Locke – Social Contract

Like Hobbes, Locke believes that we are all essentially equal in the State of Nature, free to do whatever we want. Similarly, they both agree that the Laws of Nature can be deduced by reason to tell us how to live in peace. But in spite of these shared opinions, Hobbes and Locke disagree about what the State of Nature is like, which results in dramatically different philosophies. While Hobbes imagined that the State of Nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, Locke assumed that it is mostly peaceful, and that it only turns into the State of War when one person exerts force over another.

The Golden Rule, which says that we ought to love others as we would want to be loved, allows people to get along in the State of Nature most of the time. It is only when one behaves irrationally, like a beast, exerting force over another, that he or she has left the State of Nature, and has entered the State of War, becoming a threat to others. The offender can no longer be trusted. In the State of War an offense must be punished by the offended party for the sake of reparations, and for the sake of discouraging the offender, or anyone else, from offending again.

And yet, in spite of the peace found in the State of Nature, as in Hobbes’ picture, people forsake the freedom found in nature because it does not compare to the comfort, safely, peace, and enjoyment of property found in society. People willingly surrender their freedom to a governing body and the will of the majority for comfort and safety. Like Hobbes, the difference between the State of Nature and society is that in the latter there is a governing body that has been given the authority to punish offenders impartially.

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