State Of Nature

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Comparison Of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau

by Milap Patel

Two Treatises of Government
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Section 1: Background

John Locke's Life

Quick bibliography of his life.

Jhon Lock's View On State of Nature

Humans In The State of Nature

Locke claims that all men are originally in a state of nature in his work called Two Treatises of Government. In this state, Locke says the people are bounded by the laws of nature where each person lives, acts, and uses his possessions as he sees fit without an effective arching government. This creates a lawless community were people only benefit themselves. However, human, according to Locke, are supposed to protect the interests of each other as they are all equal children of God. He writes, "We are all the 'Workmanship' of 'one Omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker,' we ought to harm any others in their lives, liberties, or possessions." Locke, at the same time, also calls to punish those who intend to harm another by compromising his life, liberty, or possessions. He writes, "Every man has power to punish the Crime, to prevent its being committed again, by the Right he has of Preserving all Mankind." [1] [2]

How State of Nature Leads to 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. This is mostly done without a common authority. 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 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. 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. This leads to force and violence, the only resolution since common law does not exist between the people. [3] [4]

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

Property is a key subject Locke brings up in chapter V of the Second Treatise. In this chapter he links 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 benefits. 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 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 it their property. This, however, bring up the question of ownership. Locke defines ownership as labor preformed 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 many 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 preformed 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 a state of nature, there are no common laws on how to determine who owns what part an object or fruits of collective labor since each person has his own ideas on possession. This ultimately leads to a state of war where the resolution ends in violence and dominance of the fittest.

Call For Government To Prevent State Of War

Locke ends the section justifying the need 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 government is established. Locke further explains this by relating it to the state of war. He call 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. This is the key reason why Locke calls for a common government where common laws can resolve the conflicts without resorting to a state of war. Locke writes, "protection of property is the great and chief end of Men's uniting into a commonwealth." [5] [6]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Life

Quick bibliography of his life.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's View On State Of Nature

Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought differently about 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 joining society was what corrupted them. He argued this point in his famous work, Discourse on Inequality. In this is work, Rousseau implies that human state of nature is a condition of humankind far before the creation of civilization. In this state, humans are no different then the state of other animals. This mean that humans, in the state of nature, will focuses on their daily needs and self-preservation just like the rest of the animal kingdom.

Defining State of Nature


Section 2: Deliverable



  1. LOCKE, J., & Shapiro, I. (2003). Two Treatises of Government: And a Letter Concerning Toleration. Yale University Press., pp. 103-105
  2. SMITH, S. (2012). Locke and the Art of Constitutional Government. In Political Philosophy (pp. 167-169). New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Retrieved from
  3. Simmons, A. (1989). Locke's State of Nature. Political Theory, 17(3), 449-470. Retrieved from
  4. SMITH, S. (2012). Locke and the Art of Constitutional Government. In Political Philosophy pp. 167-168. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Retrieved from
  5. Locke, J. (1988). Locke: Two Treatises of Government Student Edition (P. Peter Laslett, Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp. 101-103
  6. SMITH, S. (2012). Locke and the Art of Constitutional Government. In Political Philosophy pp. 169-172. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Retrieved from

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