What are the differences between Thomas Hobbes' and John Locke's concerns with the conditions of the state of nature?

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jake440 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On the whole, John Locke had a far more optimistic view of nature than Thomas Hobbes. Locke believed that every child comes into the world with a blank slate, or tabula rasa. In other words, we come into the world without any pre-existing mental content, and our knowledge and personalities form based on our experiences. This assumption became the basis for John Locke’s theory of knowledge, in which he theorizes, in the tradition of Aristotle, that knowledge comes as a result of interaction and experience with the outside world, as opposed to introspection.

In contrast, Thomas Hobbes believed that humans come into the world with an inborn animalistic nature that predisposes us towards selfishness. According to Hobbes, the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” It is only through establishing a social order that humans can overcome this rather miserable state of affairs. By abdicating some of their power to social authority, humans gain freedom through protection to live their lives without the self-interested interference of others. This arrangement is often called a social contract.