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Locke and Hobbes

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Essay title: Locke and Hobbes

Locke and Hobbes

Hobbes and Locke have very distinct views of man in a natural state. The two political philosophers hold several similarities but generally their ideas of men in this state, the state of nature, are drastically different. Locke sees men in a much more optimistic way than Hobbes. The Hobbesian state of nature is based on a much more negative view of human interaction. The contrast of their views of man in the state of nature breeds differences in their formation of government and the type of governmental structure.

Locke’s state of nature is an optimistic one. Locke believes everyone is equal. Locke’s equality in the state of nature lies in the fact that he believes that everyone is born with “all the same advantages of nature”. Everyone has the same abilities and the right to use those abilities. No man has a natural right to power over other human beings (Macpherson 1980). This equality is distributed to other aspects of Locke’s state of nature including everyone’s rights to life, liberty and property. These rights stem from Locke’s main idea in the Second Treatise, the idea of labor. Everyone being equal means everyone has the ability to labor. Labor is the only thing that one can call “mine” and thus everything that comes from one’s labor belongs to the individual who exerted the labor. From this comes the idea of property. Locke, again, believes everyone who has exerted labor into something can claim ownership. The optimistic part of Locke’s state of nature is that human beings are naturally good, so he believes that people will not want to take advantage of others or succumb to greed, but instead will cooperate and share the earth and its possessions amongst each other. However, Locke does believe that some people do bad things such as steal, oppress and murder. Thus, when one is offended, all are offended because the offender has stepped outside of the laws of nature. A state of war is formed between the aggressor and the rest. The state of war ends when punishment has been delivered. Accordingly and rational to Locke’s argument, every single person in the state of nature has the equal right to punish those which have broken the natural laws. A problem lies with the fact that the laws of nature do not include fitting punishments for particular crimes. Since Locke believes that an attack on one’s property, theft, is an attack on one’s life, a small “misdemeanor” can be punished by a communal stoning of the offender. Also, for the same reason that there is no set of punishments, the offended could “rightfully”, as judged by the state of nature, prescribe any punishment to the aggressor including the taking of his life as well as the lives of his relatives (Macpherson 1980). Everyone is a judge in the state of nature. A person, Locke says, is capable of providing unfair or unequal punishments, from this unfairness in arbitrary decisions evolves the need for a government. The people willingly give up the right to be judges through Locke’s social contract. The government becomes the judge and has power over the people; however this power can only be used to serve the public good. It is a necessary evil that is created for security as well as out of convenience.

Hobbes also believes that all men are born equal. However this equality breeds different behavior than the equality presented by Locke. Again, the differences arise because the two philosophers have a different view of human nature. Hobbes has a much more pessimistic approach than Locke; consequently his state of nature is much more violent. Competition, diffidence and glory are horrid aspects of man and are not the exception found in a few bad people, but instead are the leading causes of action in all men that lead to murder, violence, lying, cheating, backstabbing and mistrust. Hobbes state of nature is Locke’s state of war, except Hobbes includes everyone. Hobbes state of war stems from the idea of universal equality; however people can use their nature abilities to gain more than those without abilities. Everyone is equal, but no one is content being equal with everyone else even. Since, people are not content with equality those that are stronger or smarter can take advantage or overpower the weaker or less intelligent. However, unlike Locke, Hobbes does not believe that people will stand idly by and watch the more apt individuals gain more than those around them. His main point in regard to his idea of equality is that any at anytime has equal ability to kill or take someone else’s property, either alone or with the help of others. This equality creates a constant state of war. The state of nature, war, has no punishments for actions and has no sin. Sin comes into play only when a law is created and law is created only when punishment can be given out. Finally, punishment can

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