In this essay I will be discussing Thomas Hobbes’ and John Locke’s interpretation of the social contract theory. I will then be evaluating Locke’s argument that his conclusions differ from Hobbes’ as he claims. My thesis is the following: John Locke’s argument that his conclusions are different from Thomas Hobbes’ conclusions is not valid. He makes no claim as to why people are motivated to enter into a social contract; he also does not establish where the understanding of personal property comes from. Thomas Hobbes suggests numerous things about the state of nature and the nature of man under no governing authority.
In the state of nature everything is fair game. Everyone has the right to everything present in the world and is not violating any laws when they seek these things. For example, one can steal someone else’s house if they are capable of doing so without violating any laws as there are none in the state of nature. “It is consequent also to the same condition, that there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine distinct…” (Leviathan. Chapter 14. ) In the state of nature everyone has the right to self defense; this is the right of self preservation which is the only right present under no governing authority.
Everyone is also always in competition for what goods are available in the state of nature. Because of scarcity people constantly battle with one another and this becomes the “war of all against all. ” The only motive is that of the individualistic nature and in that people are only driven by their desires. This constant battle of self interest makes life in the state of nature “nasty, brutish, and short. ” There are universal desires that govern over human nature. “So that in the nature of man, we find three principal causes of quarrel.
First competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory. ” (Leviathan. Chapter 13) Firstly all humans have a fear of violent death. Hobbes claims that we are all essentially equal despite differences in physical strength and we are all aware that we can all harm each other in some way. We also, in the state of nature, desire superiority over one another. Since we are all aware that we each posses these two desires (free of violent death and superiority over one another) we have the ability to hold it over each other.
This, in turn, causes civil war to break out in the state of nature with no governing authority. We are all so naturally fearful of one another that this makes us aggressive towards one another and in turn causes civil war. “To prudence, if you add the use of unjust or dishonest means, such as usually are prompted to men by fear or want, you have that crooked wisdom which is called craft; which is a sign of pusillanimity. ” (Leviathan. Chapter 10). Hobbes’ theory about the state of nature also claims that there is no rule of property in the state of nature.
All laws come from the sovereign (once established) and therefore no one can claim the right of ownership over anything. If one has the ability to take something from someone then they can do so in the state of nature. The person can then defend themselves as the right to self preservation is the only right present in the state of nature. Once a sovereign is established then the laws regarding property and life in general are established. The fear that individuals have in the state of nature drives them to seek a better alternative.
This alternative, Hobbes believes, is the rule of the sovereign. The ultimate authority of the sovereign is the conclusion that Hobbes draws from his arguments that life in the state of nature is “nasty, brutish, and short. ” People naturally gravitate towards an established government because the state of nature is essentially so horrible. There is no sense of what is right or wrong in the state of nature except the right to self preservation.
Hobbes claims that law does not transform us yet the law of a sovereign helps regulate the way in which we interact with one another (i.e. preventing civil war or war of all against all). People are willing to follow the laws established by the sovereign in order to ensure peace in the society and protect themselves against the fears that all individuals possess. The sovereign is established by the people and is therefore the voice of all the people live under his/her rule. The sovereign is established by the people therefore making it completely unacceptable to rebel against the rule of the sovereign. This is essentially Hobbes’ theory regarding the social contract.
People will give up their rights to a sovereign in exchange for a more peaceful life. “The only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort as that by their own industry and by the fruits of the earth they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men…” (Leviathan . Chapter 17. ) They are then completely under the rule of the sovereign and cannot question his/her decision in any case.
The sovereign has no check on his/her power at any point and they are supposed to use force to enforce the laws he/she has established. The sovereign is made up of all the wills of the individuals and is therefore the voice of the entire ruling body. No matter what the sovereign does they are always right because they have been given the authority (by the people) to do whatever they see fit for the peace of the land. If a law is not backed up by force by the sovereign then it is not truly a law of the land as people will violate it if they know they will not get caught.
People only obey the law because they are fearful of what the consequences are if they do not. In essence, justice and injustice are only established once the sovereign power is established. They govern in a way that they see best fit because the individuals, in their desire to escape the state of nature, gave up their freedom (the ability to do anything you desire without an obstacles standing in your way) to a sovereign. John Locke, on the other hand, believes that in the state of nature everyone is endowed with a certain number of rights.
We all have the right to be free of anyone “harm[ing] another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions. ” In life we are given these natural laws and we have a moral obligation to follow them even without a governing body. In essence, anyone who violates the natural law is subject to punishment from those who they have harmed in the state of nature. “…every man hate a right to punish the offender, and be executioner of the law of nature. ” (Second Treatise of Government Chapter 2. Section 8) This gives everyone the right of self preservation as well as the right to freedom.
In Locke’s case freedom is not to do what you please as driven by your desire but rather living under the laws of nature. In the state of nature everyone is equal and no one has authority over one another. “for in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs have a right to do. ”(Second Treatise of Government Chapter 2. Section 7) We are all assumed to understand that the laws of nature establish a society (even without a government) that is livable.
The law of nature is what is apparent to us by simply being born into the world. Property in the state of nature is already an established law regardless of the presence of government. Everyone has authority over his/her body in nature and therefore owns the labor in which they perform with their body. “Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.
” (Second Treatise of Government Chapter 5. Section 27)A person who fixes their labor with something is then the owner of the object in which they created. It is not enough to just mix one’s labor with something but one most create something of value in order to claim property rights over it. A person cannot simply pour a possession of theirs into the ocean and claim that they now own the ocean. A person has to create someone of value as in taking time out to make a chair out of wood, etc… This law of property is another law of nature that we are all assumed to be aware of.
People have the right to the property that they take part in creating in the same way that people of authority over their own body. An individual owns their labor but must produce something of value in order to claim that object “x” is their property. We enter a social contract in order to enlarge our freedom. A government in which the people have fully consented to that protects ones property and well being. The government that rules over the people is simply to protect the laws already established in nature.
People consent to a social contract because they believe that the government can better protect their natural laws than they can alone. “But though every man who has entered into civil society, and is become a member of any commonwealth, has thereby quitted his power to punish offences, against the law of nature, in prosecution of his own private judgment, yet with the judgment of offences, which he has given up to the legislative in all cases, where he can appeal to the magistrate, he has given a right to the common-wealth to employ his force…” (Second Treatise of Government Chapter 7.
Section 88) For example, if someone tries to steal one’s house they have the right to punish that person but may fail in doing so. In an established government one can be sure that the person who tried to steal the house will be punished. The individuals’ freedoms are simply being enlarged because the government protects the natural laws already established. A person’s freedom is also enlarged under a social contract when they are not subject to the arbitrary will of another person. A government is set up mainly to ensure that natural law is carried out and protect the well being of all individuals.
Locke believes that an absolute monarchy would go against this as absolute monarchs tend to rule through their arbitrary will. They can impose their rules on individual’s property and natural rights without being punished by a higher authority as there isn’t one. All in all, people enter a social contract in order to enlarge their freedom in the sense that natural law is protected by a governing body especially the right to property. An individual gives up the right to punish those who commit an act against the law of nature when entering a social contract as it is the government’s responsibility to execute the punishments fitting the crime.
I do not believe that Locke can make the claim that his argument is so different from Thomas Hobbes’ argument. Locke’s argument about the state of nature and natural laws is rather unconvincing. If we have all of these rights (property, self preservation, etc…) in the state of nature there seems to be no motivation to move to a social contract. Though Locke’s theory is more focused on individual freedom than Hobbes’ is I don’t see the motivation for giving up some rights to enter a social contract. We all have the right to self preservation and we all have the right to property, according to Locke.
If these two rights are natural to us then there is really no reason to have an established social contract. In the state of nature, Locke also argues that we all have the right to protect ourselves and the natural laws we have endowed to us. This sets up somewhat of a natural order without a governing body. I believe that it would make more sense to stay in the state of nature than give up your right to defend yourself against others when entering a social contract when depending solely on the government to defend you.
According to Hobbes we are all naturally fearful and that makes us aggressive in the state of nature. This seems like the only valid reason why people would want to enter into a social contract. If we all live in a state of war of “all against all” then it only seems natural that we would seek peace through an established sovereign. Locke does not give a clear picture of why people would want to enter into the social contract. Locke’s idea of enlarging freedom is not convincing in the fact that we already possess these rights and freedoms in the state of nature.
Why would we be driven to move out of that state in hopes of enlarging our freedom when we already have those rights? It only makes sense, which is Hobbes’ argument, that we enter a social contract because the state of nature provides us with no rights other than self preservation. Locke’s property argument is also very questionable. I don’t believe that we are born with the knowledge that we have authority over our bodies and are then therefore in charge of our labor and property that follows.
If there are no laws established by a government there would be no way to enforce the law of property whether or not we “mix our labor” with something to make it our own. A body of people without a governing party will not be able to execute the means to secure personal property. If someone steals something from someone else it is in the hands of the wronged to punish the perpetrator. An individual may not always have the means to do so and therefore they lose what they believed they had ownership over. Hobbes makes it clear that there are no rules in the state of nature other than self preservation.
Locke’s claim that there are property rights is not a very strong argument because he gives no justification for where this understanding of these property rights comes from. Individuals do not seem to have the capability to understand the nature of property unless they rules regarding property are established, as in the case of Thomas Hobbes’ idea of a sovereign. Bibliography: Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan. ” Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy. Oxford UP. Locke, John. “Second Treatise of Government. ” Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy. Oxford UP.