Thomas Hobbes and the Social Contract

When analyzing the modern social contract theorists, one must take into account the conditions that the philosopher was living in while devising his social contract. Each theorist: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes all have the same idea but each has his theory rooted in very different beliefs.

Rousseau formulated his theory in the middle of the French Enlightenment and the same theory breathed life into the intellectual basis for the French Revolution; furthermore, he based his theory on those of Locke and Hobbes and then pointed out what he thought should be different.John Locke elaborates on the rights of man by including specific “natural rights” that were guaranteed to man. Finally during the English civil war, Thomas Hobbes wrote his book, The Leviathan, in which he explains his perspective on the state of human nature, the foundation needed for a social contract, as well as—use and—less wordiness what determines a legitimate government under the terms of the social contract. Although his works have received much criticism, out of the three theorists, Thomas Hobbes’ theory is the most important (Because ?..

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. )Where’s the rest of the thesis?Main focus of the essay. In The Leviathan, Hobbes begins by explaining man’s state of nature.

Hobbes explains the state of nature or man before government, institution or laws as a constant state of war. He elaborates by saying that people’s individual rationality, as well as the fact that all people are roughly equal in power, dictates the violent, ‘preemptive aggressive, nature of man (Hobbes). Hobbes also explains the motivations that drive man to be in a state of conflict; man is inclined to be violent because of scarce resources, diffidence and religious disagreements.Finally, Hobbes sums up the life of man in the state or nature as one that is solitary, nasty, poor, short and brutish: “Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man… In such condition there is no place for industry… [That] which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short (Hobbes).

” – Don’t you have to site page number too?Hobbes further elaborates on his “state of nature” by explaining that since man’s mentality in the state of nature is ‘each man for himself,’ one is allowed to do whatever he judges to be reasonable and within his right of self-preservation. He is only able to leave the state of nature when he surrenders his natural rights and transfers them to an entity with absolute sovereignty. One can only enter into a social contract with an absolute sovereignty when everyone else transfer’s their natural rights to the same effective political authority. Hobbes continues his theory and establishes the basis for man to enter a social contract.He explains that a social contract can only occur when all individuals surrender some of their individual rights to a common body who then uses their authority to protect and uphold the rights of society as a whole: “I authorize and give up my right of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition; that thou give up, thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner (Hobbes).

” By regulating the way society interacts, the sovereign body is able to bring society as a whole out of the anarchic state of nature.The sovereign that is created is one that can never be unjust because it is composed of many people who are individually represented by the sovereign. Thus, to say that the sovereign is unjust is equal to one calling themselves unjust (Hobbes). In essence, since it is in fact the people that have expressed consent for the sovereign to take some of their individual authority to establish a greater, common authority, the sovereign cannot be accused of injustice, nor can it be abolished, changed or punished for its actions.If the people believe that the sovereign is subject to law, or if the sovereign divides, or even if the sovereign seeks absolute power, the government will dissolve and the people will return to the state of nature and anarchy will ensue (Hobbes). If compared to the theory of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, there would be many points that both Rousseau and Hobbes would object to. One point that Rousseau might argue would be that the representative authority would not uphold the liberties of the people.

He would contend that the authority to hom the people had entered into a social contract with would act in his own self interest. The only way the authority would be able to remain in power would be by using force and since force is being used against the people, they are not free (Rousseau 49-60). He would then argue that the relationship between the authority and the people is not similar to the relationship between a father and a child.

The state would not be acting in the preservation of the people but would be a force against the people’s preservation (Rousseau 49-60). These statements are contradictory to Thomas Hobbes’ theory.Hobbes would respond by first addressing Rousseau’s assertion that people lose their natural rights when they enter into a social contract with a sovereign entity.

He would contend that people, before they enter into the social contract, only maintain one natural right: the right to self-preservation. He would contend Different word maybe you used contend in the sentence above. that since people are in a state of war in their natural state, it is for the benefit of the people to enter into a social contract so that they may ensure the security of their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.Furthermore, Hobbes would maintain that the people would essentially not be any “people” who would lose their natural rights. The sovereign would equally represent each individual. Essentially there would be no contract between “the people” and the sovereign. Next Hobbes would contest Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s notion that the relationship between the sovereign and man is dissimilar to the relationship between a father and a child. Hobbes would maintain that since the ruler’s power comes from the expressed consent of individuals, the ruler will act in the interest of the individual and is incapable of being unjust.

By pointing out the areas where Rousseau’s argument is weaker, Thomas Hobbes is able to negate the objections that Rousseau raises. Hobbes is very thorough in his explanation of the state of nature. He explains that life in the state of nature is nasty, poor, short and brutish. Also, individuals in the state of nature are only interested in self-preservation so they will only act in their own interest.

He then goes on to explain that since this is the case, it is only rational for people to ive up some of their individual rights so that they may all receive additional benefits by uniting under one common sovereign. This sovereign is legitimate because it is composed of the consent of the people and therefore is incapable of being unjust. Likewise, the sovereign represents each individual. Furthermore the sovereign is unable to obtain absolute power, nor can the power be divided if the sovereign happens to divide. If either case were to happen, then the sovereign would be abolished and man would return to a state of nature, until a new sovereign emerged.Finally, when compared to the social contract theory of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, one can clearly point out the weaknesses in Rousseau’s argument and conclude that the social contract theory of Thomas Hobbes is the stronger argument.Bibliography • Hobbes, Leviathan. “The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes.

” Oregon State . Oregon State Philosophy Department , n. d. Web.

3 Nov 2010. . • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques.

The social contract: & Discourses. London: Penguin Books, 1968. 49-65. Print.

Author: Christina Webb


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