The State of Nature According to Locke and HobbesSocial contract theorists find it useful to discuss the philosophical concept of the State of Nature not only to inform others about their understanding of what it means to be human, but also to justify the reasons for governments to be formed. John Locke (2005) and Thomas Hobbes (2005) – two prominent thinkers of the seventeenth century – have presented their differing understandings about the reasons for state establishment in the Two Treatises of Government and Leviathan respectively. Because both philosophers hold competing views about human nature, their reasons for state establishment, as proposed in their books, are also different. Whether Locke is correct in his understanding of the State of Nature is debatable. It essentially depends on whether the reader agrees with the reasons presented by the philosopher.
Almost all human beings are taught either philosophy or religion to understand human nature. It may be that Locke’s State of Nature has only ever existed in his own mind. The same is true for Hobbes’ understanding of the State of Nature. The reader is free to agree or disagree with both philosophers. According to Locke, the State of Nature is a condition that allows all human beings to enjoy “perfect freedom” as opposed to bondage (Locke).
In the author’s own words, this State is for humans “a State of perfect Freedom to order their Actions and dispose of their Possessions, and Persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the Law of Nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the Will of any other man (Locke).” In other words, human beings have a sense of morality and an intellect that allows them to choose or refuse certain people, situations, beliefs, etc. Whereas society teaches people to conform to rules, it is possible, according to Locke’s theory, to agree and disagree using the freewill that has been granted to each human being. What is more, this theory of human nature permits the reader to suppose that there is no bondage of any kind. All human beings are free to choose their own conditions.
At the same time, however, the author points out that a human being “has not Liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any Creature in his Possession, but where some nobler use, than its bare Preservation calls for it (Locke).”In other words, all human beings must have inherent knowledge of their human rights. A basic sense of morality is considered essential by this theory of human nature. Locke further believes that all human beings desire for themselves and their own kind to survive, just as animals in nature come to each other’s aid when necessary. If there is a problem, however, Locke mentions that man has the right to punish man if the latter is a transgressor of the natural law. Because there are people that transgress the laws of nature, and such people may even abound during times of disorder, governments are considered imperative. After all, Locke agrees with the fact that everybody has the right to defend his or her own human rights.
Nothing that Locke points out about the State of Nature is inconsonant with the layman’s understanding of human nature. After all, most people are aware that it is human nature to guard their own rights and those of others, but transgressors must be punished. The answer to the question, ‘Did Locke’s State of Nature ever exist?’, must be a resounding Yes.
However, transgressors of the law of nature, for example, people that are severely mentally disturbed and therefore abusive toward their family members, may disagree. Perhaps such people would agree instead with Hobbes’ understanding of the State of Nature, at least when they meet likeminded folks that do not disagree with immoral conduct. All the same, it is necessary to note that Hobbes’ theory of the State of Nature may also be consonant with the beliefs of those that do not blatantly transgress the laws of nature. According to Hobbes, human beings lead their lives based on their passions or lusts, desires as well as aversions.
This materialistic understanding of human nature does not hold that human beings are essentially innocent, as does Locke’s conception of man. Hobbes considers man a cunning living thing that merely seeks to gain more of everything for himself, and possibly his loved ones, regardless of the feelings, thoughts or rights of others. Self-interest is the main driving force of man’s life, according to Hobbes. Man wants to please himself while preserving his life, and at the same time, he wants to avoid all sorts of pain (Hobbes). What is more, man has no sense of right and wrong, according to Hobbes.
This is the main reason why government establishment is of the essence. After all, Hobbes maintains that man is truly like an animal – unlike the man that Locke conceives of, a man whom God has breathed His Spirit into, as revealed by man’s essential sense of morality. So whereas Locke asserts that man has essential knowledge of right and wrong, Hobbes’ description of the State of Nature makes it crucial to train man (as animals are trained) and compel him to obey man-made laws, e.g. the laws against oppression and murder. According to Hobbes, “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.
” Locke does not believe that every man is living solely to increase his income and property. Hobbes, on the contrary, describes human life as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” simply because man is greedy and would not consider morality or consequences while trying to increase his income and property. Once again, it is possible to agree or disagree with either philosopher’s theory of the State of Nature. Perhaps believers in the Bible, the Qur’an and other scriptures may trust Locke’s theory as they try to organize their lives to seek God’s good pleasure. Such individuals may struggle against oppressors and transgressors of the natural law when they must.
Hobbes makes it clear, however, that oppressors and transgressors are everywhere. According to Hobbes, each individual is a natural transgressor of the natural law. Thus, laws of the state are necessary to train man to behave properly toward another. If such laws do not exist, mankind would soon be extinct. After all, all human beings are like animals in the jungle, according to Hobbes. Locke, on the contrary, presents a more peaceful view of the nature of man.
There is greater hope for Buddha- and Christ-like figures to arise if Locke’s theory of the State of Nature is believed in.ReferencesHobbes, T. (2005).
Leviathan. Richard Tuck (ed.).
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Locke, J. (2005). Two Treatises of Government. Peter Laslett (ed.
). Cambridge, UK: CambridgeUniversity Press.