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John Locke and Thomas Hobbes

John Locke and Thomas Hobbes represented the beginning of a real political science in the seventeenth-century, and their conceptions of how government developed and what government should and should not do would be refined and extended by Rousseau and others and would eventually become the basis for the constitutional democracy of the United States. Hobbes was the first to try to put moral and political philosophy on a scientific basis, and Locke continued in this vein. The two find some agreement in their writings, but they also approach the issue from different perspectives. While each sees a relationship between human beings and their government in terms of human beings ceding certain powers to government in order to secure certain protections, Hobbes places more emphasis on civic responsibility, on the responsibility citizens owe to their government, while Locke places more emphasis on the degree to which government is limited in its powers because all governmental powers derive from the governed.

Hobbes and Locke both offer the idea of the social contract as the basis of society, and to this end they begin with a consideration of man in a state of nature. The individual is seen as existing in one state in nature and in a different state in society. The act of coming together in society is based on the social contract, something that is viewed somewhat differently by the two writers, though each sees it as the basis of society, as a voluntary agreement, and as both the source of government power and the protection of the individual from that power. For Locke, the state of nature was a state of full natural rights so that there had to be a compelling advantage in any social agreement that would replace it. For Hobbes, the state of nature was a state of warfare, and there was every reason to seek protection in a social structure that would impose order and control the natural tendency of man toward war and strife.


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John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 11:05, December 01, 2023, from