Thomas Hobbes and John Locke “The State of Nature”

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Imagine living in a world where life was based on killing or being killed. Where there was no form of government, police for protection, or any social institutions such as schools or hospitals. Thomas Hobbes referred to this barbaric idea as “The State of Nature.” Everyone has the right to everything as long as it is graspable. There is no such thing as the golden rule or the ethic of reciprocity, where people treat others the way they want to be treated. Hobbes famously defined it the best by referring to life in the state of nature as “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Hobbes came up this concept after stating that “human beings always act in such a way as to advance what they perceive as their self-interest.” Believing that whenever we do something, we have to first see how it first benefits us, and he uses the state of nature to define why humans need to band together to form any kind of state or nation. People in the state of nature don’t want a particular thing but just to complete and satisfy new desires as they emerge. Which will lead to conflict because humans will go to any lengths to satisfy their needs especially when there is no one to stop them. “The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place.” Hobbes clarifies that an absolute sovereign would be the answer but as Locke said it best “an absolute sovereign with absolute power would be even more of a hazard to us than life in a state of nature”. Hobbes state of nature is showing us how life would be like without a society. Since there would be no production and meaning of life because everything will be up for takes, any type of government is better than the state of nature.

Thomas Hobbes was a British philosopher, born in 1588 during the battle with the Spanish Armada. His mother gave birth prematurely and was frightened by the sounds of the battle which resulted with Hobbes to be born “Twin with Fear.” Hobbes states that the only authority that naturally exists is of a mother and her child and this exists because when the child is born he much weaker than the mother and everyone around him and depends on her to survive. Other than that, all human beings are equal regardless of strength. “Even the strongest must sleep, even the weakest might persuade others to help him to kill another”. (Leviathan) Since all life is equal and capable of achieving anything and threaten each other’s lives, Hobbes claims that in the state if nature there is no authority that will keep their lives together and in order.

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Hobbes believes that any type of government, regardless of good or bad is better than the state of nature. Since there is no government in the state of nature self-interest would continue to rule over us and there would be a “war of all against all.” Hobbes believes that any type of government is better than the state of nature because there would be no production of any sort which would lead to limited resources and motivate people to take possessions by using violence to acquire what isn’t theirs. That is the primary reason why there would be no production because of the fear of being attacked for having something that others don’t have. Imagine you have a garden full of berries. As soon as the berries get right you have a constant fear of being attacked for them. Also, any type of government body is better than the state of nature because people would take advantage and attack first as a way of defending themselves. Not only that people would attack for no reason just to gain a reputation of being strong and becoming the supreme power just to put fear into people’s mind. Basically, “people in the state of government will perform in their self-interest but the state of nature itself would not be conducive to anyone’s self-interest.” (pg.94) Hobbies believes that in order to get out of a self-defeating cycle we need to establish an enlightened self-interest. Which is the ability for humans to be able to reach long-term goals. The solution to this problem is to give up their natural freedom that comes with the state of nature and form a bond called social contract. A social contract is an agreement between two or more people where one person completes his part of the agreement and the other person keeps his end. Hobbies believes that in order for this social contract to work the people must come together and hire someone to act as a Sovereign. A sovereign would create and enforce the laws and be the ultimate judge of whether someone broke the law. A Sovereign is above the law and much find a way to make it work in people’s self-interest to abbey the law than to disobey it and he could do it through fear and he is not elected by the people and will serve as one until their death. Hobbes believes that with the social contract people have made a contract between themselves to give up all their rights to all things which the sovereign is not a part of. The sovereign can’t make a covenant with any individual nor with the population as a whole because as this is taking place people are still in the state of nature and do not trust each other. The only time the people have a say which includes the sovereign is when they pick one after that the sovereign could so as he pleases. Hobbes “ideal state” that he puts forward with his social contract does not include any type of democracy. His main focus is security and says that people are always at war and we need a government whose main focus is safety.

John Locke had his own response to this idea of state of nature and had very different views and solutions then Hobbes. Locke agrees with Hobbes that everyone in the state of nature is free but includes that their actions are based on the law of nature. ‘The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it’, and that law is reason. Locke things that we all have reason to teach us that ‘no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, and or property’ He uses American frontier as an explain by saying that they for once lived in a so-called nature of state and peace existed and people had property rights. Unlike Hobbes, Locke thinks that humans don’t need a higher power to rule over them and peace could exist without. He goes on to say that a sovereign limits our natural rights and is worse then not having a government at all. He refers to the state of nature in which everyone is equal and no one has more than the other. Locke was more religious then Hobbes and bases his logic of off that. He believes that people will do good because they know that god is the real sovereign and we are his property and we will only do harm in self-defense. Jean-Jacques Rousseau also went against Hobbes idea and solution to the state of nature by saying that Hobbes was simply taking people who lived in a society and who are used to living in a society and placing them in a place where society does not exist with the mindset of having lived in a society. Rousseau believes that people are born with a blank mind and where they are neither good or bad and society and the environment they live in influences them to have their own views. He also believes that they have normal values and everyone wouldn’t just jump to conclusions that Hobbes claimed.

Hobbes lived and wrote this in the time of a civil war which is why his idea of a state of nature are so extreme. Life expectancy was only 35 in England at that time. Hobbes based the state of nature to the time and environment he lived in where there was constant war over religion and other issues. Hobbes was born with fear and his biggest fears were society and political chaos. Hobbes was wrong with his social contract as well because he fit morality and law into one and laws could be immoral. Also, if you can’t live up to the contract then you can’t join it which means that you are not part of society that will work in Hobbes eyes. Hobbes justified the whole human race based on what he and lived in. Not all humans are bad or selfish, we have morals and when someone does good for another the person repays by doing the same. We have seen it through history where we had just one leader with all the power and control over everyone and was a total failure. If Hobbes had lived in a different type like Locke he would have had similar views as him.

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Thomas Hobbes and John Locke “The State of Nature”. (2022, Jul 22). Retrieved from

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