Hobbes Locke and Rousseau Term Paper

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Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau

Locke defends toleration as a political good, arguing for a widespread general acceptance of different religious beliefs. His view of toleration does have some limits, and he states that an individual is in the state of nature by comparing that individual's state of nature to the state of nature of other people. According to Locke, two people can be said to equal when they are not governed by nor have a higher power to report to. He states this in LETTER, and expands by saying that people are in the state of nature when they do not have a common superior on earth to settle their disputes. According to Locke, the judge is not to be one of the parties to the dispute, since he cannot be his own superior. On earth, God is everyone's superior, but he does not adjudicate and enforce his decisions in this life. Locke states that actions that one must do for God cannot be enforced by any type of human actions, and also cannot be placed in effect by God. Even though God cannot do anything about this, these actions still fall into the state of nature.

Locke states that toleration is a political good because it preserves peace in society. For example, he states that if each person enforces the law of nature on their own initiative, acting on their own interpretation of the law of nature and on theirs own assessment of the facts, the result most likely will be confusion and conflict. This type of angry mob would lead to people disagreeing with each other and would result in people fighting and additional violence. On the other hand, if there was no such thing as a higher power, then people would not have a reason to fight because there would not be any conflict-taking place between people. According to Locke, everyone should renounce the right of private judgment, even the right to judge in one's own case. He believed that individuals should assist to enforce the judgment of the commonwealth, and not to attempt to enforce the law of nature unless absolutely necessary. According to Locke any kind of power or force is unacceptable and unwarranted unless someone is using force in response to self-defense or as a method of justifiable self-preservation.

Locke further stated that the undertaking to accept and enforce the commonwealth's judgments, although within limits, meant that individuals sometimes must enforce judgments that they may not agree with. He states that one must enforce the magistrate's judgment, even if they believed that the magistrate's judgment was not an implication of natural law. Locke additionally stated that when the magistrate's judgment was against natural law, the individual disagreeing with the judgment may abstain from assisting in enforcing the judgment. However, he states that one cannot help enforce the judgment, but one must not oppose it with force. Locke felt that as long as people obeyed for the good of all of society, they placed society's best interest at heart.

According to Locke, everyone, even those in positions of power, should not have any kind of private judgment and also should not be responsible for individually enforcing natural law. In other words, anyone with power cannot use force on anyone else, and that person in power must be treated on the same level as everyone else. Locke states that "as the private judgment of any particular person, if erroneous, does not exempt him from the obligation of law, so the private judgment of the magistrate does not give him any new right of imposing law upon his subjects which [was not] in the constitution of the government granted him (LETTER)." Lock believed that magistrates in their official capacity at times had to make and enforce judgments in which they privately did not agree with and were subject to the same political obligation as everyone else. In this way Locke defended toleration as a political good.


Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau describe different accounts of the state of nature, and as a result of their different described accounts, different political outcomes arise. In Leviathan, Hobbes discusses the elements of "liberty" and man's "natural state," defining liberty as the absence of opposition. Hobbes states that liberty is man's natural state in which man fully exercises his rights of nature. According to Hobbes, the manner in which politics are conducted on a daily basis goes in accordance with the manner in which human nature operates as well. According to Hobbes, this state of nature leads to crime, violence, and conflict and a life of hardship because no one can agree on anything and everyone remains fighting with each other. Hobbes demands that each individual has to give up private judgment if he or she wishes to live in a peaceful commonwealth. However, in doing this, one surrenders the majority of their freedoms, giving the "sovereign" all of their individual powers. According to Hobbes, "the liberty of a subject lieth, therefore, only in those things which, in regulating their actions, the sovereign hath praetermitted." What Hobbes means by this is that when individuals give up these liberties, they are only left with the very basic liberties, such as eating, and other personal business such as raising their children.

According to Hobbes, in order to escape the conflict-ridden and chaotic state of nature individuals must surrender all of their natural rights to the sovereign in exchange for a society filled with peace and social order. When this occurs, individuals are exchanging their liberty for order to a sovereign who retains all his rights to nature and can only be held accountable by God. The person in power only serves the people because that is how he will be judged by God. He only does this because it benefits himself in the long run. Hobbes' very bleak theory of human nature thus leads to different political outcomes from the political outcomes theorized by Rousseau and Locke. According to Hobbes, human nature appears to be governed by fear, and as such, political outcomes are largely the result of this fear. Therefore, when people commit certain acts, whether good or bad, it is because they are too scared to do anything else.

Rousseau's view of the state of nature emphasizes the role of compassion, by which he states that all people in society have a problem with seeing others have pain or tragedy inflicted on others, even to the point of feeling sorry for them. Rousseau states that man has such a natural and spontaneous compassion that is so strong that even when injured, humans in the state of nature avoid inflicting suffering on others. According to Rousseau, as long as man does not fight the natural urge of compassion and empathy, he/she will not hurt anyone else either. Rousseau states that compassion is a "virtue all the more universal and all the more useful to man in that it precedes in him any kind of reflection (Wootton, 426)." He states that man's attribute of compassion emerges as the only uniquely human characteristic, in comparison to man's attribute of self-preservation.

According to Rousseau, the expression of compassion culminates in man's first Golden Age, an era in which the earth belongs to all and all to the earth. In this Golden Age there is suffering, but no conflict because every man is equal to each other. Rousseau asks the redundant question, "what can be the chains of dependence among men who possess nothing? (Wootton, 430)." However, Rousseau explains that the Golden Age does not last forever, as inevitable comparisons among men cause natural inequalities to become more noticeable. In other words, natural inequalities such as differences in physical strength or intelligence play a significant role in the nature of the state. According to Rousseau, the nature of the state is "how much natural inequality must increase in the human species through inequality occasioned by social institutions (Wootton, 430)."

Locke's view of the state of nature can be compared to that of both Rousseau and Hobbes. His theory of the state of nature does not differ substantially from that of Rousseau's. According to Locke, if everything is commonly owned, then people would have no reason to fight about anything. Because of this simple view, Locke does not have as negative view of human nature as that of Hobbes, but similarly believes that the state of nature can deteriorate into a state of war. According to Locke, because of this, individuals all want a common judge that has the power to appeal to when disagreements with others arise. Locke believes that the nature of man is the basic equality of all men, by which he affirms "all men by nature are equal (Wootton, 310-327)." He describes the state into which men are born as that of a state "of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and…

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