Sunday, December 25, 2011

‘State of Nature’: A Brief Look into the Views of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

Famous works of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke
Regarded as two of the world's great philosophers and political thinkers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke espoused beliefs about human nature that are seemingly contradictory. Yet, according to academics Jeffrey Pratt and Steven Forde, Hobbes and Locke have several intersecting ideas. Nevertheless, their teachings still have differences. 

The Nature of Human Beings - Comparing Hobbes and Locke

Though both Hobbes and Locke propounded on social contract theory and the flawed or imperfect nature of individuals, Locke likewise highlighted the ability of each person to compensate for her/his inadequacies. Through reaching a consensus and forging a social contract, human beings have instituted government to protect the rights of all people not only to preserve themselves and overcome their weaknesses, but as well as to accumulate or own property. Even though Hobbes supported hedonism that believed in the pursuit of pleasure, his idea did not extend to private ownership of goods that could bring about such pleasure. Locke, on the other hand, saw private property as an extension of the human self (Forde 2). Said property could also serve to compensate for human imperfections.

For his part, Hobbes emphasized the unfavorable attributes of people, pointing out that only a political power (i.e., the government) could contain the violent human nature. He also believed that natural laws are God’s laws and these should be paramount in all social and political dealings. He perceived the government/monarchy and the Church as one and that these structures or institutions are inseparable. All people should submit without question to these powerful bodies in order to contain or resolve chaos. In this context, however, Locke espoused a different view, as manifested by his advice to Somers to lead in adopting a Parliament-run constitutional monarchy instead of placing authority in the hands of one or few people. Hobbes, though, clearly held a contradictory opinion as reflected in his close association with members of the monarchy.   

In spite of these contentions, Pratt (n.d.) thinks that the implications of Hobbes’s and Locke’s ideas are similar, particularly in the context of the ‘state of nature’. The author notes Locke’s view on the right of individuals to own property and the right to preserve themselves when attacked. The latter underscores violent human nature which Hobbes recognized. Pratt (n.d.) surmises then that sans any governmental intervention or sense of morality, human beings would often, if not always, show their harsh and violent side for the purpose of self-preservation or survival. Which between these two schools of thought is feasible?

Current social conditions show that Locke’s philosophy is more realistic, considering the existence of state governments that have their respective constitutions. It also takes into account the capacity of human beings to rise above their weaknesses, including their violent human nature. The prevalence of religious beliefs that encourage submission to a higher good contributes into sustaining a social contract that is designed to ensure that every individual respects the rights and needs of other people.

Works Cited

Forde, Steven. n.d. John Locke and the Natural Law and Natural Rights Tradition. Published on Natural Law, Natural Rights, and American Constitutionalism. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.

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