Hobbes and Locke on Human Nature





Hobbes and Locke on Human Nature

Human nature refers to the general characteristics shared by all people. Throughout the history of humankind, philosophers have presented their theories about human nature, which vary from one philosopher to another. John Locke and Thomas Hobbes are two philosophers well known for their thoughts on human nature. Human nature governs all aspects of life, which is why the topic is so important. A major question on human nature is whether all people share the same characteristics or differ individually. The two philosophers offer different opinions on human nature. Locke suggests that humans are rational and reasonable, while Hobbes argues that humans are governed by selfishness and self-seeking. The two support their positions with solid points, leading one to believe that human nature varies from person to person.

John Locke presents an optimistic view of human nature. According to him, human beings tend to be reasonable and tolerant. God is the author of all morality, which is guided by the law of nature. Humans obey these laws of nature due to the fact that all people are equal. The law of nature demands that all people respect others’ “life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke 182). All humans being equal should not harm each other in any way. Each must strive to pursue their own plans and interests, but the process will be peaceful as each person is governed by respect for others. The restrictions under the law of nature ensure that all people remain considerate of others in their pursuits. In this state, humans do not require coercion to obey the laws of nature, and therefore government only exists to punish wrongdoing. Those who break the laws of nature need a public body to punish their offenses and protect others’ freedom and liberty.

Thomas Hobbes shares a more bleak view of human nature. He believes that human beings are driven by the selfish need to achieve their own goals, even at the expense of others. In the natural state, before any social contracts, all people are equal. Under the laws of nature, humans are forbidden from causing any harm or destruction to one another. Hobbes argues that men are driven by ambition, avarice, and passions, which can only be governed by a government authority (Hobbes 71). Without such a sovereign body, individuals would have the license to do anything they want, and society would be at war with itself. Hobbes explains that the idea of justice rests on people keeping their promises and covenants. However, due to the nature of selfishness, humans will renege on their contracts based on their goals. To avoid such situations, there needs to be a sovereign body that enforces punishment and ensures covenants are kept. This body is the government that creates institutions and laws to govern human actions.

Locke and Hobbes differ in their views of human nature in several ways. First, they disagree on the driving forces behind human nature. Locke argues that reason and rationale are the main forces behind human nature, while Hobbes says that selfishness is the main force behind human nature. The two also differ in their view on the role of government. Locke explains that human beings respect each other’s wellbeing in their pursuits. The government’s only role is to punish those who cause harm to life or property. In contrast, Hobbes views government as an institution that guides every aspect of human life. Due to their selfish nature, human beings are bound to break promises and covenants. Only the authority of a sovereign government will keep people in check and make sure they fulfill their promises to others. Without government authority to force people to act as they should, people’s selfish nature would prevail, and individuals would pursue ends that benefit them without a care for others.

After analyzing the two philosophies on human nature, I support Hobbes’ view more. The main point of Hobbes’ view is the selfish nature of human beings which is something evident in our everyday life. Government exists to enforce promises and covenants among people and groups. Only the fear of government institutions keeps people in check. For example, one of the main rules in society is that people must not harm each other or destroy other people’s property. However, a lot of murders, violent robberies come from the desire to acquire property or other gains at the expense of others. The government is responsible for making sure that people maintain the rules against destruction and punish those who break these laws. When two groups sign a contract, the government will hold each party accountable for their actions. This knowledge of a sovereign body will ensure that they keep their part of the bargain or be punished by the government through the courts.

In summary, views on human nature are bound to vary from one person to another based on individual experiences. People are motivated by different ideologies, which makes it difficult to give one standard of human nature. Hobbes and Locke have different views on human nature, both of which hold some valid points. Hobbes’ view has become more apparent in today’s world where people have become more and more selfish, seeking their own gain at the expense of others. On the other hand, there are still many reasonable and tolerant people as per Locke’s view. It is impossible to have one standard of human nature, so we should both of these theories remain relevant.

Works Cited

Hobbes, Thomas. “1651.” (1987).

Locke, John, and W. Von Leyden. Essays on the law of nature. Clarendon Press, 1954.