Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

Today in class we discussed the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Thomas Hobbes states that in mankind’s natural state, without government,  people are naturally selfish, caring not for others but only for their own personal wellbeing. On the opposite end of the spectrum, John Locke believes that humans are naturally reasonable and tolerable of each other. Although rather pessimistic, I believe that history has proven Hobbes’ theory on human nature to be correct. When governments break down, and society collapses into chaos, people lose interest in the wellbeing of others, and focus primarily on their personal safety and survival. In Somali for instance, the government is in control of the northern half of the country, while the southern half is completely out it’s jurisdiction. In this half of the country, murder, looting, and rape rein. Leaving me to believe that people in their natural state are inherently malevolent, as dismal as this may sound.

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10 Responses to Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

  1. Pingback: Where does Hobbes go wrong? | Revolutions

  2. rladov2015 says:

    Grahm,
    I completely agree with you. After having spent the class today furthering our knowledge into the minds of Hobbes and Locke, I am too lead to believe that Hobbes’ philosophy is the one followed by most people today. For instance, in a perfect world, Locke’s philosophy would be more relevant, however, as Dr. Korfhage said today in class. We do sometimes walk down a street and begin to think about what could happen as we approach another person, so we somewhat get mentally prepared for the worse. This does happen in everyday life and because it does happen, the society that we live in is more so that of Hobbes’ philosophy, than of Locke’s. Humans all being tolerable of each other is almost as impossible as world peace. No matter what society we live in, it will always be that of Hobbes’ philosophy because no matter what, you are looking out for yourself, and in a crisis or war situation, it is every man for himself.

  3. ageyelin2015 says:

    I agree, but i also think that in the right conditions, Locke’s philosophy can thrive where Hobbes’s can not. For example, the American government is largely based on the philosophy of Locke, and it has been, in my opinion successful. We have a just system, and a civilized society. on the other hand, civilizations with absolutist government have failed time and time again. While Hobbes’s purpose of government is to prevent people from killing/initiating chaos, the humanistic factors that cannot be broken down so simply continue to refute this. People can not be simply “kept from killing” by an absolutist government headed by one person, which is why Locke’s opinion on government’s purpose being to prevent the individual’s liberties has proven most effective.

  4. Dr. K says:

    Is some middle ground possible? Can I say that Locke is right that people have a sense of their moral obligations to others (and so aren’t purely self-interested), but still bad things will happen when government collapses? After all, is Hobbes is right, people will cheat whenever people aren’t looking. Do you think that is correct?

    • Lauren says:

      I was having a conversation with my dad today about Locke’s beliefs and Hobbe’s beliefs and I believe there is an absolutely a middle ground between both their views. Firstly, I agree that humans are naturally self serving rather than looking out for the good of others, but where I think Hobbe’s was at fault in his theory of government was giving certain humans absolute power and control, but what makes them any less self serving than the people they are ruling. Because if we are going to use the excuse that in the natural state of life, humans can’t govern themselves, aren’t humans naturally equal as well. This is why I believe that Locke’s overall views are more accurate and effective, because he is not saying that there should be no government, instead he mentions some form of Legislation. Hobbe’s major flaw in his theory was giving power to people just as self serving as the people they are ruling. This is usually the main problem in tyrannical societies today because rulers don’t want to be selfless, but they instead abuse their own power. Hobbe’s was more accurate about human nature, while Locke was more practical about the role of a government.

  5. Graham says:

    Alex I believe that Locke’s theory on Government is more accurate then that of Hobbes, while Hobbes’ theory on human nature is more accurate. Although I do believe that there can be some middle ground between Hobbes and Locke as far as human nature is concerned.

  6. Dr. K says:

    So, Graham, where does Hobbes’s logic fail him? Why is he right about human nature but wrong about government?

  7. Trevor says:

    Graham,
    Although I agree that a Government based off of Locke’s philosophy is what needs to be strived for, I’m wondering what makes you believe that Locke’s theories on Government are a more accurate description of the world today? Although the Western world may have appearance of being a Locke based society, there are still many places in the rest of the world where the government grants the people very few personal liberties, which completely contradicts Locke’s ideology. Even within the U.S. government, there are constant powers struggles going on, and leaders are often forced to say what the people want to hear, rather than what they may truly believe, in order to claim positions of power. In my opinion, some figures in the government are losing sight of the people’s best interests, and thinking primarily of their own, a main a idea of Hobbesian philosophy.

  8. Megan says:

    Graham, although I would like to believe that people are intrinsically good and moral, I do see evidence that selfishness is part of the human race’s natural state. However, I respectfully disagree with both your rand Hobbes’ idea that humans are completely absorbed with their selves. Instead, I think that humans have a blend of both moral and self-interested qualities. For example, in the case of the American Revolution, the English government failed to give basic rights to the people of the colonies. While the British Empire at the time could be a good example of Hobbes’ philosophy, the people of America showed that Locke’s theory of human nature also has basis in the world. Instead of rebelling out of selfish anger, the Americans gathered together to fight for a shared freedom, a freedom not just for the individual, but also for his/her neighbors, friends, and family. Locke’s theory is also evident in the character of George Washington, who was offered the position of king but selflessly turned it down to prevent a situation similar to the Revolutionary War from ever happening again. He wanted freedom and happiness for his people, not just for himself. I can see his Lock-based philosophy shine through in America today. After all, our pledge of allegiance says “liberty and justice for all,” not just “for me.”

  9. Casey says:

    I do agree with Graham that Hobbes point of view on the natural state is the correct one. Now, although I maintain this point of view, I believe that an absolutist government is completely unnecessary and that a Locke type government like ours does a great job of not letting chaos erupt. When absolutist governments are in charge leaders get way to power hungry and controlling and end up hurting everyone. As we talked about in class, Hobbes thought that in his style of government people never had any right to revolt as their “social contract” was between themselves and as long as their ruler wasn’t killing them and kept them from killing each other they had to obey the rulers every command. I find that ridiculous because there is a much greater chance of having a government that people would need to revolt against in an absolutist government.

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