State Of Nature

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

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

Locke claims that humans are originally in a state of nature without a ruling government. However, being in the state of nature leads 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 a 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 bounded by the law of nature where each person lives, acts, and uses his possessions as he sees fit without 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. [1]

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. 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. [2] [3]

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 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 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 to determine who owns what part of an object or fruits of collective labor since each person has his own idea on 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. [4] [5]

Call For Government To Prevent 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 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 by others around them. 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." [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 argues this point in his famous work, Discourse on Inequality.

Defining State of Nature

In his work, Discourse on Inequality, Rousseau implies that human state of nature is a condition of humankind far before the creation of civilization. In the state of nature, humans are no different then the state of other animals. This means that humans, in the state of nature, are barbarians who only focuses on their daily needs and self-preservation just like the rest of the animal kingdom. Rousseau says, when in state of nature, 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. In the end, Rousseau defines 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. [7]

Transformation Form State Of Nature To Societies

Population growth of humans in the state of nature caused individuals to associate with each others. It was then that Rousseau thought humans started to form societies. He believed that when forced to interact with one another, 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 is 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 consequences of nature such as harsh climates and overcoming natures law of survival of the fittest. Rousseau indicated that humans were slowly drifting away form being in the state of nature by adapting the early forms of civilization after the transformation. [8]

Inequality In Societies

Call For A Government

Section 2: Deliverable

Life During Locke's And Rousseau's Time

Locke's And Rousseau's State Of Nature

Locke's And Rousseau's Definition For Societies

Locke's And Rousseau's Call For A Government

How Is State Of Nature Seen Today



  1. Goldwin, R. (1976). Locke's State of Nature in Political Society. The Western Political Quarterly, pp. 126-135. Retrieved from
  2. Simmons, A. (1989). Locke's State of Nature. Political Theory, 17(3), 449-470. Retrieved from
  3. SMITH, S. (2012). Locke and the Art of Constitutional Government. In Political Philosophy pp. 167-168. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Retrieved from
  4. Locke, J. (1988). Locke: Two Treatises of Government Student Edition (P. Peter Laslett, Ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., pp. 101-103
  5. SMITH, S. (2012). Locke and the Art of Constitutional Government. In Political Philosophy pp. 169-172. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Retrieved from
  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
  7. MacAdam, J. (1972). The Discourse on Inequality and the Social Contract. Philosophy, 47(182), 308-321. Retrieved from
  8. Rousseau, J. J., & Miller, J. (1992). Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Hackett Publishing., pp. x, 62-71

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