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Since nobody in the state of nature is ever really safe from harm no industrious enterprise can take place; this is because people won’t plough and seed fields for fear that someone else will come and steal the fruit of their labor from them. Moreover, apart from a very primitive system of bartering, nobody will engage in trade or commerce because they could do better to simply take what they want and keep what they already have. Hobbes does admit that there wont always necessarily be absolute war in the state of nature, just that everyone will always, at the very least, be in fear of it.

So far it seems that Hobbes has assumed that Human beings are indifferent to the suffering of their fellow men, caring only for their own good fortune. He believes that laws can only exist where there is a power to exert them, without government then, it is impossible in Hobbes’s view to break ‘the law’ under any circumstances. It is each and everyone’s natural right of liberty, to defend and protect themselves by any means possible in the state of nature.

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But Hobbes does not stop here, he also says that the state of nature has ‘laws of nature’ which are not to be thought of as moral laws, but rather rational conclusions that are apparent to all of us. He details nineteen of these laws, the basic claim of each being do not do to others that which you would not have them do to you. But despite these laws of nature, the state of nature is still a place of war and conflict. The reason for this, as Jonathon Wolff2 points out, is because people generally behave in their own best interests, i.

e. with their individual rationality, rather than in the best interests of all, i. e. with their collective rationality. Indeed, this is a point made abundantly clear in game theory, particularly in the prisoners dilemma3. Hobbes says that it is completely rational to disobey the laws of nature when we see others around us profiting at our expense by doing exactly this. Individual rationality then, is to blame for the Hobbesian state of war and it will ultimately be our fear of death which will lead us to create an organized society.

“the only way to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend {men}… and… secure them in such a sort. as that… they may nourish themselves and live contentedly; is , to confere all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills… unto one will” (Hobbes 1996, pp 120-121). Only with a powerful sovereign who has been endowed with the right to administer and deliver punishment to those who violate the law, can a stable society exist.

The first thing we shall notice about Locke is that he is entirely more optimistic about the state of nature, and the human psyche in general than Hobbes. He even goes so far as to suppose that life in the state of nature would be tolerable enough notwithstanding it’s lack of government. According to Locke then it would be a place of absolute freedom, absolute equality and subject to a law of nature. We do well to remember however that Locke is devising a set of moral standards rather than the psychological ones proposed by Hobbes.

Whereas Hobbes believed that with no enforceable laws, everybody had the right to further their own interests with whichever technique they preferred, Locke believes that one person has absolutely no moral right to harm or subjugate another person without their consent. Locke’s law of nature is also different to that of Hobbes, Hobbes proposed that no man should harm another so long as everybody else is also complying with this rule, but for Locke the reason that this rule should never be broken is that God alone has the power to give and take life.

Both philosophers use the term ‘natural liberty’, but for Locke this does not mean that a person can do whatever they please, he distinctly states that although the state of nature “be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license” (Second treatise s. 6, pp. 270-1). Basically for Locke, freedom is the freedom to do what the law of nature allows; I could not for example break into my neighbors house but this is not an interdiction of my natural liberties.

Locke believes that even in the state of nature, human beings have an obligation to restrain their behaviour, this is certainly an easier endeavour than in Hobbes’s world because Locke does not assume that goods and properties are scarce commodities; competition then would be minimal. Locke is no doubt thinking about the discovery of the new world and the growth of the British empire, nevertheless, even if people have a responsibility to behave according to the law, what’s to prevent them from not doing so?

For Locke it is clear that those who transgress the law should be punished, on the other hand, he doesn’t believe that any one person alone has the right to punish others (he was arguing against Robert Filmer who had claimed that kings had a divine right to administer justice and that their lineage could be traced to Adam) and so concludes that all must have this right. Hobbes would have undoubtedly assented to Locke’s belief that no one has been chosen by God to represent his will. Hobbes believes that this right to punish others is a natural right of all men and he calls it the ‘executive power of the law of nature’.

Not only can victims punish those who have done them wrong, but those who are too weak to take revenge may call upon the assistance of others. “each transgression may be punished to that degree, and with so much severity as will make it an ill bargin to the offender” (2nd treatise s. 12, p 275). Locke believes that even in the state of nature, everyone will do better if they are allowed to cultivate and work with land which is assured to be exclusively theirs and indeed modern economic theory confirms this conjecture4.

One of the most fundamental of our human rights according to Locke, is the right to private property. While Hobbes refutes the notion that in the state of nature there can ever be property rights, Locke as we remember, believes that god given laws can be enforceable by the executive power of the law of nature. Contrarily Hobbes, believing that in the state of nature only the strongest survives, would say that more often than not, people wouldn’t make use of their right to punish lawbreakers simply because these same lawbreakers might be able to retaliate with greater strength.

We might speculate then that Locke’s state of nature may be just as antagonistic as Hobbes’s, although the former sees the dispute of how to execute justice as more problematic than anything else. Locke does believe that land will ultimately become scarce, but unlike Hobbes who sees this as a natural consequence of demographics, Locke believes that is will be the result of the invention of money.

Before the existence of money, Locke says that no one would have had good reason to take more of anything than they needed but with the arrival of money, landowners could transfer their property in hard currency which could be stored for a later date. Even with the scarcity of land, Locke does not believe that the Hobbesian war of all against all would be a sure thing, but admits that the confusion and anarchy which would result would only get worse and worse without central leadership.

Both philosophers then recognize that an organized governing body is good for man but their conjectures of what this should be are largely different. While both would admit that no one has been specifically designed for the purpose of leading mankind, Hobbes believes that the sovereign would absolutely be outside of the social contract, while Locke believes that any ruler or ruling body would definitively be a part of it. This means that, Hobbes’s sovereign would be given total immunity for his actions and would be beyond reprise.

Locke disagrees with Hobbes’s position, not only does he say that “no man in civil society can be exempted from the laws of it” (second treatise, 94), he also goes as far as to speculate that if the ruler is no longer serving his citizens and acting in their best interests, a revolt against him by the people may be justified. Locke considers Hobbes’s formula to be a dangerous form of tyranny. According to Aristotle, man is fundamentally “a political animal”5 and all social contract theorists are opposed wholeheartedly to this theory.

For the social contract theorist individuality existed before civil society and for Hobbes’s individual rationality before collective rationality. While Hobbes’s description of people as animalistic and predatory in the state of nature is distinctly pessimistic, Locke’s analysis seems relatively optimistic, that is, he considers humans to be innately aware of morality. Certainly both men were great visionaries and seminal thinkers; both believed that all men, regardless of what class they are born into are equals and Hobbes influenced the mindset of his own contemporaries by questioning England’s parliament and France’s papal system.

Locke for his part, was a precursor to and often cited hero for the American revolutionists and his theory of the government by the people and for the people certainly prepared the ground for the American declaration of independence.

Bibliography. Wolff, Jonathan. An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996. Cohen, Martin. Political Philosophy: From Plato to Mao. Pluto Press, 2001. McKinnon, Catriona & Rosen, Michael & Wolff, Jonathan. Political Thought (Oxford Readers).

Oxford University Press, 1999. Sinclair, Elsa M. & Strauss, Leo. The Political Philosophy of Hobbes : Its Basis and Its Genesis. University Of Chicago Press,1996. Goldie, Mark. Locke: Political Essays (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought). Cambridge University Press, 1997. 1 An ancient Persian city. 2 An Introduction to Political Philosophy. 1996. 3 A game which analyses cooperation. See The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod. (1884) 4 Economists almost unanimously advocate specialization in the work force.

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