Topic: Contrast in the states of nature of Locke and Hobbes

Thesis: The paper is an analysis of the state of nature as argued byLocke. It then critics Locke’s argument using Hobbes’ premisesand concludes with an argument in defense of Locke’s state ofnature.

  1. States of nature

1.1 Definition of the state of nature

1.2 Locke’s argument on the state of nature


2.1 Introduce Hobbes’ state of nature

2.2 Hobbes’ contrast to Locke’s argument

3. Argument in defense

3.1 Support for Locke’s argument

States of Nature

The state of nature refers to a formula employed in politicalphilosophy by many Enlightenment philosophers. It acts as ademonstration of human beings before the creation of a society. It aswell demonstrates human beings behavior before the formation of thepresent-day state. Philosophers aim at explaining how man lived priorto the rise of social life and the socialization of man from ananimal state. The state of nature is an important philosophical modelthat makes it possible to explain about human nature and providerational for the creation of government.

John Locke in “Two Treatises of Government” Locke employs thestate of nature to be the beginning point for the second and mostimportant Treatise. According to him, the state of nature is asituation where men have

“A state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose oftheir possessions, and persons as they think fit, within the boundsof the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon thewill of any other man” (Locke and Laslett 269).

The statement makes it apparent that Locke adheres to the traditionof natural law. This law notes that humans have an intrinsic moralsense that restrains them from indulging in specific behaviors. Thelaw of nature postulates the need for preserving man as much asprobable. The reason is that people are God’s property and as aresult must not cause harm to each other. As the children of God, weare aware of what is incorrect and correct and through extension,what is legal. Thus, it becomes possible for humans to find solutionsto disagreements in consistent manners.

Thus, in Locke’s view the state of nature cannot be regarded as astate of license since human “has not liberty to destroy himself,or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobleruse, than its bare preservation calls for it” (Locke and Laslett271). This means that by using reasoning, people realize that theyshould protect one another instead of causing harm to each other.Humans should not harm each other’s life, wellbeing, freedom orproperty. Rather, there is an active responsibility of protectingeach other. However, man also has the freedom to punish those thatbreak the law of nature, meaning we are all responsible for executingnatural law. When applying the law of nature, Locke argues that manshould use reparation as well as restraint.

He supposes that reason makes it possible to express the sharedrationality because any individual that breaks this law of naturemakes unavoidably becomes an enemy of humanity. It is on this basisthat “every man has a power to punish the crime, to prevent itscommitted again, and doing all reasonable things he can in order tothat end” becoming the executioner of the law of nature (Locke andLaslett 274). Locke further argues that an individual that receivesharm to his property when seeking recompense might be joined withothers that realize the mistake he has done. In unison, theyimplement reparations that are in proportion to the wrongdoing.

Two issues with Locke’s argument relate to impartiality as well asinterpreting law. This is because the victim in a wrongdoing isimprobable to be fair when applying punishment. However, despite theshortcoming, Locke says that the state of nature is yet to become astate of conflict. It might be one where there is occasional misuseof justice, but humans’ progress to be rational as opposed topeople that seek desire. Human rationality restricts us fromacquiring more than we need in order to avoid war over resources.


Thomas Hobbes in “Leviathan” has offered the greatest criticismto Locke’s argument on the state of nature. In contrast to Locke,Hobbes’ argument is more pessimistic. He begins by disagreeing thatman has an intrinsic as well as unchallengeable moral rational thatdirects action (Hobbes and Curley 26). Instead, according to Hobbes,man is an element of passion and behaves as a response to desires inaddition to aversions. Such a characteristically materialistic andfar-sighted reference to human being is radical and differs toLocke’s view. Self-interest is the main subject matter in Hobbes’human (Filmer and Sommerville 187). This is because his argumentnotes that the definitive objective of man involves securing asnumerous pleasures as probable and at the same time evading pain andaversions without consideration for other people (Hobbes and Curley74). The main pleasure is self-preservation while the major aversionis avoiding a brutal death.

Hobbes continues to critic Locke’s argument by stating that it isimpossible for humans to have an understanding of what is correct andincorrect, as they require a person that defines terms to state whatis right or wrong. The state of nature is hence seen as not immoraland is amoral. This is because instead of impartiality or property,there exists rational egoism. Under rational egoism, humans employscientific reasoning, a deduction via “if/then” experience, inorder to gain the most utility, yet humans are by no means secure tobenefit from it (Hobbes and Curley 392). In the uncontrolled,pre-societal situation, is the presence of a permit as well asunconditional positive freedom. This means that each man has freedomto everything, which includes other people’s body. Hence, providedthat the natural freedom of each man prevails, then it becomesimpossible for the security of any man to prevail.

The main reason that human beings differ is competition, hesitancyand fame. Force and fraud act as fundamental virtues. When everyhuman has a right to everything, the situation fast deteriorates to a“where every man is enemy to every man” and as a result, lifeeventually becomes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”(Hobbes and Curley 76). Although Hobbes’ argument uses the law ofnature, it is not universally binding. It only becomes applicablewhen an individual’s life is safe. As a rule, people are inclinedto adhere to the laws of nature however, practically the desire forself-preservation takes priority. When humans look for felicity, theyare equal in their capabilities. People want to gratify theirdesires, which is the same for our neighbors. Supposing we all has asimilar tangible desire but the object is in minimal supply, theeventuality is confrontation. The confrontation placesself-preservation in peril.

Hobbes’ cannot be seen as a natural law philosopher since hisnatural egalitarianism is insecure when applied to the state ofnature. Contrary to Locke, Hobbes presents an argument where it isimpossible to create a civil community. Instead, the state to him isa collection of people that have incompatible wills. This means thatthere is a need for a third party that brings together people’swills. As a result, the state of nature is harmful, lacks cooperationand people are ready to run away from it. Hobbes supposes that thoughit might be possible to search for peace, it can only be possiblewhen every other human seeks peace as well. Considering thesuspicious nature of man and unavailability of a commonwealth whenseeking peace, it is impossible to have collective rationality(Hobbes and Curley 163-164).

Argument in defense

The differing arguments on the state of nature by Locke and Hobbescreate differing rationalizations for creating a government wheredifferent roles and authority is given to the state.

When contrasting both philosophers, Locke’s state of nature isbetter because it results in more security than Hobbes. Locke arguesthat when creating a government, it should be with the objective ofprotecting individuals, which is a democratic government. AsAristotle (95) notes, democracy is a type of government where thefree act as rulers. The free, referring to members of society whosesole objective is to protect others and not personal motives. Thefunctions of the government must be restricted to essentials. The lawshould act as a manner of enacting the dictates of nature, as opposedto acting as a manner of enacting agreements. The government shouldbe the vehicle that results in the maintenance of human nature.

Locke advocates for an equal society, where people are mindful ofothers. This includes people elected to become government officials.They should endeavor to ensure that everyone in society has an equalopportunity to the benefits of nature. It is through equality thatpeople can prevent wars. When people see as well as feel that theybelong to the similar group, for instance, social class, then itreduces the possibility of treating one another as animals. Hobbessupposes that people cannot be equal and as a result aim atself-preservation. In a society where people are only concerned abouttheir own needs, then unfairness becomes prevalent. Creating agovernment in such a society, results in the oppression of subjectsby government officials. This makes Locke’s society better becausepeople will live harmoniously and even those in government will notuse their power to abuse their subjects.

Another reason for defending Locke’s argument is because he viewsequality and liberty as laws instead of rights according to Hobbes.People have unending desires. When these desires are not controlled,it is possible that some will seek to get more than others. Theoutcome becomes a competition and may eventually breed hatred. Thisis because those that are incapable of accessing what others get insurplus feel that they are treated unfairly. In order to avoid suchchallenges, Locke supports the creation of government. Thegovernment’s main objective becomes protecting the laws andensuring that all individuals adhere to the laws, equality andliberty. Since society holds the mandate of punishing those thatbreak the law, a government takes up this role. Hence, fairnessprevails in punishing law breakers, while ensuring that equalopportunity prevails. Locke presents an ideal society, which canprovide solutions to currently warring nations. By realizing the needto promote fairness and freedom, then governments will work towardspromoting peace in their countries.

Works Cited

Aristotle. ThePolitics and the Constitution of Athens.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Filmer, Robert and Sommerville, Johann P. Filmer: Patriarcha andOther Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Hobbes, Thomas and Curley, Edwin. Leviathan. Indianapolis,Indiana: Hackett Publishing, 1994.

Locke, John and Laslett, Peter. Locke: Two Treatises of GovernmentStudent Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.