Compare and contrast the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Hobbes (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679) and John Locke (29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704) differed not only in philosophical systems and period but also in temperament, with Hobbes' worldview being significant more pessimistic than that of Locke. What they both share in common are beliefs in the importance of reason and ambivalent or ambiguous views of Christianity, perhaps closer to deism or agnosticism than traditional Christianity.

Hobbes famously considered life in a state of nature to be "nasty, brutish, and short", with civilization and the authority of rulers being the only thing standing between humans and complete barbarism, exemplified by a state of constant struggle. Thus in political philosophy, Hobbes favors strong, absolute monarchs and mechanisms of state control, acting as a bulwark against our tendency to regress to barbarism. Hobbes was a materialist, whose account of the world was based on material causes rather than ideas and a nominalist with respect to language.

Locke famously considered the infant to be a tabula rasa (or blank tablet), but containing certain innate ideas or predispositions. Unlike Hobbes, he did not see a state of nature as evil but did agree that people are formed by their educations. In politics, he saw civilization as based on a social contract, in which the ruled and the rulers make agreements based on mutual advantage and legitimacy is conferred on rulers by the consent of those they rule. He was a strong advocate of religious toleration.

thetall eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were both English philosophers. Thomas Hobbes discussed and developed the social contract theory through his book Leviathan. The social contract theory was later supported and interpreted further by John Locke. This theory which was important to the two philosophers explains the relationship between the state and the individual. It asserts that individuals have agreed to relinquish some of their freedoms in order to establish an authority to protect their remaining collective freedoms. Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were supporters of liberalism. They both supported individual freedoms and equality.

The two philosophers differ in the sense that whereas Thomas Hobbes supported absolutism for the sovereign, John Locke supported the establishment of authority that is subject to the people. John Locke further differed with Hobbes in terms of revolution against the authority by the people. Locke supported revolutions while Hobbes supported absolutism. In this regard, Hobbes did not support the principle of separation of powers that Locke proposed in his discussions.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Locke and Hobbes have similar philosophies in that both of them believe that human beings in a state of nature would have a bad life.  Both of them feel that human beings must create governments in order to protect themselves from the dangers of the state of nature.

They differ, however, with regard to what they think these governments should be like.  Locke is famous for advocating a government that is based on the consent of the governed and is concerned with protecting their rights.  Hobbes, by contrast, believes that individuals must completely give up their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.

In this way, these two men have very different prescriptions for how to get out of what they both agree is a state of nature that is not conducive to human happiness.