Question #5


11/21/02


period 1


Thomas Hobbes was the most original political philosopher of the seventeenth century. Although he never broke with the Church of England, he embraced basic Calvinist beliefs, particularly their low view of human nature and the ideal of a commonwealth based on a divine-human covenant. Hobbes viewed people and society in a thoroughly materialistic and mechanical way. All psychological processes begin with and are derived from bare sensation, and all motivations are egotistical, intended to increase pleasure and minimize pain. Despite this mechanistic view of human nature, Hobbes believed people could accomplish much by the reasoned use of science. Such progress, however, was contingent on their prior correct use of that greatest of human creations, the commonwealth, in which people were freely united by mutual agreement in one all-powerful sovereign government. Hobbes saw the original human state as a corruption from which society could deliver people. People escape this terrible state of nature, according to Hobbes, only by entering a contract, that is, by agreeing to live in a commonwealth tightly ruled by a recognized sovereign. They are driven to this solution by their desire for “commodious living” and fear of death. The social contract obliges every person, for the sake of peace and self-defense, to agree to set aside personal right to all things and to be content with as much liberty against others as he or she would allow others against himself of herself. All agree to live according to a secularized version of the golden rule:
Do not that to another which you would not have done to yourself.” Because words and promises are insufficient to guarantee this state, the social contract also establishes the coercive use of force to compel compliance. Believing the dangers of anarchy to be always greater than those of tyranny, Hobbes though that rulers should be absolute and unlimited in their power, once established in office. There is no room in Hobbes’s political philosophy for protest in the name of individual conscience, nor for resistance to legitimate authority by private individuals.


John Locke has proved to be the most influential political thinker of the seventeenth century. Although he was not as original as Hobbes, his political writing became a major source of the later Enlightenment criticism of absolutism. Locke explored the function of the human mind. He portrayed it at birth as a blank tablet. There are no innate ideas, he argued; all knowledge is derived from direct sensual experience. What people know is not the external world in itself but the results of the interaction of the mind with the outside world. Locke also denied the existence of innate moral norms. Moral ideas are the product of people’s subordination of self-love to reason. Locke’s main differences with Hobbes stemmed from the latter’s negative view of human nature. Lock believed that the natural human state was one of perfect freedom and equality in which everyone enjoyed, un unregulated fashion, the natural rights of life, liberty, and property. Contrary to Hobbes, human beings in their natural state were creatures not of monomaniacal passion but of goodwill and rationality. And they did not surrender their natural rights unconditionally when they entered the social contract. Rather they established a means whereby these rights could be better preserved. The warfare that Hobbes believed characterized the state of nature emerged for Locke only when rulers failed to preserve people’s natural freedom and attempted to enslave them by absolute rule. The preservation and protection of human freedom, not its suppression, was government’s mandate.


I would want to live under a government under Locke. Locke does not believe that humans are born sinful. Also, the absolute ruler described by Hobbes may want to enslave the people of his country with his power. He would not be stopped because of the limitless power that was already given to him. In addition, a Hobbes town would be very austere and serious, much like the Calvinist societies that he modeled his ideas from.