In the following essay, I aim to provide a
comprehensive comparison between the political philosophies by Thomas Hobbes
and John Locke on the subject of ‘Human Nature’. This is attained
by taking into account the political writings of Hobbes from his book Leviathan
and Locke’s Second Treatise of Government.
Throughout the essay I analyse ‘Human
Nature’ by evaluating it in two key areas, the philosophical idea of ‘state of nature’, and the ‘social
contract theory’. Towards the end I provide an assessment of both
philosophical aspects leading to a concise conclusion.
The ‘state of nature’, as
outlined by many philosophers is represented as the case in which humans beings
would find themselves in the absence of authority, law and
order in the society. In the ‘state of nature’, inherent human nature
is driving force behind it. This means that the human actions in the absence
of an authority, distinguishes the environment from a hostile to a peaceful one.
Through this environment a civil society is further established.
Philosophically the conflict lies between distinguishing whether the ‘humans’ are
inherently good or bad? And what characteristics drive humans to
exhibit those characteristics. The concept of state of nature serves dual
purpose, not only philosophers use it to explain laws which are just by ‘nature’
without human intervention but also how humans living in a
state of nature conducts themselves. This brings us to the recurring
argument of Nature Vs. Nurture, whether state of nature (environment)
forms human nature or the exposure to ideas and values (nurture) forms human
Taking into account the writing of Thomas Hobbes, who was not only a political thinker but also a philosopher, Hobbes to an extent was an empiricist, to him all of our ideas are attained, directly or indirectly,
from sensation. He firmly believes in a causal process about perception, which
is largely the linkage of a causal chain of motions. (Hobbes T. The Elements of
Law) Hobbes can be considered a ‘psychological egoist’. In his work, the ‘Leviathan’
he paints the ‘Human
Nature’ both mechanistic and with cynicism.
Hobbes believes that human beings are intrinsically self centred and ruthless, therefore
any endeavour to make moral individuals out of them would be a waste of time
and energy, and if humans are allowed to execute their own decisions being in
the ‘state of nature’, there will be definite death. Thus existence because
of this human nature as defined by Hobbes, would be nasty, brutish
and short. It would be solitary and poor. (Heywood A. 1992, P27) Hobbes
continually establishes in all his works that human nature is very
pessimistic and uses the thought experiment of ‘state of nature’ to extract insights of human behaviour to
justify political actions in the real world. Human behaviour in the state
of nature is a case of perpetual war, with every man for himself. (Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan) It is because state of nature has an ever-growing scarcity
of essential resources for humans, for instance Hobbes considers that it would
be wise for individuals to intimate pre-emptive strikes upon others, towards
whom they feel are or would threaten their own resources and reasons of existence.
Human nature in a ‘Social Contract’ according to Hobbes is naturally
inclined towards self preservation. He advocates that because
human nature is so deeply engrossed with its own survival it would voluntarily
surrender their natural liberty by entering into civil union in which individuals
would exchange their absolute freedom for the assurance of the security offered
through a social contract. After entering the social contract, humans
would willingly yield their freedom to mighty sovereign. Hobbes asserts that all human beings are egoists, who
constantly seek to feed off their desires. Human beings naturally desire the
power to lead a better life and that this thirst will never be satisfied
without the acquisition of ever-growing power. Additionally he argues this leads to a successive new desires such as prominence and honour , pleasures
of flesh or being subjected to appreciation from others. He
argued that all humans have been made equal and everyone is
subjected to the same rights and potential of inflicting harm to each other. Although one individual might be physically powerful than another, the
weaker will be atoned for it his intelligence or some other personal trait. He
considers that at the root level, the nature of humanity will coerce
individuals to attain power and when conflict of similar wants arises
individuals will become nemeses and attempt to destroy each other. According
to Hobbes there are three objectives: rivalry, suspicion and honour. Within
each of these brackets, human nature would force people use
aggression to capture their enemies dominion either for personal advantage,
their welfare or for prestige. In the absence of a powerful
sovereign to bond the common masses, they would continue conflict. The
state of war was the actual state of humans
and the peace that exists among them is completely fake because it is
founded on a mutual accord of self preservation.
Interestingly Hobbes, who was an ardent
materialist, he believed that everything in the universe can be described
scientifically. The world to him was simply matter and motions and therefore
humans are simply
convoluted and sophisticated complex machines.
Comparing Hobbes despondent outlook on ‘human nature’, which commands towards the inevitability of humans to
quarrel and contest within themselves after society is broken down to its
basics. A separate philosopher, John Locke, argued that
collaboration and co-existence amongst individuals is attainable in the ‘state of
nature’ without the lingering fear of war.
The behaviour of human nature in the ‘state
of nature’ as written by Locke is entirely different than that of Hobbes.