Human beings open their eyes in a world that is full of rules, regulations and most of the time without having the chance to refuse or change them. In a sense they are not born completely free because of these unchangeable principles dictated to them. The majority of the world population lives in territories where there are official, organized institutions called “states” which regulate and organize social life. The existence of the state has become an absolute condition for the well being of society starting from long centuries ago. Humans do not have much chance to change this situation because by all their means such as the family, the education system, the media and authority, states try to bring up their people in the way that they want and protect their safety and create continuity. However, the state did not appear immediately with the beginning of human life. There was a period of time in history during which human beings lived freely in nature without a central, binding power. Many philosophers have tried to explain the necessity of the existence of the state by imagining or studying this stateless period of time. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are two important philosophers who tried to explain the transition from this stateless stage called “the state of nature” to an organized state by means of social contract theory. In my essay, I am going to compare their understanding of the state of nature with regard to aspects of human nature. I will begin with Hobbes’ understanding of the state of nature and then analyze Locke’s state of nature. Thirdly, I will compare these two state of nature theories and I will conclude by defending my own ideas related to the state of nature and the nature of human beings.
According to Thomas Hobbes, the state of nature does not refer to a peaceful, harmonious social life but instead it is a hellish life with chaos and violence. Hobbes believes that the state of nature in history was a “state of warre” during which all individuals struggled against all other individuals and finally ended this chaotic life by making some kind of social contract. The central point of Thomas Hobbes’ theory is human nature and especially the selfishness and the greed of human beings. Hobbes believes that human beings are naturally selfish and they can do all kinds of bad acts when they can gain from these bad acts. He even claims “For it is a voluntary act: and of the voluntary acts of every man, the object is some good to himself”. (Hobbes, p. 192) This understanding of the enormous selfishness of human beings directs Hobbes to a very dark theory, which does not trust in human beings and thus creates a regime of absolute monarchy with strict, severe rules and little space for freedoms. Hobbes considers human beings as rational egoists that always look for the maximization of their self-profits, and he tries to explain the transition from the state of nature or in other words the state of war in which all individuals are against all individuals, to the organized state by humans’ realization that it is more profitable to live in an organized state. Hobbes thinks that humans are naturally somehow equal and there is not too much difference between their mental and physical abilities. According to him, this equality of ability increases the competition for limited resources between people, especially in a world without a central binding power in which even the weakest can beat the strongest by taking help from others or by using weapons, etc. So, in a stateless stage individuals have the motive to compete with others in a very hostile sense; in addition, they live with the fear of being killed or loosing what they have. Hobbes calls this fear “diffidence” and explains it as the lack of confidence people have in the state of war due to their inevitably unsafe lives. This fear forces individuals to look for power after power not only to gain more profit, but also to protect what they have in their hands. After competition and diffidence, the third motive that orients people in the state of war according to Hobbes’ theory is the desire to have glory. People want to have reputation and power but what they really want is to prevent potential threats by frightening or threatening other people who could attack and kill them in this unsafe world. Hobbes concludes his theory by the realization that rational egoist human beings will profit more in an organized state, and thus, to make a social contract among them and give their power to a sole person who would be like a mortal God called “Leviathan” who would provide peace and order in society by making laws deriving from laws of nature and by punishing guilty people.
John Locke, who is accepted as one of the founders of the liberal thought, has a different understanding of the state of nature. Locke reveals in his book “Second Treatise of Government” that the state of nature was or would be a peaceful life with perfect freedom. Locke believes that human beings are naturally equal when we look at their use of the faculties. He thinks that this equality between the same kind of species, creates a kind of sympathy, mutual love between humans especially in earlier times during which humans had to fight against the external dangers such as wild animals and the force of the nature (natural disasters, cold, etc) by cooperating. So, in the state of nature people were living peacefully with unlimited liberties and with the guidance of the rules of nature that is “reason”. Locke unites, “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone. And reason, which is that law, teaches all man kind who will consult it that, being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke, p. 264). However, some people who do not act according to their reason began to create problems in the society. Locke does not say anything about the reasons of the acts of these foolish persons, but we understand that these persons somehow spoil social life. Also, in the state of nature each individual has right to judge people who do not conform to the rules of reasoning and this creates a tumult. Some people may not judge guilty people properly and may give them overly severe punishments especially when they are affected by crime or in other words by unreasonable acts. When an individual tries to be judge in a case, his/her aim should be to deter the offender and other people from making this unreasonable act again and also to compensate the damage of the injured person. However, because of the existence of these foolish persons, the state of nature may become a state of war, so, humans should make a social contract voluntarily to form a government to protect the harmony of social life. This government should not be an absolute government at all because Locke claims that even though the state of nature that has many deficiencies due to unreasonable people, it is much better than absolute monarchy because in the state of nature all people are responsible for decisions and it is a much more democratic condition. However, in absolute monarchy only one man decides everything with his own judgment. From these main ideas, Locke at the end reaches the conclusion that the role of the state should be limited and it should be to punish guilty people and to create a secure environment in which social life can take place freely. The duty of the government should be only to protect its citizens’ basic rights such as the right to survive, to have property and to live freely. This can be provided only through a democratic state where all individuals give some of their rights to the government members voluntarily for the protection of their rights. Locke also criticizes the divine authority severely and explains the irrationality of a king’s divine power to possess the land and the subjects of his country.
When we analyze Hobbes’ and Locke’s theories we see many differences between them though they are both defenders of the social contract theory. The source of these differences in my opinion is the distinction between their understandings of human nature. Hobbes thinks that human beings are rational egoists that always look for self-profit in what they are doing but in Locke’s understanding, humans are social creatures that tend to live peacefully and cooperatively. This main distinction directs these two important philosophers to completely different ways. Although they both believe in the natural equality of people, this equality of ability creates problems in Hobbes’ theory whereas it strengthens the ties between people in Locke’s ideology. Hobbes asserts that when equality of ability and limited resources happen at the same time in a world without central authority, two people would automatically become enemies and both sides as rational egoist agents would have the right to attack the other side to protect themselves from possible attacks and to obtain what they need. For example, according to Hobbes, if two rational egoist agents happen to stay on an island alone and if there is not enough food for both of them, they will try to attack each other band realize that the other side may think in an egoistic way and may try to attack first. However, Locke presumes that in the same situation when individuals see each other, they will behave affectionately towards each other because they will know that they are same kind of creatures and they have equal abilities. They will see a person as precious and as talented as themselves and this will motivate them to cooperate with each other and try to find another kind of food. Hobbes constructs his theory on a pessimistic idea about human nature and claims that the state of nature is nothing but a state of war, which is the most evil thing in this world because every individual is against every individual in it. Locke however thinks that the state of nature is not a bad and chaotic life at all, but instead it is a life of peace and natural order much of the time. However, some persons who deviate from the rational way of thinking without reason spoil the harmony of social life and then all rational members of the society try to punish these offenders. However, some problems arise when all people have the right to punish offenders without any common criterion and common rules except reason. Even though Locke completely believes in the goodness of human beings, he admits that human beings have some deficiencies such as being emotional in judging an unreasonable person when they are affected by the crime, for example.
Hobbes concludes his theory in a consistent way and says that the only way for rational egoistic, individually oriented human beings is to make a social contract between them and thus give their rights to a person or a group of people to regulate the social life and get rid of the chaotic state of war. Hobbes does not believe in the goodness of people, so his ideal type of political system is a very authoritarian dictatorship or oligarchy that prevents different ideas and thinks of the unity and the order in the society not the happiness of people. He only gives people the right to protect their life against the Leviathan but few other rights. In contrast, Locke believes that if people were making a social contract, the aim would not be to provide the continuity of a harsh system that will only think of unity but instead the aim would be to bring happiness to all people who have different ideas, opinions and enjoyments. Thus, the role of the state should be only to regulate social life and to make necessary interventions when there are mistakes and problems. When I compare these two philosophers, I can say that Locke’s ideas are much closer to contemporary human values and Hobbes’ theory has many inherent dilemmas.
In my opinion, if we look at Hobbes’ theory as a historical evaluation of human beings, this would not be a consistent theory for many reasons. Even if we look at this theory as an imaginary model that is done to explain the necessity of the state, there are still many problems arising. First, we know that the population in the world during the earlier lifetime was little and it is not very rational to claim that there was an incredibly competitive struggle between individuals for limited resources. Secondly, even in the time of the first humans there were families, tribes that were living together with the visible or invisible leadership of a person or many persons. That is why, Hobbes’ idea of the “all individuals are against all individuals” seems very contradictory because even if there was a competition for limited resources, the competition should have happened between families or tribes. Thirdly, Hobbes in my opinion completely ignores the social needs of human beings. Human beings have social needs such as communicating, loving, hating etc. Even the rational egoist individuals of Hobbes need to communicate with each other, share some feelings and this makes his theory incomplete. For example, if we think of the island example, a rational egoist agent would think of his social needs and would likely seek a better way than to kill his follow man. Moreover, Hobbes definitely believes that human beings are selfish and not good at all, but he gives the executive power of society not to a machine or a God but only to an ordinary, rational egoist man. This creates many questions such as why this sovereign who would play the role of the God should behave in a good way and think of the profit of the society? Like all other individuals he would think of his profit and absolute monarchy would soon become a tyranny. Also, Hobbes’ thesis about the reason of human acts may not be true in all cases. I believe that we can sometimes think of the benefit of another person more than our own benefit; and it is not our own profit that always orients us to do something. Human beings are complex creatures and their behaviors cannot be calculated easily like a mathematical equation. Hobbes is not aware of this complexity and thinks of all human beings as hardhearted egoist agents. Human beings can sometimes be egoists, especially when their lives are in danger, but human beings are not like multipliers in a formula. His equation for social events is like the following: individual (constant) x condition = behavior. This equation depends on the conditions and nothing changes from the side of the individual. However, in my opinion human beings differ very much and the equation’s result would be different for each individual even if the condition part of the equation were the same.
As far as I am concerned, Locke goes forward in the right direction but he has problems with producing strong arguments and concrete examples that will prove the goodness and the self-sacrificing nature of humans. I also think like Locke and believe that the state of nature was a period of peace. First, if we consider this theory as a historical evaluation of humans, there were enough resources for everybody in earlier times because the population was very low. So, in this case there would never have been a struggle of survival between humans. Secondly, humans needed to cooperate in earlier times more than today due to the lack of technology and knowledge to be protected from the dangers of nature. How can a man even if he is a rational egoist live individually in nature, how he can struggle against the millions of dangers of nature alone? If he is a rational egoist, he will be more likely to live in society and cooperate with other people to defeat dangers. Locke’s idea about the meeting of the two creatures of the same kind may seem funny to us today because we think ourselves as the owners of this world. However, if we think that the first humans were very few and ignorant, this is not a bad idea at all. The meeting of two human beings in a jungle full of living things (birds, trees, flowers, insects, lions, etc.) will certainly make these two people close to each other. Also, I am sure that the first human beings were not as competitive as today’s humans. After the appearance of capitalism, the rise of liberalism (individualism) and the widespread development of free-market economies, human beings have become much more competitive. We are born and starting from our birth we learn to compete and think of our profit. For some centuries, we have lived in a world in which money is the dominant power and this makes people more and greedier. Not ability, intelligence or power but money determines the hierarchical structure of the society in our contemporary world. I think that the life of first humans was much more peaceful because there was no money, no free-market, no credit cards at that time. If there was a hierarchical order, this should have occurred according to the power, intelligence or physical power of people. We can say that there was a kind of natural order. I believe in the equality of people but we should accept that the distribution of this equality is different. Some people are taller, some are stronger and some are wiser and it is not always the effect of environment that affects human qualities. Also, in the earlier life the resources were enough for everybody and that is why people did not have any reason to possess more than they needed. I also think that Locke is much more sensitive than Hobbes about the spiritual side of human beings. In my opinion, even though there was no organized religion or a kind of systematic agreement about human values in the earlier lifetime, humans had some values coming from their reason and they were conscious about the preciousness of human life. I believe in the rightness of not killing a person and this is not the result of any religion or faith I believe or any kind of education I have been treated. As a human being, I feel and I understand by using by reasoning the ridiculousness of killing a person. Also, I believe from my heart in the fraternity, and in the equality of people.
Finally, in my opinion, in our contemporary world, most of the developed states are based on invisible social contracts deriving from the principles of democracy, human rights and some international agreements. The state of nature was not a chaotic period but due to the lack of enough resources it did not continue. The social contracts made after this state of war were tricky contracts made by the intelligence of some wiser and charismatic people and most of humans suffered a lot from this type of contract. However, humans by using their rationality, by taking help from scientism and empiricism, realized the fraud happening for long centuries and they revolted against this injustice. They formed new types of states based on new liberal, majoritarian and equalitarian ideas. In a sense, they made new social contracts for their benefit and they abolished the previous unjust contract. Today, the affects of previous contracts are still available but their power is very limited and not enough to exploit people. These two philosophers have made many important analyses than can give us ideas about the evaluation of humans and the necessity of the state. My ideal type of state, as I said before, is up to a point between Hobbes’ authoritarian and Locke’s very liberal state. My ideal state would be a fair judge in allocating the resources not only for its citizens but also for all humanity. I think that the state should be responsible for the basic needs of individuals such as the right to live, right to have property, right to have education, right to free speech, right to have equal opportunities with other people, etc. There are still many problems arising in our world, but these problems are not impossible to solve. In my opinion, it imperative for human beings to remember again the importance of sharing even if we live in this competitive world ruled by money and understand the importance of the stages we have accomplished so far by cooperating and by using our reasoning and science.
· Locke, John, 1993, “Political Writings”, London: Penguin Groups
· Hobbes, Thomas, 1968, “Leviathan”, London: Penguin Groups