Essay on Social Contract Theory: Locke and Hobbes

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1109 Words
Date:  2021-07-05

Lockes social contract theory alludes that human beings are bestowed with certain God-given natural rights to health, liberty, life and possessions. According to Locke, the state of nature is a moral state where human beings are born and accorded with God-given natural rights. Lockes social contract theory affirms that nature accords human beings natural rights that are more moral than instinctual and the rights derive their authority from God. Locke suggested that individual political states should be evaluated of how they will protect the natural rights of individuals that live in those states. According to Locke, a good state is one that maximizes natural rights of individuals. According to Lockes social contract theory, an ideal state is one where all citizens consent to be ruled by a government that is elected by the majority as long as the government protects the natural rights of those individuals (Waldron, 1989).

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John Locke was a classical empiricist. Empiricists believed that all knowledge is obtained from experience. Locke was of the opinion that at birth, the mind is a blank slate, void of characters and without any ideas. However, with time, through experience and acts of reflection, the mind becomes informed. According to Locke, simple ideas originate from a persons sense and a combination of simple ideas brings about complex ideas. According to Locke, there is a real world that has real primary qualities. A real quality must be a real thing, and real things are substances. Everything that is in the world is either a substance or a characteristic of substance. According to Locke, human beings have a natural right to any part of nature as long as we mix our labor with that part of nature.According to Locke, one can accumulate as much natural property as possible as long as it does not spoil in its accumulation, there is enough that is left for others, and its accumulation is not harmful to other individuals. Locke suggested that it was possible for property to be accumulated without being injurious to anyone. Lockes theory suggests that nature is in a state of abundance (Waldron, 1989).

Hobbess social contract theory allude that out of selfishness of human beings and to avert violence and disorder that is likely to occur as every human being pursues his or her interests in society, there is a need for an authority (a sovereign) with absolute power that would ensure that order and peace prevails in any given society. Absolute power in this context could be a monarch or a parliament. However, Hobbes was skeptical if there is anything that could prevent the sovereign from abusing power. In conclusion, Hobbes affirmed that even though it was inevitable for the sovereign not to abuse power, the sovereign was a better alternative when compared to horrors of anarchy that would take place in a state of nature (Korosec, 1992).

According to Hobbes, the only thing that existed in certainty was bodies in motion. Hobbies did state that there exists everywhere only bodies. Hobbes did also state that there was an existence of thoughts, albeit in a subtle manner. According to Hobbes, thoughts were phantasms which refer to shadows of brain activity that had no practical effect on the physical system. Hobbes was a soft determinism; he believed that freedom and determinism are congruent. Freedom was regarded as unimpeded movement. An unimpended movement could be like the flow of water down a channel in a necessarily and freely manner. Hobbes was very pessimistic in his view of life. According to Hobbes, every living organism obeys the laws of individual survival. Therefore, all human beings are motivated by the quest for power and to further their self-interests. Hobbes did assert that it is impossible for human beings to act out of a selfless concern for the interests and wellbeing of other individuals. Human beings only act in ways that cater for their self-interests. Altruism is impossible, and it is a bad idea. Hobbes affirmed that even though many people have the view that egoism is immoral, many of them behave out of egoism. Hobbes firmly believed that all voluntary acts that are committed by man are done with an intention to further their personal good. According to Hobbes, anyone who argues that human beings do not act out of self-interests is stupid, ignorant or self-delusional. Hobbes egoistic theory of motivation states that human behavior is influenced by a desire to pursue self-interests. However, Hobbes believes that there is an artificial monster (the Leviathan) or a regulator that inhibits man from pursuing their selfish interests in a full blown manner. The Leviathan compels a man to take part in some selfless activities out of the fear of being labeled a selfish individual. There are instances of human behavior when the Leviathan reigns supreme over an individual Korosec, 1992).

Hobbes used the state of nature example to strengthen his argument. A state of nature is one that is dominated by fear and scarcity. As a result, every man is an enemy to another man with everyone pursuing his interests. In a state of nature, life is short, brutish, short, nasty and brutal. There is no law or morality in the state of nature. There is only one natural law in the state of nature- the right to protect oneself by using any means possible at ones disposal. Any means possible in this context involves violence and murder. Hobbes went ahead to give an apt example of the state of nature. Hobbes did state that if two people were on a desert island and the coconuts that were available were not abundant for the two of them to eat, none of them will have a peaceful sleep lest one bashes the other with a rock so that he or she could get all the coconuts. In this context of coconuts, rationality could be applied so that the two people agree on how to share the coconuts to avoid violence, but in a state of nature, rationality does not apply. In a state of nature, there is mistrust and rationality is less likely to prevail. In Hobbess theory, there is no mention of God. Hobbes alleged that there was nothing like a natural right to property because, in nature, there is only possession, not property. According to Hobbes, as long as a person can get hold of an item and keep it that is his possession. Hobbes theory suggests that nature is in a state of scarcity (Korosec, 1992).


Korosec, G. (1992). Hobbes and the theory of social contract as the context for Kant's political philosophy. Filozofski Vestnik, 13, 97-113.

Waldron, J. (1989). John Locke: Social Contract Versus Political Anthropology. The Review of Politics, 51, 1, 3.

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