State Of Nature

From Londonhua WIKI

Revision as of 15:09, 13 June 2017 by Mbpatel (talk | contribs) (Life During Locke's And Rousseau's Time)

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

by Milap Patel

Two Treatises of Government
[[File: |x450px|alt=Milestone Image]]



Section 1: Background

John Locke's Life

John Locke is an English philosopher who was born in England in the year, 1632. He initially studied medicine at University of Oxford, graduating with a degree in that field, but later joined Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, assisting him on business and political matters along with being his personal physician. John Locke was deeply influenced during his time with Cooper where he started to understand politics. He eventuality take 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 his power, forcing their will on the citizens by passing laws that favored their view. Locke saw this as an oppression and slavery of the people. He wrote the Two Treatises Of Government where he tried to justify the fall of monarchy and a creation of a new from of government for the people. However, for Locke to understand what would make a good form 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]

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. [3]

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. [4] [5]

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. [6] [7]

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." [8]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Life

Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born on 28 June 1712 in Geneva, Switzerland. He moved to Pairs 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 the nobleman. 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 exist, Rousseau decided to take a look at life before civilization where men were originally in a state of nature. [9]

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. 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. When 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 also says, 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 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 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. Further more, inequality developed in societies as some people produced more and earned more, creating classes where the rich became richer while others remained poor, or even enslaved to the rich. As such, Rousseau considers societies to be corrupt and evil where 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, perusing 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 contest from each other. I will began by comparing the lifestyles during their time. I will then compare their views on 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 giving my interpretation of how human state of nature is seen today.

Life 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. Unfortunately, the kings, during his time in England, were not considered ideal. They passed laws that favored them but for the people, these laws caused unwanted suffering and misery. As such, the people considered monarchy in England, during Locke's time, a from 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, 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 hunger and abuse.

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. Schwoerer, L. (1990). Locke, Lockean Ideas, and the Glorious Revolution. Journal of the History of Ideas, 51(4), 531-548. Retrieved from
  2. Giffin, F. (1967). John Locke and Religious Toleration. Journal of Church and State, 9(3), 378-390. Retrieved from
  3. Goldwin, R. (1976). Locke's State of Nature in Political Society. The Western Political Quarterly, pp. 126-135. Retrieved from
  4. Simmons, A. (1989). Locke's State of Nature. Political Theory, 17(3), 449-470. Retrieved from
  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
  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
  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
  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
  10. MacAdam, J. (1972). The Discourse on Inequality and the Social Contract. Philosophy, 47(182), 308-321. Retrieved from
  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
  13. MacAdam, J. (1972). The Discourse on Inequality and the Social Contract. Philosophy, 47(182), 308-321. Retrieved from

External Links

Image Gallery