To Be Or Not To Be

799 words - 4 pages

Hobbes versus Locke: State
of Nature and Legitimacy
By David Feinman
In the study of political theory and the analysis of
the role of the sovereign in western society,
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are two of the most in
fluential figures. Their philosophies on the way
in which man lived before forming societies have be
en the backbone of the discussion of the state of
nature and the legitimacy of the sovereign for ma
ny centuries. Hobbes, seeing the natural world as a
nasty, brutish place of perpetual war, sees the legitim
acy of a sovereign as being
unquestioned and that of
a paternal figure that instills order in a world without
law or reason. Locke, in opposition, ...view middle of the document...

Inhabitants of Hobbes’ state of nature have
a “nasty, brutish, and short” life in which no
Hobbes, p. 70
progress, no prosperity, and no peace can be found.
There are no rules, chaos reigns, and there are no
definitions of what is right or wrong,
good or evil, or morally virtuous.
Locke, however, sees a very different state of nature. In
The Second Treatise of Government
, he
describes this world as “a state of perfect freedom [in
which people can] order their actions and dispose of
their possessions and persons as they think fit, within
the bounds of the law of nature, without asking
leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.”
This is a world of “equality...without
subordination or subjection...[and] liberty,” but this st
ate of nature has a law of nature which governs it,
as well as reason, which teaches man that “no one ought
to harm another in his life, health, liberty or
Locke’s state of nature is one of self-deter
mination, but with regulation to ensure no one’s
freedom is compromised.
These opposing views of the state of nature bring about differing opinions relating to the
legitimacy of a sovereign. Following his view of a

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