Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are probably the most famous political thinkers of the 17th century. The generally accepted view asserts that these authors were poles apart, the first one advocating an absolutist regime and the latter recommending a stable civil society where powers are separated. But their methodological demonstration follows the same pattern and Locke shares with Hobbes the same initial assumption: They suppose that the correct way to tackle questions of political obligation is through a thought-experiment: the description of the state of nature. They thus imagine a state of nature where individuals live in abstraction from all political institutions and superior control. Hobbes first expressed his conception of the state of nature in his most famous political masterpiece, the Leviathan published in 1651.
[...] The law of nature evoked by Locke is thus normative; it describes what people of the state of nature ought to do. But this general positive situation of the state of nature has a consequence: the possibility for the individuals to punish the transgressors of that holly Law of Nature. Indeed, since people initially all own the same natural rights, they also all posses the executive power of the law of nature. The entire population thus has the right to punish an offender so that he will not commit the crime again and so that others will be deterred from moral law breaking.This idea is derived from the moral obligation of every human being to preserve mankind and to punish the threats against everyone in the community. [...]
[...] And even if Locke's philosophy sometimes seems to be rooted in Hobbes' principles, we will see that their accounts of the imagined state of nature are sharply different. We'll thus try to compare Hobbes's and Locke's visions of the state of nature, regarding their nature, their essence, and their purpose regarding their conceptions of political power. Two strongly divergent views of human nature Preliminary remarks on the concept of the state of nature Before starting, it might be useful to recall few features of the notion of the state of nature itself. [...]
[...] This element is totally denied by Hobbes for whom there is no hope for men in such natural conditions. It is easy to guess at this stage of the discussion that Hobbes' and Locke's different accounts of human beings in their natural conditions and different perceptions of human activities in this state of nature will lead to contradictory political outcome. A different exit from the state of nature: Whereas Hobbes advocates a radical break, Locke underlines the necessary continuity between the state of nature and civil society Indeed, for Locke, the law of nature must inspire the laws of the legal state. [...]
[...] Locke insists first on the fact that people in the state of nature have the same set of natural rights (except some categories excluded: children, idiots ) simply by virtue of being a person. So the state of nature is not, according to Locke, a state of war. Because man is indeed a social animal ready to contribute to the preservation of mankind, human beings according to Locke cannot use each other as they use animals because otherwise they would transgress the equality given by God among men. Contrary to Hobbes', there is therefore no pre-given form of subordination in Locke's account of the state of nature. [...]
[...] As a consequence, and due the scarcity of things in the world, there is a constant, and logical, “bellum omnium contra omnes”. Famously, he believed that such a condition would make life "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." It is useful to recall that Hobbes's negative view of human character was shaped at least in part by the civil war in England at the time and influenced by the Christian doctrines of original sin. Hobbes has a much more pessimistic view on human nature, assuming that men are inherently selfish and that they are “wolves” for the others, ready to protect themselves and destroy the rest. [...]
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