Thomas Hobbes v. John Locke

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Thomas Hobbes v. John Locke

Background: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were philosophers that wrote about government and theorized about man in the state of nature. They both talked about man’s nature and how government is a form of SOCIAL CONTRACT—but had different view of both the state of nature and the proper form of government.


  • State of Nature

  • Natural Rights

  • Social Contract

  • Government

  • Absolutism

  • Democracy


Directions: Read the following excerpts from Hobbes Leviathan and answer the questions below.

EXCERPT #1: About State of Nature

Hereby it is manifest that, during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man. And therefore, if any two men desire the same thing which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and, in the way to their end, which is principally their own conservation and sometimes their delectation only, endeavor to destroy or subdue one another. [Hence, life in the state of nature is ]“nasty, poor, brutish, and short.”

  • How does Hobbes view the state of nature?

  • Why are men at war?

  • What does this say about how human nature?

EXCERPT # 2: About Gov’t

The only way to govern… is to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men, that may reduce all their wills, by plurality of voices, unto one will: which is as much as to say, to appoint one man, or assembly of men, to bear their person; and every one to own and acknowledge himself to be author of whatsoever he that so beareth their person shall act, or cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and safety; and therein to submit their wills, every one to his will, and their judgments to his judgment. This is more than consent, or concord; it is a real unity of them all in one and the same person, made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner.

  • What type of government does Hobbes think is the correct form of government? Why does he think this?

  • Do you think Hobbes sees government as a good thing?

EXCERPT # 3: Of Other Laws of Nature

From this fundamental law of nature, by which men are commanded to endeavor peace, is derived this second law: that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself. For as long as every man holdeth this right, of doing anything he liketh; so long are all men in the condition of war. But if other men will not lay down their right, as well as he, then there is no reason for anyone to divest himself of his: for that were to expose himself to prey, which no man is bound to, rather than to dispose himself to peace…

Right is laid aside, either by simply renouncing it, or by transferring it to another…

The mutual transferring of right is that which men call CONTRACT….

Again, one of the contractors may deliver the thing contracted for on his part, and leave the other to perform his part at some determinate time after, and in the meantime be trusted; and then the contract on his part is called PACT, or COVENANT….

• What does Hobbes conclude concerning the rights of man in relation to making peace?

Two Treatises of Government (1690)

John Locke

Excerpt 1:

To understand political power, we must consider the condition in which nature puts all men. It is a state of perfect freedom to do as they wish and dispose of themselves and their possessions as they think fit, within the bounds of the laws of nature. They need not ask permission or the consent of any other man.

The state of nature is also a state of equality. No one has more power or authority than another. Since all human beings have the same advantages and the use of the same skills, they should be equal to each other. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it. Reason is the law. It teaches that all men are equal and independent, and that no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, or possessions. All men are made by one all-powerful and wise Maker. They are all servants of one Master who sent them into the world to do His business. He has put men naturally into a state of independence, and they remain in it until they choose to become members of a political society.

What is the “state of nature”?

What is the “Law of Nature”?

How does man live in the State of Nature? According to Locke, why is living in the state of nature dangerous?

According to Locke, when are men no longer in “a state of independence”?

Excerpt 2:

If a man in the state of nature is free, if he is absolute lord of his own person and possessions, why will he give up his freedom? Why will he put himself under the control of any person or institution? The obvious answer is that the rights in the state of nature are constantly exposed to the attacks of others. Since every man is equal and since most men do not concern themselves with equity and justice, the enjoyment of rights in the state of nature is unsafe and insecure. Hence each man joins in society with others to preserve life, liberty, and property.

According to Locke, why would man want to join others and enter a society when he is his own master over his property and possessions?

According to Locke, what are the fundamental natural rights all men are entitled to?

Excerpt 3:

Since men hope to preserve their property by establishing a government, they will not want that government to destroy this objective. When legislators (lawmakers) try to destroy or take away the property of the people, or try to reduce them to slavery, they put themselves into a state of war with the people who can then refuse to obey the laws. When legislators try to gain or give someone else absolute power over lives, liberties, and property of the people, they abuse the power which the people had put into their hands. It is then the privilege of the people to establish a new legislature to provide for their safety and security. These principles also hold true for the executive who helps to make laws and carry them out.

What does Locke say man has the right to do when the government tries to pass unfair laws or tries to destroy or take away the property of the people?

Excerpt 4:

Perhaps some will say that the people are ignorant and discontented (unhappy) and that a government based on their unsteady opinion and uncertain humor will be unstable. They might argue that no government can exist for long if the people may set up a new legislature whenever they do not like the old one. But people do not easily give up their old forms of government. In England, for example, the unwillingness of the people to throw out their old constitution has kept us to, or brought us back to, our old legislature of king, lords, and commons.

What role do the people play in government? What power do the people have in government?

Why does he say that people tend to go back to a government with a king when people may not like a new government created by the people?

Why do you think Locke says going back to a government headed by a king be dangerous?



  • Do you agree more with the ideas of John Locke or Thomas Hobbes? Why?

  • Look ahead…. What do the ideas of Hobbes and Locke have to do with the creation of the US Constitution?

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