Similarities and Differences between

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					October 21, 2009
Philosophy 003 – Moral & Ethics
Instructor: John Nale
M. Sebastian Escotet Espinoza

                          Similarities and Differences Between
                       Locke’s and Hobbes Social Contract Theory

          In the 1600’s the political situation of England was being threatened by the

constant changes in political powers. Throughout this period two philosophers, John

Locke and Thomas Hobbes, argued the reasons and purposes of government and began to

establish different theories for the Social Contract known as the Commonwealth. Part of

their main argument, was the need of government and how government should be stated.

Different points of view and arguments they had to questions such as, why do men join a

political society? How did men live before government? What is the purpose of

government? What is our property? When are we able to overthrow our current

government? In this essay I will explain the similarities and differences between the two

schools of thoughts of these two philosophers with respect to their view of the State of


          The State of Nature, is, as conceived by both philosophers, the state in which all

men naturally exist, the time before any government or commonwealth is created or

convened. According to the Hobbesian argument, the State of Nature is an amoral state,

where there are no moral or ethic values. There are no laws in this state that rule men and

far less a common power to keep individual behavior in order. An important aspect in the

Hobbesian State of Nature, is that where he argues “Nature hath made men so equal in

the faculties of body and mind (…)” (H. pg 75). This argument allows us to interpret that

men where born as equals with no differences that would change this equality. This view
is similar to the Lockean argument where he states that men where born in a “perfect

state of freedom and equality.” (L. pg 8). Hobbes and Locke, furthermore agree in the

freedom of men after their birth, when they argue that there is no person which can

control them in such state, for they are free to do what they desire.

       Our differences begin after this equality and freedom is argued. For Hobbes, this

state of equality will bring discord amongst men, however Locke, will argue otherwise.

Discord, according to Hobbes, comes from the fact, that since we are all equal, we have

the same right to attain that what we desire, however, there will be scarcity, which will

create disputes amongst men. This disagreements and believe of scarcity will then derive

in the need to “destroy or subdue one another” (H. pg. 75) in order to insure our

participation in that we want to obtain and ultimately, insure our self-preservation.

Subsequently, this will create a perpetual state of disorder or war, where we fight for

those things we believe will be scarce and will be characterized by a continual state of

fear of violent death and war.

       Locke, on the other hand, believes that this equality shall bring peace amongst

men. Beyond from the fact that Locke believes that the earth is an abundant provider of

good, where nothing will be scarce, Locke argues that equality will not bring war to

people because there is a law that will not allow this to become a fight over those things

two men desire in common, a Law of Nature. Unlike Hobbes State of Nature, Locke’s

has a common law for all men, which states “being all equal and independent, no one

ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty or Possession,” (L. pg. 9) meaning that

no one can kill or fight another man for the goods that are common, because we will be

breaking the Law of Nature. In spite of the fact that there is a Law that will avoid men
from fighting over common goods, some men, will have renounced reason, and will

break the Law of Nature. This breaking of the Law of Nature, will unleash a momentary

state of war amongst the individual affected, considered by himself to be the victim, and

the transgressor of your natural rights.

       The existence of a Law of Nature in the State of Nature, represents one of the

biggest differences between the Hobbesian and Lockean view of the State of Nature. In

the Hobbesian State of Nature, men are allowed to do whatever they will to do, as of in

the Lockean State of Nature, there is still liberty to do what we will, just as long as it does

not break the Law of Nature. Hobbes believes in the “dominion over men being

necessary to a man’s conservation (…)” (H. pg. 75) meaning that men have to invade

and subdue others in order to insure their self-preservation. This, counters the Lockean

belief where we have to respect others life and liberty, according to the Law of nature.

       Another difference we can observe between Hobbes and Locke’s view of the

State of Nature, refers to the common wealth. Even though, both philosophers concur that

self-preservation is the most significant commodity in the State of Nature, Locke adds to

it the preservation of the rest of mankind. Locke believes that men are to have amongst

its priorities the preservation of all mankind while in the State of Nature. This argument

will be the foundation to the obligation that Locke gives men in which we are to punish,

with slavery or death, those who transgress ones rights and who have renounced reason

so they do not transgress the rights of other men.

       The existence of property in the State of Nature is another significant difference

between the Hobbesian and Lockean points of view of the State of Nature. According to

Locke, property can be obtained even when the commonwealth is not created, however
for Hobbes, there cannot be such thing. For Locke, property is defined as “Whatsoever

then he [men] removes out of the state of nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath

mixed his labor with (…)” (L. pg.19). on the other hand we can discern Hobbes view on

property when he states that in the State of Nature, where there is continual “war of every

man against every man (…) there be no propriety, no dominion, no mine and thine

distinct (…)” (H. pg. 78). With this, Hobbes contradicts the Lockean argument that states

that man can hold property in the State of Nature and ties directly the need of a

government to property in the Hobbesian system.

       Ultimately, we can determine a clear differences and similarities between the two

thinker’s points of view concerning the State of Nature. Both Hobbes and Locke argue

that men are born in the State of Nature equal and in complete freedom. They also agree

that men’s most important good is its self-preservation. In respect of the differences

between the two thinkers, we can summarize that Hobbes argues that the State of Nature

is a state of constant war and fear of violent death, where as Locke states that while in the

State of Nature, there could be war, however it is not always occurring. In the Lockean

State of Nature, there is a common law for all men, called the Law of Nature, which they

are allowed to uphold because the are political individuals, while in the Hobbesian state,

there is not such thing as political individualism and there is no Law of Nature to uphold.