Thomas Hobbes And John Locke

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, where they agreed and disagreed concerning nature, natural law, and the nature of man in a state of war.

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 a enemy to every man." 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, and on the contrary, Hobbes sees government as necessary in order to control natural law.

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," 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.

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," 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.

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, and was the focus of many literary works throughout the Enlightenment.

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