Thomas Hobbes Questions and Answers

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How does Hobbes's view of government differ from John Locke's?

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Ultimately, Thomas Hobbes is a defender of absolutism while John Locke is a critic of it (and a defender of the Parliamentarian side in the English Civil War) and their respective differences carry backwards all the way to their respective understanding of the State of Nature (a hypothetical thought experiment by which philosophers try to imagine what humanity would have looked like before the rise of governments, in order to discern the original purpose of government).

Hobbes, as said before, had a very negative view of human nature. For Hobbes, without the order imposed by government, human beings will abuse one another, and all their worst impulses will run wild. Governments restrain those impulses, and from this perspective, no matter how oppressive or autocratic a government is, it remains legitimate in Hobbes' mind, and should be obeyed.

Locke's understanding of the original Social Contract is very different from Hobbes (though perhaps more nuanced than it is often given credit for)....

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Both Hobbes and Lockes theories on government center around the idea of a social contract. The social contract theory itself establishes that people must give up certain "natural" rights to a central authority figure, usually for protection, in order to maintain a harmonious existence.

Hobbes and Locke view of government both consider the natural state of human beings without intrusion by authority figures. This concept is referred to as the "State of Nature" and gives government it's reason for existence.

In Hobbes view, the state of nature is a place of pure anarchy where people do what they feel like without regard for morals or conscience. Hobbes did not believe that good or evil existed in the state of nature (Thornton, 2005). “Natural man, good was simply whatever pleased him, and evil whatever displeased him” (2005, p.18). In Hobbes view, “good was relative to person, place, and time and the nature of good and evil follows from the nature of circumstances” (2005, p 19). Good and evil in natural law was dictated by the passions (sympathy and antipathy). Therefore, it was strictly dependent on the individuals own passions on the kind of ideas that was good or evil. As a result, or disagreement on good and evil, warfare erupts. The "Hobbesian" government requires that a social contract be enforced by a central authority figure after individuals agree to give up certain rights. Some people believe the Hobbesian view on government advocates for dictatorships as Hobbes very strongly expresses that a central authority (like a King) is necessary to enforce the social contract.

Lockes view on the state of nature is more benevolent. Locke believed that human beings are bound to the laws of reason; which Locke viewed as a natural morality. Locke did not feel an institutionalized government (or central authority figure) was needed to enforce a social contract, rather, he advocated a delegation of individuals who gave voluntary consent to an authority to figure without giving up any natural freedoms.

Sources: Thornton, Helen. State of Nature or Eden?: Thomas Hobbes and His Contemporaries on the Natural Condition of Human Beings. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester, 2005