Hobbes vs. Locke

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Hobbes vs. Locke

1. Compare and contrast Hobbes and Locke on political power? In answering this question explain Locke’s argument against Hobbes’s understanding of “paternal” and despotical power. On the discussion of power and social structure, both John Locke and Thomas Hobbes introduce their theories on paternal and despotical power in Second Treatise of Government and Leviathan respectively. Both men believe that social order is constructed artificially and not by a divine being. In Leviathan, Hobbes’s discusses the differences between paternal and despotical power.

Even though he recognizes these differences he explains that power claimed by institution and power claimed by force incorporate the same rights and requirements of the contract. Contractual power is similar to parent over child in which there are two parents but only one can have absolute authority. The natural power is maternal but just as people give up their rights to a sovereign for security so do mother and child to the father for security. Religion and nature do not dictate paternal authority it is an accident of nature.

Hobbes explains despotical power or acquired power is like the relation between master and servant. A despotical power is that of a “dominion acquired by conquest” that the people who are defeated have now entered into a contract as to avoid death (Hobbes 255). “The Master of the Servant, is Master also of all he hath; and may exact the use therof; that is to say, all goods of his labour, of his servants, and of his children, as often as he shall see fit” (Hobbes 256) Locke discusses in Second Treatise of Government, that paternal power is that of parents over a child.

Both parents have a natural government over their child but not extending to political circumstances. Also this power does not extend to the property of the child. Despotical power is power of one tyrant over all to take away life whenever he pleases. This type of power, to Locke, does not have legitimacy and should be overthrown. This type of power is not a society but a continuance of the state of war ;“…despotical power, which, as it arises not from compact so neither is it capable of any, but is the state of war continued; for what compact can be made with a man that is not a master of his own life? ”

(Locke 90). This is especially a problem for Locke because it strips man of all property that is a natural right and most important right according to his Second Treatise of Government. Hobbes and Locke agree that enslavement is not entering into a contract and cannot be enforced. Hobbes states on the subject of captives “for such men have no obligation at all; but may break their bonds, or the prison; and kill, or carry away captive their Master, justly” but a compact is created when the beaten submit to the victor (Hobbes 255).

Locke agrees but believes any people ruled by conquest are captives and have not entered into a contract until the rule gives up his despotical power. Just as Hobbes believes there can be only one absolute authority or sovereign and favors a monarchy and Locke argues for a democracy their status on paternal and despotical power reflect as such. In conclusion, Hobbes believes paternal power is a father over mother and child and despotical power is legitimate. Locke argues paternal power is both parents over child and despotical power should be overthrown. 2. Compare and contrast Hobbes and Locke on the State of Nature.

What is the root of their disagreement? What is the impact of their differing accounts of the state of nature? In what ways does their disagreement lead to difference in their conception of the “ideal” state? The idea of a State of Nature is a way for philosophers to explain human nature and justify the creation of government. This is the state not touched by civilization or a primitive state. Several philosophers have views on this condition but two prominent competing theorists explain their view on this, John Locke in Second Treatise of Government and Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan.

Thomas Hobbes has a pessimistic view of a State of Nature. He views it as a state in which all humans cause conflict and war with each other to make gains. Human nature is mechanistic and a struggle for power, which is the natural conflict and the only aversion to conflict is the fear of death. In this state “the life of man [is] solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes 186). This fear leads mankind to give up their rights, such as the right to kill someone, for safety, so that they do not kill you. This is the contract that all men adhere to in Hobbes’s State of Nature.

John Locke explains his State of Nature in a more optimistic view than Hobbes as “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 8). In his account all of mankind is equal, no one has more power or jurisdiction than another. He believes people are generally bound to the law of nature, laws that regulate what is morally acceptable and “teaches all mankind… no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possession” (Locke 9).

God is the primary limiter of universal moral law and he designs these laws. Without these moral laws there is only self-interest that leads to war. When there is someone who breaks the law of nature we are all judge, jury and executioner to enforce it to where the punishment fits the crime. These two views of the State of Nature conflict in that Hobbes believes the only reason people avoid war or conflict is because of the fear of death and Locke believes people in the State of Nature keep to a moral law set forth by God. These differing accounts lead also to a disagreement in their conception of the “ideal” state or society.

In Leviathan there is no society until there is a sovereign or governing force. Hobbes gives three types of sovereign governments, democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. Democracy is the most instable, most conflict, and instills the most fear. Monarchy is Hobbes choice of government because there is no division, no factions, there can be no civil war between the king and himself, and it makes the passing of power more stable with less conflict. The whole basis of his ideal society is on creating as little fear as possible because fear is instability. There can be no civil disobedience, protest, or dissent because is creates fear.

In direct opposition to Locke’s ideal society, Hobbes’s gives sole loyalty to the government. Man cannot give loyalty over the government meaning there should be no more loyalty to a religion or a pope than the ruler of a mans society. This is because religion could cause more instability meaning more fear. The sovereign power has no limits of power because he is not included in the contract with the people; his power is absolute. A one-world government would be ideal to Hobbes because with only one loyalty for all people there should be no conflicts.

Locke disagreed with Hobbes and believed the government should only play a minimal role in society. It should provide a structure for life, liberty, and property as its sole function. To Locke, one should not give up their rights to an unlimited sovereign who is uncertain and inconsistent because there is no restraint of freedom except the law of nature. He also promotes protest, if a government is infringing on rights by not protecting the public good and the government is placed by the consent of the people than the people have a right to overthrow that government.

Locke promotes the idea of a separation of powers so that one person or one group cannot have total power and oppress its people. He gives three general rules that it is not arbitrary, for certain rules, and no taxation without representation. Locke’s idea of an ideal society is based on all people as good and an overall rule of God. In conclusion, Hobbes and Locke’s ideal societies are essentially opposite. Hobbes believes people are controlled by desires and aversions and Locke believes God and morality control people. 3.

Hobbes provides a “mechanistic” account of human nature in the first part of Leviathan. Explain this mechanistic view of human behavior, motivations, and actions. What is the impact of Hobbes making this assumption about human nature? Does it appear that Locke agrees with such a mechanistic view of human behavior? Why or why not Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in Leviathan and Second Treatise of Government, respectively, dispute the idea of human nature. Each has a radically different view, Hobbes’s account being the moral cynical of the two.

Hobbes believed in a purely mechanistic universe in which the movements and collisions of objects are satisfactory in explaining everything in the universe. In the beginning of Leviathan Hobbes explains that sense is just an action of bodies colliding with our organs. Next he gives that anything in motion will constantly be in motion and the continuance of this on our organs transfers from sense into thoughts and this “decaying sense” becomes imagination. When imagination becomes understanding a variety of understanding, or one imagination upon another imagination, becomes a train of thought.

Therefore, every thought can only be explained by an occurrence of the human body. Desires are experiences as aches that the body must conquer that forces man take action toward that desire. This action is the only way to preserve our well being for our body. Everything man acts upon is only driven by his current desire. Acting only from desires and aversions is Hobbes’s animalistic approach to human nature. Humans only act in their own self-interest; there is no such thing as a self-less act. There is no free will, no morality, and no higher purpose to Hobbes without any regard for others.

This leads to what Hobbes calls the State of War in which everyone is at conflict with everyone else and the only relief is to enter into a contract with people in which it is mutually beneficial but capitulates our individual freedoms. If society is left to human nature “where every man is Enemy to every man… and the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes 186) Locke does not have the same view on human nature. To him man is a possession of God because God created man. This is what gives man freedom to pursue actions in accordance with his life, liberty, and property.

Locke describes human nature as “Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself…ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind” (Locke 9). This explains that man will tend toward the good of all mankind in order to keep himself safe. Humans are also rational beings in his account that come together to build a society in order to protect the concept of property and to overtake the hassles of life. Conclusion, Hobbes views society as the only way to get out of a state of war for resources, state of nature is a lack of organization, ruled only by fear.

Locke sees the state of nature as men fulfilling obligations; a more idealist approach. In conclusion, Hobbes believes humans are mechanistic creatures who have no free will but are animalistic in that all desires and actions come from self-interest. Contrarily, Locke believes humans are ruled by God and morals, have free will, and all desires and actions come from what will be good for all mankind. Bibliography Hobbes, Thomas, and C. B. Macpherson. Leviathan. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968. N. pag. Print. Locke, John, and C. B. Macpherson. Second Treatise of Government. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. , 1980. N. pag. Print.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 17 November 2016

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