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Comparison Of Thomas Hobbes And John Locke: Human Nature

1546 words - 6 pages

Amidst the bloodshed of the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes realizes the chaotic state of humanity, which gravitates towards the greatest evil. Hobbes’ underlying premises of human nature–equality, egotism, and competition–result in a universal war among men in their natural state. In order to escape anarchy, Hobbes employs an absolute sovereignty. The people willingly enter a social contract with one another, relinquishing their rights to the sovereign. For Hobbes, only the omnipotent sovereign or “Leviathan” will ensure mankind’s safety and security. The following essay will, firstly, examine Hobbes’ pessimistic premises of human nature (equality, egotism, and competition), in contrast with John Locke’s charitable views of humanity; secondly, determine whether Hobbes’ resultant state of nature (an all out war) necessarily follows from his premises; thirdly, discuss whether Hobbes’ absolute sovereignty sufficiently preserves mankind in light of Locke’s separation of powers; and ultimately determine the validity and soundness of Hobbes’ political theory.
Hobbes structures his “Leviathan” from basic underlying assumptions of the state of humanity. First, Hobbes believes, “Nature hath made men equal in the faculties of body and mind” (Hobbes 74). Fundamentally, all men are equal. Even physically weaker men can make plots or conspire with others to defeat the stronger, thus equalizing physical capabilities. Mental prowess depends on experience and as men mature they gain knowledge, thus equalizing intellectual faculties. Therefore all equal men must share in the same desires. All men seek to achieve pleasures and try to avoid dangers, thus desire motivates their actions. Hobbes’ second premise says, “All the voluntary actions of men tend to the benefit of themselves” (Hobbes 91). Every individual aggressively pursues his own needs without regard for others. Self-centered human nature drives men to egotism. Yet in a world of limited resources, as one man strives to satisfy his desires, he naturally diminishes other men’s opportunity to fulfill their own needs, thus creating Hobbes’ third premise: competition. In human nature, “From equality of ability ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends. And therefore, if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless the cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and . . . endeavour to destroy or subdue one another” (Hobbes 75). Men compete with one another to gratify their desires and thus become enemies. Consequently, competition begets jealousy, envy, and hatred, which sparks war among people. Hobbes’ three premises of human nature, equality, egotism, and competition, set the stage for an all out war.
In contrast to Hobbes’ pessimistic outlook, Locke places trust in the goodness of human nature. “This equality of men by nature . . . [obligates] mutual love amongst men, on which he builds the duties they owe one another . . . the great maxims of justice and charity” (Locke 8). While...

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