Differences between Natural State in Hobbes and Locke

Essay by tomrobbinsUniversity, Master's March 2006

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Thomas Hobbes and John Locke posit very different arguments for the existence and scope of governmental authority. Locke writes that governmental authority arises from a "social contract" by the "consent of the governed." Hobbes owes the devolution of powers to a state as a result of necessity and not choice. Much of the differences between their conclusions regarding the scope of government can be explained by their differing views on nature, natural law, natural reason, and liberty.

Perhaps the most fundamental differences in Hobbes' and Locke's philosophies can be found in the way they view the state of nature. In Locke's state of nature we have all men created inherently equal being subordinate only to God. Although Hobbes also states that all men are equal it is only because no man has the strength to maintain absolute authority over another. Hobbes recognizes two different states of equality and concludes that man is empirically equal but that men may possess certain mental faculties that remain to be superior.

Furthermore, for Hobbes a state of nature is equal to that of men acting in a constant state of war.

These discrepancies in the way they Hobbes and Locke view the state of nature manifest themselves into differing views about the motivation for governments. Because the state of nature is actually a state of war in Hobbes, governments arise out of necessity and the fear of death. This view is considerably more pessimistic than the Lockeian view wherein the state of nature is inconvenient, not a state of war.

In both Hobbes and Locke the state of nature is accompanied by a natural law. In Hobbes natural law is more of a guideline of how people should act, however they are not obliged to act in such a way. In fact, in the...