Week 6:

Hobbes and Locke and the beginnings of “liberalism”:


Links: Hobbes




(i) Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679)


1. Introduction: importance of Hobbes, and context of his times -

1.1 sought a scientific theory of politics (using a ‘resolutive-compositive method’) – a rationalist (in contrast to Locke: an empiricist)

1.2 stressed the need for an all-powerful sovereign, whose purpose is to protect individuals’ lives and freedom. ‘Leviathan or The Matter, Form and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil’ – 1651.

1.3 opposed by both Royalists (and ‘Divine Right’) and republicans (and ‘democracy’)


2. Life –

2.1 Oxford University at age 15

2.2 tutor to Earl of Devonshire, met Bacon, Ben Jonson and others

2.3 “Leviathan” 1651 condemned as atheistic – fled France for England, supported Cromwell

2.4 back in favour with the king at the Restoration

2.5 died age 91 – wrote on geometry, translated Thucydides, and (at age 85) Homer.


3. Extracts –

1. on his method of thinking

2. appetites and aversions – all are ‘motions’

3. good and bad are derived from desire or aversion

4. thinking (‘deliberation’) is ‘the sum of desires, aversions, hopes and fears’ – and after ‘deliberation’ the will decides on action

5. primary and secondary powers (‘present means to obtain future apparent good’)

6. everyone desires ‘power after power’ (ability to acquire what we want)

7. all are equal, and all have equal claims to what we want

8. equal ability plus equal hope plus equal powers leads to conflict

9. causes of conflict: competition (for Gain), diffidence (fear for safety), glory (for reputation - vanity)

10. the ‘state of nature’: where life would be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’

11. the ‘law of nature’ (a ‘rule of reason’): to protect our lives

12. consequent ‘rule of reason’: to seek peace, or to use violence to protect ourselves

13. next ‘rule of reason’: to obtain peace we should be prepared to give up our rights collectively, leaving only as much liberty for others as we would want for ourselves

14. all power therefore must be conferred by a social contract on the Leviathan (one man or body of men) – the contract is between the citizens, but all power is passed to the sovereign)

15. Leviathan’s supreme power

16. exception: Leviathan may not command citizen to harm himself (is this logical?).



(ii) John Locke (1632 – 1704)


1. Works and importance:


1.1 “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1687) - denies ‘innate ideas’: we learn from our senses only

1.2 “Three Letters on Toleration” (1689) – on-one has the right to interfere in another’s beliefs

1.3 “Two Treatises on Government” (1689) – opposes ‘Divine Right’ of Kings (vs. Filmer)

1.4 seen as defender of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ 1688 – William and Mary and a ‘constitutional monarchy’

1.5 formulated ‘liberalism’ – state to protect individual rights (life, liberty and property)

1.6 influence in France.


2. Extracts from the Treatises on Government.


1. Men are made by God, and are God’s property.

2. Men are born free (“independent”) and equal; in the ‘state of nature’ men had ‘reason’ but no one had power to settle disputes.

3. The law of nature is evident to our reasoning: no one ought to harm another in their life, liberty or possessions

4. government exists to protect our lives, liberty, property

5. civil government is the remedy for the ‘inconveniences’ of the state of nature

6. political power should be based on consent – no one should be subject to arbitrary power, and absolutism is wrong

7. supreme power rests with the people, who may remove the government (legislative and executive) if it fails to protect people’s rights…(this is another ‘social contract’ argument – how does it differ from Hobbes’s?)


3. (if time!) Notes on Locke’s theory of property (and the ‘labour theory of value’)


1 - anything taken ‘from the state of nature’ and worked on becomes the property of the person who took it

2 - everyone is entitled to as much property as they can use without it ‘spoiling’

3 - however, money allows people to accumulate more, and inequality has arisen, by our ‘tacit consent’

4 - labour creates value, and the transition from common to individual property was ‘right’ (because everyone has a right to common land) and ‘convenient’ – land became ‘bounded’ and no one would take more than they needed (it would be ‘useless’ and ‘dishonest’ to do so)

5 - enclosed land produces more than common land ‘lying in waste’...