Friday, 3 June 2011

John Locke vs. Thomas Hobbes

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John Locke and Thomas Hobbes are two philosophers who thought extensively on the subject of human nature and conflict in human society. These two men represent two different perspectives of government and liberty. Hobbes believed that mankind is evil by nature and in this state all men are governed by natural laws. These laws primarily consist of justice and equity. Living in this state of nature is so horrible, that men join together and agree to be ruled by a common leader. Contrarily, Locke believes that man, by nature, is good, but enters into society to preserve and regulate people’s rights to own and enjoy property.

First, to understand why Locke and Hobbes felt the way they did about human nature, one must take into account the historical periods in which they lived. Hobbes lived during a time marked by civil war and huge amounts of disorder. He lived to see the beheading of King Charles I, the English Civil War and the Protestant Revolution. Hobbes saw this period of chaos and anarchy as counterproductive to the advancement of society. This led him to believe that only a strong state under a strong, authoritative ruler could prevent anarchy and provide security. Very different to the period of turmoil that Hobbes lived through was the time of John Locke. By the time that Locke emerged, the English Civil War was over. Therefore, the time periods they lived in influenced the way both Hobbes and Locke viewed the world.

Furthermore, the world surrounding Hobbes gave him a very pessimistic view of man. He believed that man, by nature, is evil and all men are created equal, therefore all men are evil. Moreover, Hobbes believes that men are greedy, and the problem comes when one item is desired by two men. These two men will always become enemies, and in order to obtain this item, man will attempt to destroy the other. Hobbes pushed that the only way to escape this competitive existence, men need to compose governments. And, to be sure that the desire for glory and domination of man is kept in check, the ruler must be given all the power.

In contrast, Locke’s view is optimistic and he believed that man in his state of nature is not too unlike man in society. So living in a peaceful society, Locke came to the conclusion that man kind, by nature, is good. Unlike Hobbes, Locke believed that man, because of his ability to reason, knows what is right and what is wrong, and therefore obeys natural laws even in the primitive state of nature. However, men may be overcome with rage, and in turn enter into a government designed to protect property, which was very important to Locke.

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While Locke and Hobbes have opposed views on the natural state of man, the underlying concept is the same. Both men conclude that men are all constituted as equal.

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