civil society. This agreement gives way to the right to rule and to explicitly obey the agreement, therefore creating a social contract (Maunter, 2000, P526).
To Hobbes though, a social contract put in place between ruthless people, may possibly require a further ?government contract?, which would permit governments to punish those members who do not comply with the initial social contract and brake away from the sovereignty. To Hobbes, government only has the right to rule through contract (Warburton, 2001, P64). Hobbes? sovereignty (which could be either an individual or an assembly) becomes an artificial person who, within the social contract, becomes the living embodiment of the state. Hobbes imagines the sovereign as a strong monarchy, he does however, completely disregard the notion of the divine rights of kings, which is the state where God approves of the successor to the throne and sacred rights to their heirs (Warburton, 2001, P64).
A critique of Hobbes? state of nature is that it could be a mistaken view of human nature. It is overly pessimistic, painting an overtly bleak picture of human nature. Hobbes believes that all individuals are egoists, seeking to constantly feed our desires. Hobbes, a strict materialist, he believes that everything in the universe can be explained in terms of ?matter in motion?, and that humans are merely complex, sophisticated machines. Contrasting Hobbes pessimistic view of human nature, that it?s inevitable for individuals to fight and compete amongst themselves, when civilisation is stripped down to its fundamental basics. Another political philosopher, John Locke, believed that co-operation between individuals is in fact possible within the state of nature, without the constant threat of warfare (Warburton, 2001, P67).

Looking at the works of John Locke (1632 ? 1704), Locke?s writings on the state of nature as outlined in ?Two Treatise of Government (1689)?, in contrast to Hobbes view of permanent warfare amongst man, Locke proposes a far more attractive condition. Locke believed that humans would be bound by a series of natural laws that prevent individuals from harming one another (Heywood, 1992, P26). Locke?s laws of nature are God-given which are discovered through self-reflection. In his view no individual is higher or more important than the next, therefore all individuals are equal and free in the eyes of God, Locke states however that individuals are free, yet this liberty should not be confused with licence (the freedom to do whatever you want). This freedom within the state of nature, is limited by the God-given natural laws, which would prohibit an individual from committing certain acts, for example committing suicide and harming another, as God has created the individual to live out their life, and all men are created equal, respectively. Locke?s depiction of the state of nature is more congenial than Hobbes? state of war, as Locke believed that individuals are able to enforce these natural laws. Locke describes this as if an individual was attacked without good cause, then he has the right to punish them, because the laws of nature forbid anyone from harming another without justification for doing so. This right to punish however, extends to those who have witnessed the harm or been informed of it, and then the third individual holds the right to punish the wrong doer, as deemed fit (Warburton, 2001, P93). This situation my give rise to further problems, for example, individuals may be bias in their justification of punishment, in the sense that it may promote their own interests. Over that, Locke in a similar manner to Hobbes suggests, that the joining together and formation of a government, whose role it is to set up an independent judiciary by leaving the state of nature. Locke states, and I quote: ?without law, there is no freedom? (Locke, 1988, P306 paragraph 20).

Locke?s primary motivation for individuals leaving the state of nature, and entering into civil society is the need for protection, the protection of life, liberty and property. Although in the state of nature everyone has the right to punish those who break the laws of nature, self interest my cloud their ability to judge their neighbours fairly. The only guarantee to end this and to create peace is to enter into organised society. It is mutually agreed upon that individuals will surrender a degree of their natural freedom in order to gain a higher level of safety. The power to create and enforce laws is entrusted upon the individual or group to act for the common good of all. Locke writes that individuals consent to losing a proportion of the freedom by way of entering a social contract (as with Hobbes); Locke names this a ?compact? made between one and another. This compact is entered into freely and explicitly, known as an ?express? agreement. When the compact is implied rather than agreed to it is known as ?tacit? agreement (Cuttingham, 2000, P487). Although individuals are born into civilised society, Locke responds that if an individual benefits from the civil society, then a tacit agreement has been made and certain natural rights are yielded. Once the compact has been made, an individual chooses and agrees to being bound by the decisions of the majority. An element to Locke?s publication is that individuals in agreement of the compact occasionally have the right to overthrow and replace their rulers. When a tyrant runs society or ruthless government overstep its legitimate role, the government forfeits its power to the citizens of the social compact. This stems from Locke?s belief that a government is government by consent. To Locke, no government has absolute power over its citizens; the limits on the power are the limits to serving the common good (Cuttingham, 2000, P486).

A critique of Locke?s account of human nature and government is his reliance upon Christian or Old Testament God. Locke?s notion of natural law, fundamentally important to his theory of government is orthodox Christian doctrine. Without the influence of God upon the state of nature, it is expected that state of nature would be similar to Hobbes state of perpetual war (Warburton, 2001, P97).

In conclusion, the political philosophy of Hobbes and Locke, although similar in many aspects it is equally as diverse. Both Hobbes and Locke begin their writings in the state of nature, though they offer quite different representations of it. It is agreed on both parts that the state of nature consists of natural laws and equally propose that a government should be created through a social contract. From this point there are many similarities and differences between their interpretations of Human Nature and Government. Both Hobbes and Locke view political philosophy from scientific standpoints, for Hobbes it was geometry and Locke it was Empiricism. Neither Hobbes nor Locke wanted to rely on the divine right of kings in the justification of political authority. The published writings of both Hobbes and Locke resulted in their exile from England. Hobbes created a very bleak picture of the state of nature, consisting of selfish egoistic individuals, as oppose to Locke?s which was made up of cooperation and consent. In all Hobbes aimed to create a government with an absolute sovereign government, Locke focused upon voluntarily consenting to the social compact (Smith, 2003, lecture notes). Therefore, it is agreed that there are naturally occurring needs and wants, but the way in which these are accessed and implemented is quite different according to the writings of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

1. Wolff, J (1996) ?An Introduction To Political Philosophy? Oxford, Oxford University Press
2. Maunter, T General Editor (2000) ? The Penguin Dictionary Of Philosophy? London, Penguin
3. Heywood, A (1992) ?Political Ideologies: An Introduction? London, Macmillan Press
4. Robinson, D And Groves, J (2001) ?Introducing Philosophy? Cambridge, Icon Books
5. Warburton, N (2001) ? Philosophy The Classics: Second Edition? London, Routledge
6. Hobbes, T (1998) ?Leviathan? Oxford, Oxford University Press
7. Locke, J (1988) ?Two Treatise Of Government? Cambridge, Cambridge University Press
8. Cuttingham, J (2000) ?Western Philosophy: An Anthology? Oxford, Blackwell?s Publishers

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