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State of Nature
Rev. 9/2013
Locke, Hobbes
And Others
Government - Lehr
Objectives
• Understand the concept of the “state of
nature” and its usefulness in exploring how
government systems work.
• Understand the evolution of the theories
about legitimacy, power and government
• Understand how basic assumptions about
human nature are an essential factor of which
system of government a society chooses.
Basic Cornell Note-Taking
On this side,
jot down
extra
thoughts,
ideas,
questions your own and
those
suggested by
the teacher
State of Nature Notes
On this side,
copy down stuff
from the board,
pretty much
exactly (you can
summarize in
your own words
if you
understand the
concept)
On the last page of note-taking, we’ll summarize everything here.
What is the
“State of Nature?”
• During the 1500’s, scientists
like Newton were using lab
experiments to discover
amazing things about the
way the physical world
works.
• Social scientists wanted to
use the same kind of
experiments to figure out
the way that governments
and societies work.
What is the
“State of Nature?”
• But, you can’t “test” new
government or social ideas
with people - they are too
used to the way they already
do things!
• The only way to try out new
ideas about government and
societies is to do ‘thought
experiments’ and imagine
how things will turn out.
What is the
“State of Nature?”
• The “state of nature” is what
philosophers called the
imaginary place where no
government exists.
– People have 100% freedom
(the right to do anything they
want)
– There are no formal
restrictions on what a person
can do.
What is the
“State of Nature?”
• The state of nature gives the philosophers a common
starting point for ‘running their thought experiments’. It’s
a clean, uncontaminated “petri dish”where they can be
sure their ideas are being tested properly. Remember, the
state of nature really ONLY exists in the imagination.
Discussion questions
• Imagine what life might be like in a state of nature. Think
what your classroom might be like if there were no rules.
Think what might happen if the teacher didn’t have the
right to tell anyone what to do.
• What might be the advantages and disadvantages of living
in a state of nature?
• What might happen to people’s rights?
• How might life be like for everyone?
Niccolo Machiavelli
1459-1527
• Believed world was full of
corruption. Everyone is basically
greedy.
• His solution: We must have a
strong, absolute despot (ruler).
– One person being in charge is
best.
– Leader should use any means
necessary to stay in charge
• “It is far safer to be feared than
loved”
• “Ends justifies the means” is a
Machiavellian philosophy
Questions…(for left column of Cornell notes)
• Do you agree with anything Machiavelli
believed?
• How does it make sense that “corrupt”
people need an absolute ruler? Why
doesn’t Machiavelli think democracy
could work?
Jean Bodin
1530-1596
• Introduced the idea of the
Social Contract.
– A contract is an agreement
between two parties.
– In the Social Contract, the
two parties are the
individual and the
government.
– If “the People” are the
government, then the Social
Contract is between an
individual and the rest of
society.
Johannes Althusius
1563-1638
• Althusius expanded on the
Social Contract:
– Like a regular contract,
the Social Contract is
valid only as long both
parties (individual and
government) are happy
with arrangement.
– So…if one party
violates the contract,
then the other party is no
longer bound by it.
Questions…(for left column of Cornell notes)
• What are the terms of the Social
Contract?
• How does a person (you) break the
contract? What happens when you
break it?
• How does the government break the
contract? What can happen when they
break it?
Thomas Hobbes
1588-1679
• Hobbes agreed a lot with Machiavelli:
– Chaos rules in the state of nature, because man is essentially a
ferocious animal, seeking only his/her own gain and survival.
– In the state of nature, this will result in the destruction of others
and eventually self-destruction of all humanity.
• So, Hobbes believed we must create a social contract
where people give up many of their rights, and let a king or
dictator rule over them.
• And, once people give this power to a king, they cannot
take it back. The people must be fully obedient to the king.
Thomas Hobbes, cont.
• Kings should not be allpowerful; they cannot
force men to murder, steal,
commit suicide, etc.
• Hobbes believed that all
people should have the
same religion. And that
God gives a king the
authority to rule (called
the “Divine Right of
Kings”)
Questions…(for left column of Cornell notes)
• Why do you think Hobbes believes it is
best for the king’s power to be
irrevocable (can’t be revoked, or taken
back)?
• Why do you think Hobbes believes that
there should be an official state religion
and state church?
Baron de Montesquieu
1689-1755
• Democracy is the best form
of government
• Governments should be
organized to prevent one
person or group from
dominating others
• Proposed a three-branch
system (separation of powers)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
1712-1778
• People are naturally good
, but corrupted and
enslaved by society
• Government has a duty to
secure freedom, or else it
has no right to exist.
• “Popular sovereignty” is
best
John Locke
“Grandfather of American Democracy”
1632-1704
• Disagreed with Hobbes Man’s natural State is not
one of war and selfseeking. Original, true
nature of man is of peace,
goodwill and mutual
assistance - men naturally
move toward social living.
John Locke, cont.
• Natural Law exists even when there is no
government. So, even if there is no law against
stealing, it is still “wrong” to steal, and it cannot
be allowed.
• Also: no divine right of kings, no inherent
absolute power of kings.
• Instead, People take the rights they are born with
and give them up to a government (social
contract). If the government doesn’t use those
rights well, the people can take their rights back.
Summary
• Machiavelli and most other early social philosophers
thought that the world was a mean, corrupt place,
and a strong ruling hand was needed to manage
society.
• All these earlier thinkers concluded that an absolute
ruler (king) was necessary.
• During this time, the idea evolved that people had
rights naturally, rather than getting them from a king.
• Also adopted Social Contract theory, that agreements
between the ruler and the ruled should be thought of
as a contract that can be broken by either party.
Summary
• The State of Nature was used by social thinkers to work out
their theories of how governments work.
• Hobbes used the State of Nature to prove that greedy, selfserving people need a strong leader and a common religion.
• Locke made persuasive arguments that people are not by
nature corrupt and self-serving; leaders serve the people; and
citizens can live together with others in peace under a peoplecentered government.
• These arguments helped convince our Founding fathers that a
government based on democracy, rather than a government
with an absolute ruler, could work.
Readings from “We The People”
Group 1:
• Read “Taking the position of a
political philosopher” pp. 3-5
• Take notes on and be
prepared to share with the
rest of the class your
understanding of the
following terms:
-Law of nature
-legitimate
-consent
-Life, liberty, property
Group 2:
• Read “What is the significance
of Locke’s definition of the
natural rights to life, liberty,
property?” pp. 5-6
• Take notes on and be prepared
to share your understanding
of the following terms:
-Natural rights
-Unalienable
-Civil rights
-Political rights
BOTH GROUPS: Be prepared to answer the “What do you think?”
questions at the end of the end of the reading.
Group 1 Questions
• Give examples of conflicts that might
occur when one’s rights to life, liberty or
property clash with others.
• How do we give our consent to govern,
and how do we withdraw it?
• Are there other basic rights than the
right to life, liberty or property?
Education? Health care? Other?
Group 2 Questions
• If government is supposed to protect rights to
life, liberty property, then when, if ever,
should they be allowed to limit these rights?
Think about limiting:
– Rights to believe as one wishes
– Use of one’s property
– Associate with whomever one wishes
• If people are not equal, should rights be
equal? Why/why not?