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State Of Nature

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Comparison Of John Locke's and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Philosophy On Human State Of Nature

by Milap Patel

John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Milestone Image
John Locke

Born: 29 August 1632, Wrington, England

Died: 28 October 1704, High Laver, England
Influenced The Glorious Revolution, The American Revolution, And The French Revolution
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Born: 28 June 1712, Geneva, Switzerland

Died: 2 July 1778, Ermenonville, France
Influenced The French Revolution, And The Views On Art, Science, Nature, And Education


Abstract


This milestone is about understanding humans in the state of nature and why they transitioned into society. To accomplish this task, I studied two philosophers, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who both believed that humans were initially good in the state of nature. However, various circumstances in the state of nature, pointed out by the philosophers, forced humans to join into societies. These points are thoroughly discussed in the background and then in the deliverable, these points are compared and contrasted. Overall, I have had very little experience in the field of philosophy, with no prior philosophy classes taken before this project. My last two milestones on philosophy encouraged me to study the topic of humans in the state of nature and how the state of nature leads to the political system seen throughout history.

Introduction


This milestone looks at the philosophy behind human transition into society from the state of nature. John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were both key philosophers who had their own views on societies and how they emerged. This project, specifically, discusses their views in depth and explores how their views compared. This project also looks to understand how those view relate to the modern world and politics.

Section 1: Background


John Locke's Life


John Locke was an English philosopher who was born in England in the year 1632. He initially studied medicine at the University of Oxford, graduating with a degree in that field. He later joined Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, assisting him in business and political matters along with being his personal physician. John Locke was deeply influenced during his time with Cooper where he started to study politics. He eventually took a stand against monarchy, believing that the government was for the benefit of the people. This was clearly not the case during his time. The kings of England, King Charles II and King James II, were abusive of their power, forcing their will on the citizens by passing laws that favored their religious views. Locke saw this as oppression and slavery of the people. He wrote Two Treatises Of Government where he tried to justify the fall of monarchy and the creation of a new form of government for the people. However, for Locke to understand what would make a good form of government for the people, he first looked at how humans were in their natural state far before any authority was in place. He considered this state to be the state of nature. [1] [2]

John Lock's View On The State of Nature


Locke claims that humans were originally in the state of nature without a ruling government. However, being in the state of nature led to the state of war which is full of violence. To avoid being in the state of war, Locke calls for a government where common law governs the society in a peaceful manner.

Humans In The State of Nature


Locke claims that all men are originally in the state of nature in his work called Two Treatises of Government. He says that all men are perfectly free and perfectly equal without an overseeing government in this state. In other words, Locke implies that people are only bound by the law of nature where each person lives, acts, and uses his possessions as he sees fit without a common authority. The natural law, or the "Fundamental law of Nature," as Locke calls it, is the right to self-preservation. It states that each man is empowered to do whatever is in his power to preserve himself in the state of nature. [3]

How The State of Nature Leads To The State of War


Locke then moves on to talk about differences between the state of nature and the state of war in Chapter III if his Second Treatise. In the state of war, people exert unwelcome force on other people by interfering with their natural rights and freedom. According to Locke, a state of nature which at first is a condition of peace and mutual trust, quickly degenerates into a state of war when a crises or a disagreement arises between the people. This happens because there is no overseeing authority in the state of nature meaning each individual serves as a judge, jury, and executioner of the natural law. This leads to force and violence, the only resolution since common law does not exist between the people. [4] [5]

Acquiring Property In The State of Nature Leads To The State of War

Locke's View On State Of Nature
Article Image
Picture State Of War


Property is a key subject Locke brings up in Chapter V of the Second Treatise. In this chapter he links the humans behavior of acquiring property to the state of war when humans are living in the state of nature. Locke begins this chapter by first stating that the Earth is considered the property of all the people where the people can use it for their collective survival and benefit. Locke writes, "God gave the World to Men in Common, but he gave it to them for their benefits, and the greatest Conveniences of Life they were capable to draw form it." Locke then considers the concept of individual property where individuals take possession of the things around them when in the state of nature. He says, "Human nature is very much that of man as the property-acquiring animal in the state of nature." In other words, Locke is suggesting that humans tend to take possessions of things around them and call them their property. This, however, brings up the question of ownership. Locke defines ownership as labor performed by a person. He writes, "Every man has a Property in his Person. This body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his...For this Labour being the unquestionable Property of the Laborer." In other words, Locke says that a person owns his own body and all the labor performed by that body. Labor then leads to the ownership of property that the labor relates to. Now, when another person adds his own physical labor, which is his own property, to a foreign object or material, then that object and any resulting products also become his property. But in the state of nature, there are no common laws to determine who owns what part of an object or fruits of collective labor, since each person has his own idea of possession. This ultimately leads to the state of war over the conflict of possession where the resolution ends in violence and dominance of the fittest. [6] [7]

Call For Government To Prevent The State Of War


Locke calls for a government to secure individuals property. As he puts it, the natural law dictates a right of private property, and it is to secure this right that the government is established. Locke further explains this by relating it to the state of war. He calls the state of nature "unstable" with no civil authority where people are in constant dispute over the ownership of their property. This prevents peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of their labor which are constantly threatened by war and conflict by others around them. This is the key reason why Locke calls for a common government where common laws can resolve conflicts without resorting to the state of war. Locke writes, "protection of property is the great and chief end of Men's uniting into a commonwealth." [8]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Life


Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born on 28 June 1712 in Geneva, Switzerland. He moved to Paris as a young man where he was educated. While in Paris, he was exposed to opulence and luxury which was the order of the day for Parisian noblemen. At the same time, he was also exposed to the life of the lower classes that were not as pretty, filled with despair and struggle. To understand what made the social classes different and why they existed, Rousseau decided to take a look at life before civilization where men were originally in the state of nature. [9]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's View On The State Of Nature


Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought differently about the human state of nature then what was traditionally believed during his time. For one, Rousseau thought that humans were good when in the state of nature but that joining society had corrupted them. He argues this point in his famous work, Discourse on Inequality.

Defining The State of Nature

Rousseau's View On State Of Nature
Article Image
Picture Humans No Different Than The State Of Animals


In his work, Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau implies that human state of nature is a condition of humankind far before the creation of civilization. Rousseau defines the state of nature as a morally neutral and peaceful condition in which individuals act according to their basic urges, like hunger, along with their natural desire for self-preservation. When in the state of nature, humans are no different than the state of other animals. This means that humans, in the state of nature, are barbarians who only focus on their daily needs and self-preservation just like the rest of the animal kingdom. Rousseau also says that when in this state, humans tend to more easily understand their state of mind where they are drawn to essential features of a satisfied life. Essential features of life include love of family, respect for the beauty of nature, mild curiosity of others, and a taste for simple entertainment like music. [10]

Transformation From The State Of Nature To Societies


Population growth of humans in the state of nature caused individuals to associate with each other. It was then that Rousseau thought humans started to form societies. He believed that when forced to interact with each other, humans underwent a psychological transformation where they started to value the good opinion of others as an essential component of their own well-being. Rousseau, further stated that these interactions were what allowed humans to flourish with developing ideas of agriculture, metallurgy, private property, and the division of labor. Now, with these revolutionary ideas and collaboration of multiple individuals, humans were able to surviving harsh conditions of nature such as harsh climates and overcoming nature's law of survival of the fittest. Rousseau indicated that humans were slowly drifting away form being in the state of nature by adapting to the early forms of civilization. [11]

Human Corruption In Societies


Rousseau says humans became corrupt in societies. He observed evil, greed, and selfishness emerge as human society began to develop. As people formed social institutions, they developed vices. One such institution was private property that encouraged greed and self-interest. Rousseau viewed private property as a destructive, impulsive, and egotistical institution that rewarded people for their greed and luck. Furthermore, inequality developed in societies as some people produced more and earned more, creating classes where the rich became richer while others remained poor, or were even enslaved to the rich. As such, Rousseau considers societies to be corrupt and evil where the majority of the people gave up their freedom, once held in the state of nature, for wealth and power in societies. Rousseau writes, "since the most powerful or the most miserable made of their strength or their needs, a kind of right to the possessions of others, equivalent in their opinion, to the right of property, equality was destroyed and followed by the most frightful disorder." [12]

Call For A Government To Limit Corruption


Rousseau points out that people are incapable of returning to the state of nature as their instincts are dulled by the luxury of society. He says that people are too attached to their life in societies, pursuing wealth and power, to return to the state of nature. Because of this, Rousseau believes there must be a governing body to limit the corrupting aspects of society. He says that the governing body must keep the interest of all its people and try to diminish the inequalities produced by the negative morals of society. [13]

Section 2: Deliverable


In this section I will demonstrate how John Locke's and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophy compare and contrast with each other. I will begin by comparing the lifestyles during their time. I will then compare their views on the human state of nature followed by their views on what caused humans to shift to societies. I will end this section by comparing their views on the need for a government followed by my interpretation of how the human state of nature is seen today.

The Ruling Class During Locke's And Rousseau's Time


John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau both lived during a time of turbulence. Locke lived a life when monarchy ruled England where its people obeyed one man, the king. The kings during his time in England, as described earlier, were regarded as being unjust towards the people. They passed laws that supported their religious views but for the people, these laws caused suffering and misery. As such, the people considered monarchy in England, during Locke's time, a form of tyranny. The people believed monarchy stripped them of their freedom and demoted them to a form of slavery where they were forced to obey the unjust king.
Rousseau, on the other hand, also lived during a time of monarchy. However, unlike Locke's time, the people in France during Rousseau's time faced a problem dealing with social classes. The people in higher social classes were well off, living a life in luxury with abundant wealth and power. This, however, was not true for the lower class. The lower class, the majority of the population in France at that time, was a working class who faced continuous poverty. They paid the most tax within the entire social class system which forced them to constantly face harsh living standards, such as hunger and abuse.
In both Locke's and Rousseau's time, the people considered their ruling government to fail at its obligations to the people. As such, the people, in both cases, called for a new form of government that favored the people as a whole, not just a few. In England, the people overthrew the tyrannical monarchy in the Glorious Revolution while in France, the people also overthrew their monarchy and the class system in the French Revolution. For both of these key events, their respective philosophers, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, influenced the movement through their political philosophy on a good form of government for the people. However, for them to understand what made a government good, they both looked at the idea of humans in the state of nature.

Locke's And Rousseau's View On The Human State Of Nature


Both Locke and Rousseau claim that humans were originally in the state of nature. In this state, both philosophers say that human were inherently good and that their main focus was on self-preservation without an overseeing authority. Locke further claimed that humans were perfectly free and perfectly equal in the state of nature. Each person, according to Locke, lived, acted, and used his possessions as he saw fit, restricted only by the laws of nature. Rousseau, on the other hand, implied that humans where barbarians who were morally neutral and peaceful. They, according to Rousseau, only acted according to their basic urges, such as self-preservation and mild entertainment, just like the rest of the animal kingdom.

Locke's And Rousseau's View On Societies

Formation Of Societies
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Picture People Joining Into Societies


Locke and Rousseau have completely different views on the formation of societies. Locke claimed that societies emerged because people feared being in the state of war while they lived in the state of nature. As Locke put it, the state of war is a byproduct of the state of nature when conflicts arise. Since there are no common laws or authority to resolve conflicts, people resort to violence as the only common method of resolution. This is especially true regarding property. Locke considers people to be property acquiring animals that consistently fight over each other's properties, calling it their own. This in turn leaves the people in a constant state of war while they live in the state of nature. Locke concludes that people created societies to resolve their conflicts with a common authority between the people.
Rousseau, however, has a competently different view on why people joined societies. As Rousseau put it, people were pure, peaceful, and happy in the state of nature, but the growing human population caused people to associate with each other, resulting in the formation of societies. He believed that people underwent a psychological transformation when they began to interact with each other. These interactions allowed humans to collaborate and flourish in societies, but at the same time also become corrupted with evil, greed, and selfishness when introduced to the wealth and power that accompanied societies. As such, Rousseau considers societies to be evil where they have a negative influence on the individuals unlike Locke, who believed joining societies was a positive move for the individuals.

Locke's And Rousseau's Call For A Government


Both Locke and Rousseau call for a governing body, but they call it for different reasons. Locke calls for a government to secure individual's property and prevent people from resorting to a state of war when a conflict arises. Rousseau, on the other hand, calls for a government to stop the corrupting aspects of societies since humans are incapable of returning to the state of nature at this point.

The State Of Nature Relating To Modern Societies As I See It

Our Needs Today
Article Image
Picture The Modern Need For Money


I believe both philosophers are partially correct in their theories. This can be observed in modern society, where many individuals are filled with greed and selfishness over acquiring property. Money is a form of property that most people in modern societies dream of acquiring. Money was originally intended to only serve as a medium for bartering where it replaced large and physical items with a more manageable form of currency. However, the definition and value of money drastically increased over time where it now holds the power of being individuals dream. Many individuals in modern society consider acquiring large sum of money their dream in life because it allows them to do as they please. With money, the individuals can buy a large variety of tangible property, like large houses, expensive furniture, fast cars and so on, or they can buy a variety of services, like a vacation, hair stylist, personal maids, and so on. [14]
Since money holds abundant power in society, people's perception of happiness in modern society has also drastically changed. Compared to when humans were in the state of nature, people now believe they can achieve happiness with money. For this reason, people strive to become rich in the hopes of bettering their life. However, as people become richer, they gain more power because of the sheer definition of money. This creates social classes where people who possess abundant amount of money have abundant power where as people who possess less money, in comparison, have less power. This leads to competition and abuse where people in lower classes start idealizing people in higher classes because they possess large amount of property in comparison where they can live a life in luxury. [15] Furthermore, people show vice like characteristics to stay wealthy and in power where they abuse the poor, or they bribe their opposition into submission. [16] This goes to show that people have become corrupt with greed and power over acquiring money and property just as Rousseau pointed out in his philosophy as explained above. Furthermore, Locke's philosophy can also be related to modern society. People compete for money in modern society because they regard money to be valuable. In modern societies, laws restrict people from taking other people's money, but if they were in the state of nature, then there is nothing stopping them. People would then constantly fight over the possession of money meaning they would always be in the state of war. As such Locke's philosophy is also correct regarding society where people need a governing body to protect their property.

Conclusion


This milestone covered John Locke's and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's philosophical views on humans in the state of nature. Both Locke and Rousseau believed that humans were initially good in the state of nature but various circumstances forced humans into societies. Locke believed that the state of nature was unstable for humans with no common authority because it always led to the state of war when a crises emerged between the humans. As such, Locke believed that humans joined societies to prevent being in the state of war by having a common authority to rule its people. Rousseau, on the other hand, believed that humans were forced to interact with each other in the state of nature because of the growing population. He believed that societies formed because of this. He further said that humans became corrupt with greed, selfishness, and power after joining societies. As such, Rousseau believed that societies were evil, whereas Locke believed them to be good. Further research can be done on this topic in depth regarding how Locke's and Rousseau's philosophies play a role in modern societies.

Text References

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  2. Giffin, F. (1967). John Locke and Religious Toleration. Journal of Church and State, 9(3), 378-390. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/23913736
  3. Goldwin, R. (1976). Locke's State of Nature in Political Society. The Western Political Quarterly, pp. 126-135. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/447588
  4. Simmons, A. (1989). Locke's State of Nature. Political Theory, 17(3), 449-470. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/191226
  5. SMITH, S. (2012). Locke and the Art of Constitutional Government. In Political Philosophy pp. 167-168. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/j.ctt32bv21.13
  6. Locke, J. (1988). Locke: Two Treatises of Government Student Edition (P. Peter Laslett, Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp. 101-103
  7. SMITH, S. (2012). Locke and the Art of Constitutional Government. In Political Philosophy pp. 169-172. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/j.ctt32bv21.13
  8. SMITH, S. (2012). Locke and the Art of Constitutional Government. In Political Philosophy pp. 169-172. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/j.ctt32bv21.13
  9. MORGENSTERN, M. (2009). Politics in/of the City: Love, Modernity, and Strangeness in the City of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In BLACKELL M., DUNCAN J., & KOW S. (Eds.), Rousseau and Desire (pp. 165-186). Toronto; Buffalo; London: University of Toronto Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/10.3138/9781442685376.12
  10. MacAdam, J. (1972). The Discourse on Inequality and the Social Contract. Philosophy, 47(182), 308-321. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/3749784
  11. Rousseau, J. J., & Miller, J. (1992). Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Hackett Publishing., pp. x, 62-71
  12. MacAdam, J. (1972). The Discourse on Inequality and the Social Contract. Philosophy, 47(182), 308-321. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/3749784
  13. MacAdam, J. (1972). The Discourse on Inequality and the Social Contract. Philosophy, 47(182), 308-321. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/3749784
  14. Mitchell, T., & Mickel, A. (1999). The Meaning of Money: An Individual-Difference Perspective. The Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 568-578. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/259143
  15. Mitchell, T., & Mickel, A. (1999). The Meaning of Money: An Individual-Difference Perspective. The Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 568-578. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/259143
  16. Back Matter. (1999). The Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 594-595. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.wpi.edu/stable/259149


Image References

  1. Baker, H. (2014). Locke and Rousseau. Retrieved from http://www.canonandculture.com/rousseau-locke-religious-liberty-and-the-hhs-mandate/
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  3. (2015). Human vs Nature. Retrieved from http://keywordsuggest.org/gallery/99443.html
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