Hobbes and Locke on the question of human nature - 89278

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Discuss the similarities and differences between Hobbes and Locke on the question of human nature, the state of nature, and natural rights. References: Lesson 8.1: Read Locke, Second Treatise, Sections 4-24 (Cahn, 451-56) Lesson 8.2: Read Locke, Second Treatise, Sections 25-51, 77-142 (Cahn, 456-63; 470-88) Lecture 8.1 Transcripts >>Hello, this is lecture 8.1. Today we're going to continue the discussion of the social contract tradition and approach to political authority and this time looking at the philosophy of John Locke. Locke was also a 17th century philosopher basically. He's the generation after Hobbes; he's from 1632 to 1704, also an English philosopher, an English thinker. His work that you've read from is the Two Treatises of Government; we read from the second treatise. The first treatise you should know was the sustained critique of the theory of the divine right of kings and a specific dismantling of a certain defense of that view by someone named Robert Filmer. So with the divine right of kings out of the way, as we've discussed before, we need a new mode of argument to justify state authority. And we again use the idea of a state of nature to lay out the picture of human nature that Locke puts before us and with that the picture of human morality and motivation and human reason that we can rely on in thinking about what the justification of political authority is. Now for Locke, the fundamentals of that state of nature are natural rights; the natural rights that we all have and without a reason, we know others have them. And we are motivated for the most part to respect others' natural rights. I said "for the most part" because not everyone does this. I mean there are criminals; there are people who violate the natural law and we'll talk about those in a minute. But the picture of people outside of society is very different from Hobbes; we are not all basically only self-interested. We have an imperative of self-preservation but within that, within those parameters, we respect other people's natural rights and we know what they are. They are principally the right to life, liberty, and property; a familiar triumvirate as it were. Now when Locke paints the picture of the state of nature, he says it's a state of perfect freedom. But he says...he clarifies what he means by that; he uses the word "freedom" and "liberty" interchangeably. He says it's a state of liberty, but not license. That is its liberty to do what we want within the strictures of natural rights; our own and others. That is its liberty that we all have in the state of nature and which should be protected is the liberty to live within that natural rights. And that's very important to remember. Now as I said, reason gives all human beings the capacity to act this way and to know that they should and know that others have rights of this sort. Not everyone does and when people violate the natural law according to Locke, they basically have show they have as he says, "quit reason." They've given up the game, they show they don't have the kind of basic moral motivation that reason represents, and that reason would give us all. And as such, they are just beyond the pale. And as in his picture of the state of nature according to Locke, all people could respond to those crimes as it were, those violations, and individually punish law breakers. And by law, we don't have political legal structures yet, but just natural law. When human beings violate the natural law, anybody can punish them. Now what we'll see when we discussed how we move from the state of nature to civil society, this individual right to punish will be important so we have to remember that. But to complete the picture of the state of nature according to Locke, we have to look at the rights we have and its life, liberty, and property. First, Locke uses the word "property" in two senses and you have to really pay attention when you read him which one he's using at the time. In the narrow sense, he means property as you and I might mean it, namely real property; possessions, real estate, natural resources, things that people might own. But sometimes he uses the word property in a broader sense to just refer to all entitlements Lecture 8.2 Transcripts >>Hi this is lecture 8.2 and we are continuing our discussion of Locke's political philosophy and his version of the social contract theory. And as we saw in the last lecture, we know that Locke had a picture of human beings and by extension life in the state of nature as relatively congenial because we all had natural rights and we knew that we had them and that others had them and we all had a general inclination to respect them. But nevertheless, he thinks civil society and government are necessary to escape some of what he calls the "inconveniences" of the state of nature. Now he uses that word but as we'll see, they are rather pointed, these inconveniences. You'll recall that for Locke, punishment is decentralized. That if anybody violates the natural rights of others, they violate their natural law; they become as he puts it, like a "wild beast." They've given up reason and so anybody can defend themselves against such a person and punish them. But the problem with that is that it's very inefficient. It causes quarrels, people would accuse others of overstepping in their attempt to punish and that this is the cause of social strife. And so as a result, the natural rights we have, including the right to property, become less secure. And it is in all our interest then to form societies and then consent to the centralization of that power, the law making and punishment power. To centralize all of that in a government, but it's the government that we consent to. One thing to point out that's different from Hobbes, in Hobbes' picture, all of us are being self-interested. We decide among ourselves as citizens to give power to the sovereign. The agreement is among us, it is not between us and the sovereign because that agreement no one could enforce because the sovereign is not under any other law than the one he or she or it gives. But with Locke, the picture's different. We consent with a government. The government is a party to the social contract and that's different and very important because when we create civil societies, we grant the government its purgatives, its power, but its subject to our consent, our ongoing consent and the natural rights we had prior to that construction of that government we retain and they include life, liberty, and property. And so that government's power is more answerable to the citizens via our ongoing consent then it was in the picture drawn by Hobbes. Now there are two steps according to Locke by which we enter as it were a commonwealth, or a civil society. One is there has to be an initial agreement to be a society, to be a group that is going to act together. And that consent has to be unanimous because either you're a part of this group, a society, this collection of people, or you're not. So it's only those people who unanimously agree to be a body, politic as it were. It's only that group that could then make decisions about the kind of government they want. Then the second step, the second act of consent that he describes can be majority rule. That is, that body politic that society forms by unanimous consent can then decide by majority rule to have this kind of government or that kind of government. And so that two step process is important to keep in mind. Now in what you read, you saw that Locke encountered two objections to this picture that are interesting to think of as objections. One is that there was no record of any kind of original social contract, so it's unclear what he's talking about historically. And he says, "Well the original contract probably predates written language," or, "We don't have records of it and things like that." But his real answer comes out when he answers the second objection because the second objection is that, "Wait a minute, we all were born in societies. We are already under a government when we're born. No one asked us if we wanted to form one. So how could we be obligated by it," according to a consent model. His answer to that is very interesting because he says, "We do so by tacit consent. That is, if we enjoy the privileges and protections of a society and we don't leave, we don't emigrate, that means by our actions we are tacitly expressing our consent to the government that we live under." And that's a very interesting idea as you can imagine; controversial. Namely that our passive acceptance of the government is a kind of consent to it. Now in Locke's day, there might have been real estate...opportunities to emigrate to certain other places. This is the 17th century and there were movements to the western hemisphere first of all with very contentious assumptions about whether there were rights to completely exploit the land and the Americas and the kind of ignorance of the rights to the indigenous people here. But Locke could have assumed from his perspective of a kind of right to leave and so if you didn't leave, you tacitly consented. Under contemporary conditions that's less unrealistic or less realistic so you can think about and discuss whether you think a model of tacit consent would validate the power of a government, but Locke thought it did. Now in a part of the second treatise that was not assigned to be read, but it's worth I think talking about. Locke defends a right to rebel. If the government, if the institutions of state power overstep their bounds and violet the natural rights of their citizens and thereby violet the consent which gives them their power, then they lose all their authority and are subject to rebellion and revolution. This is the difference again from Hobbes who said, "There's never a right to revolution." Where Locke said, "No, there would be a justification." The reason is because we never give up our natural rights according to Locke. Where we saw with Hobbes, that there was no external independent moral order previous to an independent society, the social institutions and the power of the sovereign created that order. Where for Locke there is and the independent moral order is the natural rights that we have, we've had, and we would have them outside of society and we have them while we're in society. This is very much akin to the idea of human rights which essentially people have wherever they are in the world. They have them against their governments if need be as well as... [ Pause ] ...as just a citizen of the world. So this idea very much comes out of Locke in particular, but the tradition of which Locke was a part. So this is the picture of the social contract that we get from Locke and it's very different and very interesting and very influential. As you may know, he was extremely influential to the framers of the U.S. Constitution, Havard [assumed spelling] and Thomas Jefferson in particular who borrowed phrases from him and followed his philosophy. But he's very important to us because it gives us another picture of what the grounds and limits of the power of the state are. And so we will continue on our discussion of political philosophy, but this is in general the model of the social contract and two of the most important defenders of it. See you next time.
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