Locke And Hobbes Two Main Seventeenth Century Philosophers Philosophy Essay

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5/12/16 Philosophy Reference this

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In the Name of God. Lockes Second Treatise on Civil Government. The Second Treatise of Government remains a cornerstone of Western political philosophy. Lockes theory of government based on the sovereignty of the people has been extraordinarily influential since its publication in 1690–the concept of the modern liberal-democratic state is rooted in Lockes writings [i] .

Lockes Second Treatise starts with a liberal premise of a community of free, equal individuals, all possessed of natural rights. Since these individuals will want to acquire goods and will come into inevitable conflict, Locke invokes a natural law of morality to govern them before they enter into society. Locke presumes people will understand that, in order to best protect themselves and their property, they must come together into some sort of body politic and agree to adhere to certain standards of behavior. Thus, they relinquish some of their natural rights to enter into a social compact [ii] .

In this civil society, the people submit natural freedoms to the common laws of the society; in return, they receive the protection of the government. By coming together, the people create an executive power to enforce the laws and punish offenders. The people entrust these laws and the executive power with authority. When, either through an abuse of power or an impermissible change, these governing bodies cease to represent the people and instead represent either themselves or some foreign power, the people may–and indeed should–rebel against their government and replace it with one that will remember its trust. This is perhaps the most pressing concern of Locke’s Second Treatise, given his motivation in writing the work (justifying opposition to Charles II) and publishing it (justifying the revolution of King William)–to explain the conditions in which a people has the right to replace one government with another [iii] .

Locke links his abstract ideals to a deductive theory of unlimited personal property wholly protected from governmental invention; in fact, in some cases Locke places the sanctity of property over the sanctity of life (since one can relinquish one’s life by engaging in war, but cannot relinquish one’s property, to which others might have ownership rights). This joining of ideas, limited government based upon natural human rights and dignity, and unlimited personal property, based on those same rights, makes the Second Treatise a perfectly-constructed argument against absolutism and unjust governments. It appeals both to abstract moral notions and to a more grounded view of the self-interest that leads people to form societies and governments (Locke.111-112).

Hobbes’ Leviathan

  Leviathan strictly argues that civil peace and social unity are best achieved by the establishment of a commonwealth through social contract. Hobbes’s ideal commonwealth is ruled by a sovereign power responsible for protecting the security of the commonwealth and granted absolute authority to ensure the common defense. In his introduction, Hobbes describes this commonwealth as an “artificial person” and as a body politic that mimics the human body. The frontispiece to the first edition of Leviathan, which Hobbes helped design, portrays the commonwealth as a gigantic human form built out of the bodies of its citizens, the sovereign as its head. Hobbes calls this figure the “Leviathan,” a word derived from the Hebrew for “sea monster” and the name of a monstrous sea creature appearing in the Bible; the image constitutes the definitive metaphor for Hobbes’s perfect government. His text attempts to prove the necessity of the Leviathan for preserving peace and preventing civil war [iv] .

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Leviathan is divided into four books: “Of Man,” “Of Common-wealth,” “Of a Christian Common-wealth,” and “Of the Kingdome of Darkness.” Book I contains the philosophical framework for the entire text, while the remaining books simply extend and elaborate the arguments presented in the initial chapters. . Hobbes depicts (shows) the natural condition of mankind–known as the state of nature–as inherently violent and awash with fear. The state of nature is the “war of every man against every man,” in which people constantly seek to destroy one another. This state is so horrible that human beings naturally seek peace, and the best way to achieve peace is to construct the Leviathan through social contract (Russelle. 533).

Book II details the process of erecting (constructing) the Leviathan, outlines the rights of sovereigns and subjects, and imagines the legislative and civil mechanics of the commonwealth. Book III concerns the compatibility of Christian doctrine with Hobbesian philosophy and the religious system of the Leviathan. Book IV engages in debunking false religious beliefs and arguing that the political implementation of the Leviathanic state is necessary to achieve a secure Christian commonwealth (Russelle. 534-536).

Locke and Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were two main political philosophers during the seventeenth century. Hobbes is the well known author of “Leviathan,” and Locke is the author of “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” In their essays, both men address the characteristics of man, natural law, and the purpose and structure of government. The two men have very different opinions of the characteristics of man. Hobbes sees man as being evil, whereas Locke views man in a much more optimistic light. They both agree that all men are equal according to natural law. However, their ideas of natural law differ greatly. Hobbes sees natural law as a state of war in which “every man is an enemy to every man.” (Russelle. 534). Locke on the other hand, sees natural law as a state of equality and freedom. Locke therefore believes that government is necessary in order to preserve natural law (Locke. 101), and on the contrary, Hobbes sees government as necessary in order to control natural law.

Human Nature

Hobbes and Locke see mankind’s natural characteristics in two very different ways. Hobbes describes the life of man as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short…” He obviously does not think very highly man. He also says that it is hard for men to “believe there be many so wise as themselves, [sic]” expressing his discontent with how selfish men are. Conversely, Locke views mankind’s natural characteristics much more optimistically. Locke sees men as being governed “according to reason.” He perceives men to be thinking, capable individuals that can coexist peacefully. Hobbes and Locke disagree on mankind’s natural characteristics, but the degree of their disagreement grows much larger with respect to natural law.

Both Hobbes and Locke see human nature differently, Hobbes sees people as being run by selfishness whereas Locke says that people are naturally kind. In our state of nature, Hobbes says we have no rights but Locke suggests that we have natural rights, God-given rights. Hobbes shows that humans are naturally evil that lays down the groundwork for his form of government. Hobbes and Locke’s theories differ greatly beginning with their views of human nature. Hobbes suggests that people are naturally, solitary, poor, nasty, and brutish. He also says that without authority mankind is selfish and egotistical. John Locke, on the other hand, sees people as being peaceful in their nature state. These different points of show how they formed their theory of the state of nature. Without a government people are put into their state of nature.

Hobbes’ theory is a pessimistic look at human being and the way they act around each other but Locke’s theory suggests that people are more easy-going and peaceful towards each other. As we see in the news daily, people are often cruel and inhumane, and we also see kinder people in everyday life. We see people who give up their own personal pleasure so they can serve others. But these people are far and few between, it becomes quickly obvious that humans are drawn towards self-happiness.

Natural Law

The main thing that Hobbes and Locke can seem to agree on, with respect to natural law, is that all men are equal in nature. For Hobbes, this equality exists in a state of war, in which “every man has a right to every thing.” He terms this state of war, a state of equality, because even “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” In Hobbes’s opinion, no one is superior, because they are all equal in their level of rottenness. Locke agrees that in natural law, no one is superior. However he writes, “the state all men are naturally in…is a state of perfect freedom… equality… and liberty,”(Locke.107) displaying his belief that men are sensible by nature, and can exist happily according to natural law, without the need for constant war. Locke does admit that war is sometimes necessary, but that one may only “destroy a man who makes war upon him.” In general, he believes that it is beneficial for humans to follow natural law.

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The Role of Government

Since natural law is good and not evil for Locke, it is therefore the role of government to preserve natural law. For Hobbes on the other hand, government must exist in order to control natural law. Hobbes reasons that people will abide by the laws the government sets, for “fear of some evil consequence.” Hobbes points out the selfish reasons for why man will follow government in order to explain how government is able to work, with men being so naturally evil. Locke sees government, as merely a preservation of that which is already good. Locke believes that people are willing to unite under a form of government so as to preserve “their lives, liberties and estates,” or in other words, their property. Since natural law is already good, government not only preserves natural law, but also works to enhance it.

The ideas presented by Hobbes and Locke are often in opposition. Hobbes tends to take a much more pessimistic stance; viewing men as evil, natural law as a state of war, and government as something that can wipe out natural law. Locke takes a much more optimistic stance; viewing men as free and equal and seeing government as only a preservation of the state they are naturally in. Despite the difference in their arguments, their ideas were revolutionary for their time. The interest they took in man’s natural characteristics, natural law, and the role of government, provided inspiration for, was the focus of many other works.

Hobbes and Locke both picture a different scene when they express human state of nature. Hobbes states that the condition of people before government was short, solitary, poor, brutish, and disorderly. But John Locke shows a different point of view, he notes three rights that are God-given and inalienable, these three are life, liberty, and property. Knowing what people do and don’t have the right to relates to how the government should rule their subjects. A social contract is an agreement between the people and the government in order to preserve order. Hobbes sees the government or ruler as a powerful sovereign. He named it “Leviathan,” which is the name of a giant sea serpent in the Old Testament that supposedly battled Yahweh. The people must trade their rights, power, and their desire to dominate in order to receive protection. This special type of protection punishes those who break the contract. Under Locke’s theory, the ruler must protect the people’s natural rights and the people must give up their power to rule each other. The government’s job is to keep the people happy by not overstepping their boundary.

People’s Right

Hobbes and Locke both agree on the fact that there is a point in time that it is not only the right but also the responsibility of the people to overthrow the government. The government must be stable in order to follow through on their side of the contract or they are bringing a revolt upon themselves. Hobbes says that the Leviathan must be taken out of power when he fails to fulfill his side of the contract. As Bertrand Russell also states about Hobbes’s Leviathan, “a man has no duty to a sovereign who has not the power to protect him” (Bertrand Russelle.538). Another limitation on the duty of the subjects to submit to sovereign lies in the right of self-preservation, that is: “a man has a right to refuse to fight when called upon by the government to do so” (Bertrand Russelle. 537). Under Locke’s rules, the government must be overthrown when any of the people’s three God-given rights are taken away or lost.

After viewing why a government should or would be overthrown we can look at Hobbes and Locke’s theory’s overall. Hobbes’ theory is a pessimistic look at human being and the way they act around each other but Locke’s theory suggests that people are more easy-going and peaceful towards each other. As we see in the news daily, people are often cruel and inhumane, and we also see kinder people in everyday life. We see people who give up their own personal pleasure so they can serve others. But these people are far and few between, it becomes quickly obvious that humans are drawn towards self-happiness. A morally pure person would look at their neighbor and think, “What can I do to help him?” whereas the more realistic perspective would be, “what would make me happy right now?” Hobbes’ form of government uses the natural state of man to create a way of living that would help everyone, so you can feel safe in a usually non-safe environment.

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