Thomas Hobbes vs. John Locke

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were to philosophers with opposing opinions on human nature and the state of nature. Locke saw humanity and life with optimism and community, whereas Hobbes only thought of humans as being capable of living a more violent, self-interested lifestyle which would lead to civil unrest. However, both can agree that in order for either way of life to achieve success there must be a sovereign. Hobbes was a philosopher who saw humans as a purely physical being.

He believed that all human actions can be explained through the motions in our bodies. According to Hobbes all feelings and emotions are a result of phantasms, our perception of the objects around us. This perception is a motion within our bodies and each person perceives these phantasms differently causing love, hate, desires, and what we think is good and bad. Every feeling that comes from ones perspective has a physical feeling, such as desires can cause certain pains and it is only human nature that one does whatever is needed in order to relieve those pains.

Hobbes therefore sees humans as being able, by their state of nature, to take or do whatever necessary for themselves even if it shows no regard for the other people their actions may harm. This inevitably would end up in a fight for survival or “the war of all against all”. In order to prevent such a war from happening Hobbes thought it necessary that the individuals must promise each other to give up their right to govern themselves to the sovereign for the mutual benefit of the people.

This sovereign then has absolute power to rule with no questions asked and not to only act on behalf of the citizens but to completely embody their will. In summation, Hobbes believed that society could only exist under power of the sovereign and that life in the state of nature is violent, short and brutish, as all men act on self-interest. Locke on the other hand, saw man by human nature as a social animal and that a moral law kept the individual from lashing out on others. He believed that by reason, man saw the value in private property and the common desire for a peaceful life.

In order to achieve this man understood that respect of ones neighbor was necessary. Despite the natural instinct for peace, arguments prove to be inevitable. For this reason, Locke believes that a written law is necessary to resolve disputes. A sovereign would tend to any conflict amongst the people as long as they had shown consent for it. Locke did not want the sovereign to be absolute, but instead enforce the natural laws that man already knew. To ensure that the sovereign not gain complete control Locke saw necessary the division of powers.

This would prevent whoever execute or administer the laws from making the laws as to make certain that they do not wave the laws in their favor. If the people all agree that this government is not doing what is in the interest of the majority they would then have the right to rebel. Overall, Locke’s ideas of the human nature and the sovereign show an obvious trust within this individuals of a society and that the desire for a peaceful life by the people will overcome any urge for violence.

Hypothetically speaking, there is a law today that forbids citizens to drive to church on Sundays, requires all citizens to attend a weapon instruction every 3rd Sunday, has a bias against people with blue-eyed grandfathers, requires that the citizens feed weapon instructors meals and a fine is enforced for any who break this law. The citizens, according to both the ideas of Hobbes and Locke in this situation would take action in different ways.

If this were a law enforced by the sovereign in accordance to Hobbes, as ridiculous as it may be, would be absolute and not negotiable. Although there is some aspects of this law that would never even make sense for the function of a sovereign according to Hobbes. First of all the sovereign is meant to benefit the people as a whole since they are considered unable to rule themselves peacefully, but by placing a law that excludes a group of people because of eye color is not a mutually beneficial law for the people.

There also serves no purpose in feeding the instructors only, this once again is only benefiting one group of people instead of the whole. However, Hobbes does state that under his ideas of the state of nature and sovereign, the people do not have the right to rebel, because they are not capable of making the right decisions and therefore, even if they wanted to, the citizens would not be able to take action against this law.

In Contrary to the actions of the citizens of Hobbes, Locke’s beliefs would allow for the people to stand up against the law if the majority saw it unjust. The citizens would take action against this law because there sovereign’s sole purpose is to enforce the natural laws already known to man. The laws that give man a right to private property and to live a peaceful life. A law as specific as allowing a weapons instructor to fine whomever they deem necessary is not in accordance to the original natural laws as stated by Locke.

In conclusion, Hobbes beliefs on natural law and his social contract would be seen in today’s world as a totalitarian form of rule. The ideas of Locke however, show a similarity in our society today, this is apparent in our government’s system of checks and balances or as Locke would say, a division of powers. The right to rebel is also something that we as Americans are fortunate enough to have. Both men have their influences on the world today, just as all history does. But it was Locke who’s ideas are still apparent within our community as we know it to be.