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Hobs, Locke, and Rousseau were among the first philosophers to use various theories in an attempt to explain the human nature and the way in which human beings govern themselves. According to Fukuyama (2011), the works of these three philosophers were greatly influenced by their socio-political background. All three used the notion of the State of Nature in their explanation of the state of man before the establishment of formal governments. Irrespective of the shortcomings of their work, the contributions of these three scholars in the State of Nature can never be ignored. Though they differr in a number of issues, their ideas and philosophies have been of great influence all over the world. Of great importance is their contribution to social contract which they used in explaining how and why man transferred from the State of Nature to that of governments, resulting into socialization. This write up seeks to clearly compare and contrast "The State of Nature" of Hobbs, Locke, and Rousseau and to further illustrate the implications of their different conceptualizations.

The three theorists came up with the same Law of Nature which according to their works can be described as the preservation law of mankind. The Law requires man to form and join a social contract. The theory of social contract explains the origin of morality as resulting from a form of agreement between people who are seeking to serve the expectation of its members. The arrangement puts men above the state of nature. This is because it requires the members to abandon their initial lifestyles in the State of Nature and form a new society governed by laws that seek to serve the common will of the people (Sutch & Roberts, 2004).

According to Erckel (2009), the common will of the people is provided by the formed sovereign body which enjoys an absolute authority. The body set laws which enable man to live together and considerate the other person’s needs. The three theorists seem to agree that the power of the sovereign emanates from the people who willingly give it for the sake of peaceful coexistence. The absolute power of the sovereign enables it to make and enact the laws and orders guiding the society (Erckel, 2009).

Analysis of Individual Theorists against the Others

Thomas Hobbes

Sutch and Roberts (2004) noted that in cases there would be no common power with the responsibility of executing and enforcing the laws which restrain individuals actions, the ideas promoted by Hobbes on the origin of State of Nature would still be in existence. This means that the explanation as given in the laws of the jungle, in which nature selects the best fit, would still be very applicable. According to Erckel, Hobbes’s work was mostly influenced by the English Civil War which occurred in the 17th century.

Hobbes had explained that because of the scarce resources available for people to meet their needs, only those who adapt well to nature survive (Erckel, 2009). His argument was that nature would not be able to grant all the desires of man given its scarce resources. Hobbes added that irrespective of the fact that resources present for man’s usage are scarce, man’s individualistic nature would still make him to want more resources for himself. According to Erckel (2009), this is what triggers competition for resources among humans. Hobbes concluded that this is what would result into and sustain conflict among humankind, leading into constant war in a State of Nature.

According to the ideas fronted by Hobbes, man’s State of Nature has its origin in this state of war. Hobbes argued that people are never trustworthy in this State of Nature and that this is what causes a constant war between them. He sees no injustice in this kind of organization. In fact, according to Hobbes, we would not be having such concepts as rights and wrongs if the State of Nature was left to persist (Fukuyama, 2011). He stated that in a state where there is no common power and law enforcers, people would tend to use force and involve themselves in fraud. He, therefore, stressed on the need to limit human freedom and certain rights, especially those which guide the way in which they should relate with each other (Erckel, 2009).

Additionally, Hobbes noted that men are also conditioned to compete for honor and dignity, giving rise to envy and hatred. According to him, this is the primary cause of the constant war experienced in the State of Nature. He sees humans as motivated solely by their personal interests. This is the basis behind his argument that man can only coexist peacefully when made to subject to moral rules. Hobbes noted that in this way, the safety of the people and their properties is guaranteed (Erckel, 2009).

Hobbes maintained that as long as there is no ruling government, war will automatically be prevalence. He argued that in the State of Nature, people are majorly concerned with how they can achieve their selfish interests. According to Hobbes, humans only agree to voluntarily relinquish their rights to a sovereign body if they see it as the only way to finding a solution to the constant state of war which characterizes the State of Nature (Fukuyama, 2011). To Hobbes, government is a body which usually exists majorly because of the power bestowed upon it by the masses.

According to Hobbes, lack of a single body entrusted with the power to maintain law and order will always lead to constant wars. This is why he claims that for any sovereign body to be relevant and effective, it must be given an absolute power. His concept of a state is a typical example of a fascist government, in which revolution only takes place whenever the civilians staged war against their government. According to Hobbes, the end of civil war experienced in the State of Nature can only be realized by allowing the practice of either monarchy or sovereignty (Erckel, 2009).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau, on the other hand, noted that the State of Nature is the original state of man in which though every one is born free, this freedom is limited, because man is ever in chains. According to him, man is innocent and practices all the virtues of life in the State of Nature. He disagreed with the arguments by Hobbes and Locke that man is aggressive and greedy in this original state. Instead, he stated that it is because in the State of Nature man lived a solitary and poor life that he never lasted for a long time as was later experienced in the new system. However, Rousseau insisted that irrespective of such shortcomings, man was a happy being. According to him, wickedness only emerged when men began to socialize among themselves (Sutch & Roberts, 2004). 

Rousseau’s position is further illustrated in his social contract in which he portrays man as an animal unable to reason. He stated that whenever men are brought together they lose their reasoning and conscience (Erckel, 2009). According to Rousseau, such circumstances push man to begin to pursue his desires of having his own possessions. He explained the level of success based on the skills one possesses. He further noted that it is because men posses different levels of skills that they attain different levels of success. Rousseau seems to agree with Locke’s position on the role played by properties in the society when he noted that men gained their excitement from the amount of possessions they could accumulate for themselves (Fukuyama, 2011).

Rousseau noted that it is this passion to maximize one’s possession that causes conflicts between men and their neighbors and, eventually, leads to war. His argument is in agreement with the ideas of Locke who had noted that it is the scarcity of resources and the attempt by some individuals to own more than they need that necessitated the formation of a civil government. According to Rousseau, even though men themselves are never perfect in the original State of Nature, they are able to live perfectly well in a society guided by laws (Fukuyama, 2011).

Rousseau further came up with the theory of institutionalizing a general will. In this theory, he explained the concept of the general will as everything people have in common. According to this theory, the social pact gives a political body an absolute power which enables it to rule over its subjects. He stated that the resulting absolute power can only be described as sovereign if it takes into account the general will of its subjects something that is also supported by Locke (Erckel, 2009). Rousseau noted the tendency of man to restrict his support to a system which benefits him. According to Rousseau, this is what builds man’s confidence in his government. This view is also shares by Locke who argued that the formed civil government is legitimate only as long as it protects the rights of its citizens. Locke argued that whenever the government turns into a tyrannical entity and begins to oppress its people, the people have the right to take back their authority and protect their property. According to Locke, this is what leads to a revolution and, thus, the establishment of a new government (Erckel, 2009).

Contrary to the arguments by Hobbes that the State of Nature is dominated by war, Rousseau noted that in a State of Nature, only possessions do exist while the acknowledgement of properties is limited only to situations in which people come together and make law and abide by them. Under the kind of social contract advanced by Rousseau, people’s liberty must be converted from their original independence into the freedom that is governed by morals and laws. He disagreed with the argument of Hobbes that it is man’s pride that causes war in a state of nature. According to him, war basically results because of conflict over the passion to own properties. He justified his reasoning arguing that there is usually neither property nor war in the state of nature (Erckel, 2009).

Rousseau contradicted Hobbes’ argument that the need of social contract is basically to bring improvement to human life through ensuring that there is order in the society. He instead argued that the only reason why a government is formed is to ensure that the rights of its people are provided, while behind the formation of the legislature is to ensure that the will of the majority prevails. Rousseau’s views imply that any failure of the government to protect the rights of its people is a clear indication of the failure of the judiciary. In such a situation, democracy demands the failing judiciary to be replaced. This is somehow similar to the system practiced in the United States of America (Fukuyama, 2011).

In his social contract, Rousseau stated that it is mandatory for an individual to surrender their freedom to allow for the common will of the general public to take its course. To him, what matters is the belief in the ruling government which people hold to. When it is achieved, it becomes easy for the people to submit to it. Rousseau noted that “men are stupid creatures” and will not doubt a government which they believe they are part of, as this will hurt the larger society (Erckel, 2009). According to him, man can only prevent hurting the society by being rational in all his decisions. He also argued that whenever the subjects of a given society feel enslaved, that society can no longer be considered to be legitimate. Rousseau thus refuted the claim by Hobbes that man can only be governed by a sovereign. He instead argued that it is only by having a form of government with democratic institutions, which can ensure the freedom and participation of its subjects that peaceful coexistence of mankind can be achieved (Erckel, 2009).

John Locke

Locke views the State of Nature as a state of perfect and complete liberty where man is free to carry out his/her life in the way that best fits him/her. This means that no one is free to interfere with another person’s life. He argued that even though this state has no specific body with the authority to punish people for any wrong done, people have embraced morality (Erckel, 2009). He added that in the State of Nature, things are further eased by the fact that people view themselves as equal ones and are able to discover and live according to the Laws of Nature. This ability to discover and obey the Laws of Nature, according to Locke, is basic to morality and is God given. He argued that it is God who commands that man should never harm, but help to protect others’ rights, like that to health and property. He sees a possibility in this because of the fact that every man belongs to God and wouldn’t want to rob Him of His possessions. He, therefore, differed with Hobbes by insisting that the State of Nature is peaceful because of the restrictions imposed upon man by the Laws of Nature (Erckel, 2009).

Locke noted that even though the State of Nature can sometimes experience some war, especially in cases of disputes over property ownership, it can not be referred to as the state of war. In justifying his position, he argued that while the State of Nature is characterized by liberty where individuals internalize the Law of Nature and avoid harming one another, the state of war can simply begin from a dispute between two individuals. According to Locke, the formation of the civil government was necessitated by the fact that the State of Nature had a power vacuum. His reasoning was that while the Law of Nature gave room for man to defend himself, there was no single body or individual with the power to enact the laws. The civil government was thus formed to intervene in such cases as a situation where one commits murder in the process of defending his life or property. This is why men had to agree to sacrifice the State of Nature and form a civil government (Erckel, 2009).

According to Lock, property was very central to formation of the civil government. He explained that because of the limited nature of the natural resources, man could not own all that he needed, but had to be considerate of others. Locke even used natural reasons to justify the notion of private property. To him, any person who wants to use the earth must ask for permission from everyone else. This means that there had to be a body with the civil authority to protect people’s properties, something that was missing in the State of Nature and had to be provided for (Fukuyama, 2011).

Locke also refuted the claims by Hobbes that the State of Nature is a condition of individuals. He instead stated that the State of Nature is made up of families making it a conjugal society. According to him, these societies are tasked with offering protection to children based on morality and not politics. He argued that the political society only results in a case where the families give their men to represent them in the State of Nature. In such a case, men agree to relinquish the executive powers to the government to enable it punish those who break the law. This further leads to a state where everyone in the society subjects himself or herself to the will of the majority. According to Locke, this is what led to the formation of a society and the end of the State of Nature. He noted that the new arrangement came with benefits such as the introduction of laws, judges and the executive powers, which enabled peaceful coexistence of men (Erckel, 2009).

According to Erckel (2009), it is Locke’s strong argument for social contract and his agitation for the citizens to be given the right to oppose their king which brought about democracy in many states. Locke had stated that whenever the government begins to misuse the powers handed over and starts oppressing its citizens, a State of Nature re-emerges for the tyrant who will always face opposition from the people. This is because people will take back their right and begin to defend themselves whenever they feel that their government has failed to defend them. Lock argued that any government which fails to protect the rights of its people is never justified to continue ruling. The end result is the dissolution of the social compact and the beginning of the search for a new political society. The differences in Locke’s ideas from those of Hobbes and Rousseau, therefore, result from their conflicting ideology on human nature and the nature of morality majorly (Sutch & Roberts, 2004).

General Comparison of the Three Theorists

According to Hobbes, the State of Nature is a state that is ever characterized by war. He noted that, coupled with lack of morality, people in such a state live in constant fear and minimal or no freedom. He also sees it as a state of equals (Erckel, 2009). On the other hand, Lock argued that in a State of Nature, men had perfect freedom to do whatever they felt like. According to him, this state can never be said to be good or bad, but it is characterized by chaos. He argued that it is this chaotic situation that makes men to give up their freedom in favor of a civilized society. Finally, Rousseau argued that in a State of Nature men are equal and noble. According to him, it is civilization which worked to corrupt men (Erckel, 2009)

According to Hobbes, the purpose of government is to ensure adherence to law and order with the major aim of preventing the occurrence of war. Contrary to this, Locke argued that the purpose of the government in a State of Nature is to help man to secure natural rights which he identified as man’s property and his liberty. On the other hand, Rousseau argued that the purpose of the state is to unite men together under what he described as a general will (Erckel, 2009).

According to these arguments, Hobbes majorly sees government as a tool of control and not necessarily a representation, while Locke argued that the government had the duty to represent its people by ensuring that its people are not oppressed in any way. Rousseau on, the other hand, stated that apart from the government representing the interest of its people, it has to empower its citizens to enable them to participate in any democratic processes. Rousseau, therefore, rooted for the need of a democratic sovereign which would be trusted with the role of enacting the general will of the people (Fukuyama, (2011).

On the impact the government may have on its people, Hobbes noted that the government must be designed in such away as to enable it to protect man from the harm of another. Locke, on his part, argued that the major concern of the government should be to protect its citizens from itself. Rousseau, on the other hand, stressed the need for any established government to seek to align itself with the common will of its people, which, according to him, should remain superior to the wills of the individuals (Erckel, 2009).

There are, however, a number of similarities in the ideas of the three philosophers. For example, the three seem to agree that people had to surrender certain amount of their freedom to allow the functioning of the government. They see the formation of a civil government with powers to enforcer laws as the only way in which people can be secure from the harm of their neighbors. The three also agree that before the establishments of any kind of governments, man existed in a State of Nature. Though Locke noted the role played by the internalization of the will of God by man, the three were opposed to the idea of the government being organized through the church. All three theorists also started their explanation from a situation in which there was a clean state without any organized church. They all abandoned the idea of the church, and came up with a construct of nature as the foundation of any given society (Erckel, 2009).

Irrespective of their differences on a number of issues regarding the State of Nature, all the theorists also agree that for any law to serve there must be a body or an individual entitled to the enforcement of the same law. The only difference is that Locke sees a possibility of everyone taking part in enforcing Law of nature, because they are viewed as equals.


Implication of the Theorist’s Different Conceptualization

The three theorists had expectations which may not be real of what common people would be willing to do as a sacrifice to support the state. Hobbes created a state in which citizens have to relinquish all their powers to the state. He argued that this is because the power of the citizens is equated to self-interest which, according to him, is the greatest enemy of the society and the sole cause of wars experienced in the natural state. He argued that it is this act of the citizens voluntarily relinquishing their powers that enables them to receive life and, therefore, it is for their own benefit to willingly comply.

However, such a state can misuse its absolute power in creating laws that seek to oppress its citizens. This can cause a great and prolonged suffering to the citizens considering that in such a state the use of such concepts as bad laws is not allowed. The state contracted under such circumstances doesn’t normally listen to the concerns of its citizens, something that automatically results into oppression. Such a state is majorly maintained by the government stressing on the need for its citizens to avoid pursuing what it brands as “self interests”. In many cases, the description given by such governments to self interest is any action that is opposite to the expectation of the government. In addition, citizen’s rights of taking part in the decision making process is greatly reduced or not allowed at all. As expected, such a sovereign can never serve the citizens for long before experiencing opposition, especially because man by nature is self-interested.

Even though in all the three cases, the people are not denied a chance to pursue the collective good, they are never able to do this via the state as expected. For this reason, such a state is also likely to scramble in its operation, because it does not allow even those in government to freely share their views. I agree with the argument of John S. Mill who stated that whenever one refuses to listen to both the opposing views, his/her knowledge concerning the matter in question will be limited to only the side of the argument that she/he has open up to.

However, even though the states portrayed by the three theorists may be this bad, the state as contracted by Rousseau seems to have given a provision for its citizens’ participation in decision making, especially those decisions that affect their lives. However, I still agree with Erckel’s argument that a strict following of the aspects of the state as portrayed by Rousseau, is a utopia kind of government only, which can never be practical in real life situation (Erckel, 2009).

Equally, in the kind of the system fronted by Hobbes, the people had very little to enjoy. The only right they enjoyed is that of participation in putting the sovereign in place. On the other hand, the citizens in Hobbes’s constructed state are denied the right of participating in any decision making process. Though the kind of government created by Locke is that which seeks to promote high level of democracy, it may not be a reality. This is especially so because as contacted, such a state would give more powers to its citizens, especially as far as the ability to replace a failing civil government is concerned.  


In conclusion, it is clear that all the three theorists have their own ideas on the State of Nature and what necessitated the transition to a civil government. They, however, differed concerning what social contract should be and how it should be contracted with all of them giving different versions on the concept. The theorists also seem to disagree on the concept of the State of Nature. According to Hobbes, the State of Nature is characterized by constant wars while Locke sees it as a state in which all humankind are equal and aware of the Law of Nature which makes them live in a perfect peace.

However, the three theorists seem to be in agreement on the fact that before the governments came to be, the society was in a state of nature and lacked governing structure. Contrary to Hobbes and Locke who see transition to state as favorable, because it addresses the suffering of man, Rousseau insists that the two had used civil rights to enhance the state of nature while neglecting the civil society. It is also clear that all three theorists failed to describe the kind of expectations the state would have from the citizens in each case. However, they agreed on a number of ideas, like the fact that the only way in which human kind can improve their lives is to surrender their self interest for the common interest.

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