John Lockes State Of Nature Philosophy Essay

John Lockes state of nature is where humans exist without an established go

The agreement of the society to surrender its rights partially or entirely to the ruling government or authority is a social contract. The social contract is the basis of society’s moral values today because it gives government the liberty to decide what is right and wrong depending on each society’s socialization structure, all in the name of the rule of law. The social contract theory has been in existence for a very long time, right from the days of Plato (380BC) to John Rawls of the 20th century. The social contract bears the responsibility of both citizen and government and is introduced to protect an already peaceful society, or to form one. It is associated with modern political theory. Idealists and liberalist such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques-Rousseau and John Locke have influenced constitutions around the world a great deal especially the West with their theories.

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The social contract is generally supposed to provide justice and security to citizens within its boundaries. The state of nature is a place envisioned by a philosopher, prior to the existence of the social contract. The social contract is preceded after a philosopher has given his view of the state of nature. The state of nature does not have any moral or physical structures in place. It has to be envisioned. In the state of nature, there are no laws in place and no civilization. Man is either described as one who lives in harmony with his fellow men or fights for his survival. Idealist philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Jean Jacques Rousseau argue that, since man is rational, in his state of nature there would be co-operation in existence and therefore his social contract must embody laws that are rational. On the other hand, realist philosophers such as Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes disagree with the optimistic notion of human beings. They argue that human beings are self-centred and would promote their interest first in all situations; therefore their state of nature would be chaotic and disorganised. The survivors of such a place would be only the strong or swift ones, therefore his social contract should allow irrational decisions to be taken by the head of state for the greater good of the people. The social contract simply implies that the people give up some rights to a government and/or other authority in order to accept or jointly preserve social order.

John Locke, a liberal philosopher of the 18th century and the author of the famous and influential book, ‘The Second Treatise of Government’ pioneered the need for the respect of human rights. Locke begins his theory by visualizing a state of nature that human beings live in before agreeing to the social contract. In Locke’s state of nature, there is freedom, but not entirely because he claims that the law of nature governing this estate is from God. Rights and liberties are respected because he views human beings as rational. In the event where human beings react irrationally to negative human behavior, Locke suggests the need for a social contract, an agreement between the people of the state of nature to have an authority that would ensure justice and equality. One may react irrationally when meting out a punishment to an offender; another person may also intervene and punish the offender. To prevent a biased form of justice being carried out, Locke suggests an agreement among the people to form a government that would make laws that would ensure equal justice for all and protection of rights found in the state of nature.

In the state of nature there is no political authority in existence, however, moral values do exist. “The Law of Nature, which is on Locke’s view the basis of all morality, and given to us by God, commands that we not harm others with regards to their “life, health, liberty, or possessions” (par. 6).” [i] Life, health and liberty are some of the fundamental rights that are found in the state of nature. The social contract which Locke suggests, must respect these basic human rights which are found in the state of nature

John Locke’s State and Law of Nature

A state also of equality, wherein all the power of jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another …should also be amongst one another, without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty. [ii]

-Second Treatise of Government, Locke

To understand the state of nature, society must be viewed without any present authority, ruling monarch or government. It contains no houses, buildings, farmlands, culture or social amenities. John Locke’s state of nature assures equality for all men. He believes that we will not entirely be free in the state of nature because we will be bound by the laws of nature. The law of nature which “compels every and reason, which is that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life health, liberty or possessions for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker.” [iii] This law of nature enables the perceptive that, since we are all God’s creation, automatically we are all equal; therefore we have no right to take to take another’s life or possessions.

In the state of nature, when no man’s rights are being invaded then the law of nature is being observed. However, the law of nature allows an offender to be punished for the offence he committed. Everyone bound by the laws of nature have the right to punish transgressors of the law. This is because the law ensures equality and therefore it cannot appoint one person who would obtain a senior role to carry out justice. The problem with allowing everyone to be an executioner of the law is that a biased sentence could be carried out since emotions could come in the way. John Locke identifies that “self-love will make men partial to themselves and their friends” which will not reflect a true and just system and “ill nature and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others and hence nothing but confusion…” To solve this problem, Locke proposes a social contract.

The Social Contract

The social contract he proposes is an agreement between the citizens and the ruling government. It is a solution to the problems of the state of nature. The government in power must be concerned with the well-being of the citizen. It must preserve his rights and punish the transgressors of the law. Such a government can be described as a legitimate government. An illegitimate government would be the one that would fail to protect the natural rights of its citizens and violate the rights of its subjects. Locke states that “when a civil society is popularly entered into, it cannot become a dictatorship” because “power must come from above but legitimacy must come from below.” [iv]

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This explains the reason why Locke argues that a society has the right to do away with a government that is not obeying the laws of the land by being involved in negative practices such as cheating, corruption, torture and nepotism. This provides the grounds for a legitimate rebellion. The government can be removed from power through the legitimate processes such as elections. “Locke’s arguments for the social contract and for the right of citizens to revolt against their king were enormously influential on the democratic revolutions that followed, especially on Thomas Jefferson, and the founders of the United States” [v] look for more on the tacit consent

Flaws of the Social Contract

One of Locke’s flaws is his contradiction of how exactly we are obliged to be a part of the social contract. He first discusses how the first citizens become a part of the contract by individual consent and how subsequent generations become a part of it by tacit consent. It does not hold because then it would be unconsciously forced unto the subsequent generations if they are not asked their opinion. For a society that is supposed to ensure freedom and equality, it is violating the rights of its citizens. “Locke’s view that permanent citizenship depends wholly on the individual’s consent -and even express consent- is both unhistorical and contrary to all legal doctrine as any instructed modern reader will easily perceive.” [vi] This is how Frederick Pollock views Locke’s flaw of the consent in his book.

Locke does not talk about what the ruling government must do if the citizens relegate their side of the contract.

It cannot be applicable in the pursuit of happiness because it does not defend the minority or those living out of it.

Generations’ tacit consent: agreeing to the unknown.

Describe contract.;authority,rights of the people.what rights are they giving up? What will keep the contract binding?



vernment or a social contract. It is a state of anarchy where there is completely no order or rules that guide human behavior. There are no laws to govern us and we are guided by our own instincts on what is right and wrong. According to Locke humans do not need a higher authority to control them and there can be a peaceful co-existence among people. There is no need for one person to take charge to bring about order. People behave according to the laws of nature which include natural freedom and moral equality. It is also known as our natural rights. John Locke believes that human beings are born with certain divine rights such as the right to live, the right to liberty and property. These natural rights alone have the sole capability of managing a harmonious society. Natural rights are rights of any species that exists outside the laws of the governing body. Fish that swim in the ocean do so by natural right not because legislation allows them to do so. The presence of a ruler to carry out our rights is uncalled for. He points out that a sovereign, limits human liberty and our natural rights. Human beings are perfectly capable of governing themselves as the respect for our natural rights. The state of nature is a state of equality with no one having more than another. People can act freely without being held by any set of rules or laws that would curtail their freedom and happiness. Locke states that God owns us and we are his property, therefore one has the right to protect themselves from harm. Humans have the right to defend themselves and punish anyone who violates the state of nature. The state of nature is governed by the law of nature. The law of nature states that we should refrain from causing harm to each other’s life, liberty, and property. Locke says that we should all treat each other as equal and doing harm to another is like doing harm to yourself. Rene Descartes is chasing me around the forest with a butcher knife and trying to kill me. Locke would argue that I did have the right to defend myself for my life was in danger. Descartes was harming my state of nature by trying to attack me. I have an obligation to punish him for he violated the laws of nature and caused me harm.

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The state of war is a state of enmity and destruction. Unlike the state of nature where we exists peacefully, the state of war is filled with malice and violence. We are constantly trying to watch our backs and protect ourselves. If any man is threatened by another he is in a state of war with that person. The innocent has the right to destroy the aggressor. Locke compares Descartes attacking me to a wild beast attacking me. He states that whether it be a man or lion, the consequences are similar because it is logical for me to attack anyone or anything that threatens my life. Rene Descartes is to be treated as a beast of prey. The state of war occurs when people exert unwelcome force on other people interfering with their own natural right and freedom without common authority. When one man uses force to deprive another of his life, health, possessions, or property, it becomes a state of war. The fundamental law of nature declares that man should preserve as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved and the safety of the innocent is preferred. One may destroy a man who makes war upon him. Self-defense is a corollary of the natural law and we have the right to our preservation. The law of self-preservation dictates that a person may kill another person in self-defense. So in a state of war, I do have the right to defend myself because I am preserving my life and keeping the enemy from harming it. It is lawful to kill him for he put himself in a state of war with me and he has disobeyed the state of nature. I am able to destroy that which threatens me with destruction. Since there is no common authority, I myself can only be a judge of my own conscience. It is up to me to decide the fate of Descartes. The war does not end until the aggressive party offers peace and reparations for the damage done, until then the innocent party has the authority to destroy the aggressor. In a civil society, our natural rights — life, liberty, and property is protected by the government. A civil society exists when there is chaos and an authority must be present to set things in orders. We place the authority to a legislative and executive power and must abide by the laws set forth by the government. Humans no longer have the ability to punish those who violates their state of nature. This job solely rests upon the authority. In a civil society, I would not be able to kill Descartes or decide his penalty. In a civil society, a state of war exerts in the manner except there are laws and the government determines the punishment of the aggressor.

Question 6: Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature is where there is no sovereign to put forth rules and regulations and human beings are living like wild beasts in the jungles. It is not a place where we can all peacefully co-exist amongst each other. It is filled with violence and we are constantly trying to escape death. Our equality is that we all want to kill each other. All men in the state of nature have a desire and will to hurt those who endangers them. Our nature of human beings is to be selfish and we will strive to protect and achieve are selfish ends. Everyone is naturally willing to fight one another and it is every man against every man. There is no civil society and we live in continual fear. According to Hobbes, life with constant battles and no strong central government would be solitary, poor, brutish, and short. There are no laws to maintain order and people have the freedom to do whatever it is their hearts desire. A state of nature is simply a state a war and it’s a competition for the survival of the fittest. Humans are fighting with one another in order to survive. We will do anything to stay alive, even if it means taking another person’s life. If I lived in a state of nature where food was scare, Descartes and I would kill each other in order to survive. Hobbes declares that a state of nature is horrible for there is no sense of what is right or wrong, except self-preservation. We are only looking after ourselves and every person has a state of natural right to do anything one thinks is essential for preserving one’s life. There is no jurisdiction and humans cannot be held accountable for their actions. People are at each other throats for survival, resources, and power. There is nothing to protect the weak against the strong. The strong will prey upon the weak and overpower them. Descartes being a strong man and I am a weak fragile girl, he can easily wipe me out. There is no sovereign to protect me from getting killed. In this state there is no sense of security and are lives are always in danger.

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Hobbes’ state of nature differs from Locke’s. Locke’s state of nature is peaceful and is separate from his state of war. Hobbe’s argues that a state of war exists within the state of nature. Humans fear a violent death and we are all aware that we can harm one another. We possess two desires, free of violent death and superiority over one another, we have the ability to hold it over one another. Without a governing authority, this will cause war to break out in a state of nature. Since we are all fearful of one another, we become aggressive towards each other with causes disputes and war to break out. Hobbes’ claims that there is no rule of property in the state of nature. No one can claim ownership over anything. All the laws come from the sovereign. We have the right to steal items from one another because it wasn’t theirs to begin with for they do not have ownership over it. He argues that we must have a government to settle this chaos and madness. If we live in a world with no authority it would be destructive and everyone would be killing each other. Hobbes tells me that I need someone to protect me from Descartes and prevent him from killing me. Once we have a sovereign the laws of property and life are established. Descartes would receive punishment for his crimes and I could get a restraining order against him. Unlike the state of nature, we would be safe and secure living under a legislation and executive. The laws of the sovereign helps regulate how we act with one another and it keeps civil war and war against each other from happening. These laws ensures us to live in a peaceful civil society where we are protected from the things that we fear. In the state of nature, people had more freedom and more rights. Under the rule of the sovereign people will give up their rights in exchange for a more peaceful life and environment. The sovereign is given authority to by the people and whatever they do is right. They are the voice of the entire ruling body. One must not question their actions for there will be consequences if they disobey. They will follow the rules for they fear receiving punishment. The establishment of a government makes it possible for the lives of man kind to be preserved and their rights to be protected. The purpose of a sovereign is to control natural law. It acts as a remedy to restore sanity and tame the rambunctious behavior of man. The law acts as some form of punishment to those who go against it and try to interfere with the rights of other citizens. A government ensures that we each have our individual rights, however we must not interfere with the rights and freedom of others. An oppressive government, is better than no government at all.


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