Beginning from the separation of man from the animal world the human beings are interested by the question of what kind of rights they possess as an individual and what kind of rights they have with respect to society in which they live
Beginning from the separation of man from the animal world the human beings are interested by the question of what kind of rights they possess as an individual and what kind of rights they have with respect to society in which they live. This issue became the basis for works of many eminent philosophers and politicians such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, Mozi, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke etc. In this paper I will compare Locke’s state of nature with Hobbes and look more closely to transition of the state of nature to the modern understanding of society, referred to as the social contract. Firstly, I will explain briefly the concepts of the state of nature of each philosopher and have a look on their contract theories. Then, I will discuss the differences and similarities of both of philosophers’ approaches.
Thomas Hobbes’ defines his state of nature as the state of war, where “every man is against every man” (Hobbes, T. (1998), p. XX). People in Hobbesian account are all roughly equal. All of them possess similar rights despite any personal characteristics. In this term, the stronger can dominate over the weaker; however, if the weaker ones will unite in order to depose the stronger one, the hierarchy will change. Moreover, Hobbes states in his first law of nature that human beings in the state of nature have absolute freedom of action: “Every man has a right to every thing” (Hobbes, T. (1998), p. XIV). This view leads to the extreme that every man even can kill another one without any consequences since it is the part of their common rights. According to Hobbes, human beings are selfish and egoistic by their nature and all their endeavours will be aimed on destroying and subduing each other in pursuit of better conditions of life for themselves. Another interesting thing is that since people have absolute freedom to do anything they also have right to deny the rights of others justifying it by the preservation of own rights.
In the The Second Treatise of Civil Government John Locke supports the idea of equality and freedom of people in the state of nature. However, in his understanding these two terms have totally different meaning. Thus, according to Hobbes, the term of equality means that no one can have the power over anyone (Lemos, R. M. (1978), p. 4). In contrast to Hobbes’ point of unlimited rights of man, rights of people in Locke’s state of nature are restrained by so called law of nature. And, the law of nature is the law that created by God and prohibits harming of each other in any way (physical or psychological).
The state of nature in philosophers’ account represents the abstract conditions in of pre-political and even pre-social state. Both philosophers discuss their views on the nature of people and how the state should be governed according to this nature. These discussions became a basis for the concept of Social Contract Theory. Since in the state of nature the government and laws were absent, people had a hardships and oppression in the different layers of the society (Hobbes, T. (1998), p. XXXI). To solve this problem, people created two agreements: Pactum Unionis and Pactum Subjectionis (Laskar, M. E., (April 2013). p. 1). By the first agreement people wanted to protect their rights for life and property, and by the second one they came up with the idea of creation any form of authority to which people obey. However, by going more deeply to the topic of social contract, it becomes obvious that two philosopher had also different opinions on the political regimes that should be implemented in the state. For example, Hobbes, as the supporter of absolutism, considered people as selfish and egoistic by their nature. In his opinion, there should be absolute power over this kind of people in order to have stable and peaceful state. He insists that: “For the laws of nature (as justice, equity, modesty, mercy, and (in sum) doing to others, as we would be done to,) of themselves, without the terror of some power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions, that carry us to partiality, pride, revenge, and the like. And covenants, without the sword, are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all” (Hobbes, T. (1998), p. 111). Hence, according to Thomas Hobbes, the concept of social contract theory is tightly tied with the necessity of absolute monarchy in the state due to the reason of high level of individualism among the people.
Meanwhile the view of John Locke on the social contract is quite opposite. According to him, the state of nature was “a state of peace, good will, mutual assistance and preservation where men live together according to reason” (Locke, J. (1960). p. XIV).. It was the state of liberty (Locke, J. (1960). p. 9), where people were limited only by the Laws of Nature. People in such state had equal rights, no one would harm another. Moreover, they could possess property. In comparison to Hobbes’ state, the state of Locke seems peaceful and stable enough to not having any reasons for creating an authority. However, the existence of property in such state generated the necessity of having civil government, which will represent the executive power and establish commonly and legally accepted laws that would protect the private property (Laskar, M. E. (April 2013), p. 4). According to Locke, the main function of such authority is to protect natural rights of people and if it fails this mission then people can change the representatives of authority. Hence, the view of Locke on state of nature and social contract laid the foundation for modern understanding of liberalism and democracy.
One of the main differences of Hobbes’ Leviathan and Locke’s The Second Treatise is completely opposite views on possession of rights in the state of nature. As it was mentioned before, every individual in the state of nature have equal rights despite their capabilities. However, two philosophers had different understandings of equality. Hereby, the equality in the state of nature, according to Hobbes, brings absolute freedom of action, while according to Locke the possession of equal rights in state of nature is limited by law of nature. In such way, for example, in Hobbes account every individual has a right to harm another one or even kill him. The killing is the common practice for people in state of nature and does not need any justified reason. Since Hobbes considers the state of nature as the state of war where every man is against every man, it is obvious that self-preservation will stay on the first place and people do everything to protect their interest.
In contrast to Hobbes, Locke has completely different view on how equality in the state of nature should look like. Locke, as the true apprentice of religious studies, believes that people are the creatures of Gods and should follow the laws of nature, which state that people cannot harm each other. John Locke believes that a man have right to kill another man only as the consequence of the self-defense. It is seemed that this point is not different from Hobbes’s, because in Hobbes’s state people also harm others to preserve oneself. But the distinction is that pre-emptive action of harm infliction is unacceptable from moral perspective in Lockean state of nature.
The concept of property possession in Locke’s and Hobbes’ states of nature also differs (Davis, M. (2013), p. 275). According to Hobbes, it is impossible to possess private property in stateless society. Because of absolute freedom of action everyone can get anything they want. The scarcity of resources leads to the competitions and fights between people. Thus, since each individual is able and have a right to obtain what he or she needs using any methods, the notion of private property in such state cannot exist. There is nothing can be owned for a long time, because there is always a struggle for the possession of certain things. Because of it is necessary for people on a regular basis to show their power and prove that they have a right to own a particular object. Therefore, the assumption of existence of competition between people for a possession over limited recourses in the state of nature eliminates the notion of property as legal part of the state.
At that point, Locke’s account diverges from Hobbes’. In contrast to Hobbes’ state, Locke’s state of nature does not deny the existence of private property. As it was mentioned before, people in Lockean state are the creatures of God and follow the laws of nature, which are also created be God. This implies that people will not harm each other and if there will be such incidents of harming someone it will be considered morally bad. Because of that man in Locke’s state of nature can have a right for possession of property without being afraid that this property will be taken away by someone. As it is stated in The Second Treatise Of Civil Government: “Each may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another” (Locke, J. (1960). p.9).
Another key issue that differentiates in two philosophers’ studies is the idea of existence of morality in state of nature. According to Hobbes, the state of nature excludes such notions as morally right and morally wrong. In his opinion, people live by a rational account seeking comfortable conditions of life. Since everyone in such society has right to do anything it is unnecessary to have moral conduct of behaviour which will say what is good and what is wrong. That is why; the concept of religion also is uncommon for Hobbes’ society.
Locke’s account on state of nature is completely opposite. In his work, the philosopher says that “that mankind is to be preserved as much as possible” (Locke, J. (1960)). As it is already told, people do not have right to harm each other. It comes from Locke’s religious view that people are God’s property and that is why we should follow commonly accepted rules, Laws of Nature. Therefore, if there are rules which are followed by society then everything that does not coincide with that rules are wrong. From that point the conception of morality appears.
After the detailed examination of both Hobbes’ and Lock’s texts on State of Nature it can be concluded that there are more differences in their works than similarities. Despite the fact that both philosophers consider the state of nature as the state with absolutely equal rights, the core concept of equality diverges in their approaches. Consequently, since the idea of equality serves as the basis for further descriptions of the state of nature, all other aspects of man’s life in such state in their works also diverges. Moreover, due to the reason of different accounts on nature of human beings the philosophers’ views on the look of stable and peaceful state are also completely different. It is difficult to judge whether one philosopher’s account is more acceptable than other’s. However, connecting Hobbesian and Lockean works to modern states, it can be concluded that Locke’s account on the state of nature and consequently on social contract is more common for today’s world.