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Right of Rebellion: Thomas Hobbes vs. John Locke

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  1. Introduction
  2. Opinions on good and evil
  3. Men enter society to secure what they value
  4. Conclusion

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were two prominent political thinkers. Although both advocated theories of social contracts and natural law, they have distinct views on human nature, laws of nature, and why a civil society should be formed. In particular, both Hobbes and Locke differ in how they believe that men should respond to tyranny. Locke believes that a government that does not fulfill its obligations should be dissolved, whereas Hobbes disagrees declaring that no man has power over his sovereign leader. In order to explain why their opinions differ, it is crucial to understand both views on men in the state of nature, what compels them into civil society, and what constitutes individual-state relationships once a common power has been formed.

To begin, Hobbes and Locke hold very different views on human nature. Hobbes views men as ?irrational,? ?brutes,? and ?nasty?, being solely driven by their own self-interests. He states that men constantly pursue their self-interest and only seek society for honor and profit, out of a personal desire for gain and glory. This leads to competition and differences among men, along with a need to protect one's reputation. In opposition to this theory, Locke believes that men are more rational creatures, having the ability to live together according to reason and mutual interests. Men, according to Locke, do not compete with one another, nor do they uphold their reputation as Hobbes' claims because they are able to suffice by their common desire to live in peace. Yet, until a common power exists, men of these kinds live in the state of nature with one another, lacking common standards to live by.

In the state of nature, Hobbes describes each man as having his own opinions on what is good and evil. Since there are no common standards, every man has unique desires and is driven by his own will. He uses all his faculties to satisfy his desires. This inherently creates a constant state of war between people. In the state of nature, every man is against every man. In addition, Hobbes declares that because all men are born equal, all men are equally capable of harming each other. Hobbes stated that ?The most frequent reason why men desire to hurt each other, ariseth hence, that many men at the same time have an Appetite to the same thing; which yet very often they can neither enjoy in common, nor yet divide it; whence it follows that the strongest must have it, and who is strongest must be decided by the Sword.? This creates chaos and compels men to compete with each other, constantly in fear of their own lives. Because this state of nature is so insecure, men share one common belief- that the greatest good is self-preservation and the greatest evil is death. The foundation of Hobbes' society was formed because of this mutual fear between men. Locke's state of nature is quite different.

[...] Hobbes seems to imply that strictly ordered government is preferable to the state of war that constantly occurs in the state of nature. Locke also advocates a social contract between the people and a supreme power, although Locke does not suggest absolute monarchy as the best form of government. He outlines other types of government and supports whichever best serves its people. In a similar fashion, men also give up their rights to a superior power, in exchange for the protection of their interests. [...]


[...] Both Hobbes and Locke do not dispute that the greatest fundamental law of nature is to seek peace. The formation of a civil society remedies the issues in both states of nature, and provides assurance and security to the peace and good of the common people. Hobbes' men seek preservation of their lives, while Locke's men seek the preservation of their property (which includes their lives, liberties, and estates). Therefore, Hobbes and Locke theorize government and civil society to govern and protect the people's interests. [...]

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