Study Of Thomas Hobbes’s Social Contract With John Locke’s Social Contract In Their Political Philosophy

A Comparative Study Of Thomas Hobbes’s Social Contract With John Locke’s Social Contract In Their Political Philosophy



2.1     THOMAS HOBBES (1588-1679)

Thomas Hobbes, lived during the most crucial period of early modern English history: English civil war, waged from 1642-1648.13 Hobbes was born on the 15th of April, 1588 in Westport, a Parish on the North Western side of the small town of Malmesbury in North Wilshire. He lived for ninety- one years. His father, an




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After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your names to 08064502337 ill-educated county clergyman, was a curate of the small neighbouring parish of Brokenborough. This was one of the poorest living in the area.

He belongs to the family of West Country clothiers. Some members of his family have already grown prosperous in this business of making clothes. Most of them include Edmund Hobbes, who later became the major of Malmesbury in 1600.Others are William Hobbes and Francis Hobbes. There are other relations of his that were not so rich, Edmund Hobbes and Robert Hobbes. His father had series of problems with his work. One is that he was hauled up before the Archdeacon’s court “for want of quarter sermons and for not catechizing the young”.14   Again, for slandering the vicar of Foxley, He Was excommunicated. Later, he “was forced to fly for it and died in obscurely beyond London.”15

During the time of these events, Hobbes (Thomas) was already at Oxford. It cannot be stated specifically the last-time he saw his father. It might be possible that Hobbes might have been sent to the university for he was a young child. Like his father, he was expected to go into service in the church. This gave rise to and strength the anti-clerical tendencies in Hobbes. It was to his uncle Francis and a young clergyman Robert Latimer, that Hobbes owes thanks for his education at Oxford. . After completing his Bachelor’s degree in Arts, Hobbes was offered a job opportunity with the help of John Wilkson, he was taken on as a tutor by William Cavendish the first earl of Devonshire in 1618. Hobbes’ pupil, the son of Williano Cavendish, who was named after his father, was just a few years younger than Thomas Hobbes. At one time, his job included the translation of Bacon’s essay into Latin. Thomas Hobbes came into contact with Francis Bacon around 1616. He (Hobbes) did some secretarial work for Bacon, such as taking down his dictation. He even helped to translate Bacon’s essay into Latin. This happened during the final years before Bacon’s death in 1626. .

Moreso, Hobbes later introduction into the political life and contemporary thinking came mainly through the activities of William Cavendish. In 1614 and 1621, he (William) was a member of the parliament with the help of Cavendish. After the death of Hobbes pupil, William Cavendish in 1626, he left the service of the Cavendish family for two years. Later on, a rich land owner, Sir Gerrase Clifton employed him as a tutor to his son, whom he named after him. It was during his stay in Geneva that; he began to read Euclid’s Elements and came to like its method. This is because Hobbes mind was already occupied by certain philosophical problems to which Euclide’s Elements came to offer solutions. Hobbes later returned to England assumed his former position of being a tutor to the Devonshire family.


Furthermore, Hobbes’ intellectual development took largely in the 1930’s. His earliest scientific philosophical works is called the ‘Latin optical Ms. The most celebrated work of Thomas Hobbes is the Leviathan. Other works by him are: The Elements of law, natural and politic (also under the tittles Human Nature and De corpore politico) published in 1650. De cive (The citizens in 1642) publish in English as philosophical Rudiments concerning Government and society in 1651.16  The English Leviathan was published in 1651 and its Latin revision in 1668. His history of the English civil war, Behemoth published (1669).

  • JOHN LOCKE (16738-1704)

He is a renowned philosopher that flourished during the seventeenth century. Thus, he was the founding father of British Empiricism. John Locke was born in Beluton near Bristol on the 29th day of August 1632. He (Locke) was the oldest child of a respectable Somersetshire family of puritan sympathies.17  His father was a lawyer, small landowner and a captain of a volunteer regiment in the parliament army. Locke’s earlier education was carefully tended by his father at their rural home at Beluton near Bristol. He (Locke) obtained a place at Westminster School, where he remained from his fourteenth to his twentieth year.  In 1652, he won a scholarship to Christ church college, oxford. He studied at Oxford University where he later taught. He also worked as a secretary to a diplomatic mission and subsequently as a medical adviser to Lord Ashley. At the time Locke entered oxford, Cromwell was the chancellor and the puritans were in control. The curriculum however was still the traditional one of grammar, rhetoric’s logic, geometry and moral philosophy. Locke later declared that he had great deal of time at the commencement of his studies because the only philosophy then known at oxford was the peripatetic. That this discouragement kept him from being any very hard student In spite of all these, after taking his bachelor’s degree in 1655, he remained at oxford to obtain his master’s degree and became successively a lecturer in Greek reading in rhetoric and finally in 1664 censor of moral philosophy.

Ashley, Chancellor of the Exchequer, persuaded Locke to enter his household as a personal physician general advice, and confident. For the next sixteen years, Locke served his patron in various capacities.

” Locke not only acted as family physician but was

tutor to cooper’s son the second earl, who became

famous in later years as one of the leading Deists.18

Locke became “secretary of presentation” and secretary of the council of trade in 1672 where Ashley was made the first Earl of shaftesbury and Lord chancellor.

The many practical duties of Locke in London did not prevent him from pursuing his scientific and philosophical interest. His medical studies proved the basic for a close friendship with sydenham, and Locke sometimes accompanied him on his professional calls. His ardent interest in chemistry was rekindled as he kept close friendship with Robert Boyle and after his death, edited his General History of Air. He frequently held informal gatherings for the discussion of questions in science and theology.  Locke’s fortunes were closely linked with those of shaftesbury, and when the Earl fell from power in 1675, Locke withdrew from public life.

He wrote on such diverse topics as the Reasonableness of Christianity. An Essay concerning Toleration; and the consequence of the lowering of interest and Raising the value of money, showing his active participation in the public affairs of his days. In 1687 he made his first appearance as author by publishing an abstract of it in the Bibliotheque universelle of his friend Le Cleric.19

Within four years he completed his most important works. The letter concerning toleration had been written and published in Latin in Holland, appeared in English the year of his return.20  Three years after the publication of the two treatises on civil Government and the Essay, “the thought on Education” saw the light of the day.21

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Compelled by ill-health and dissatisfaction with the course of public life affairs, Locke retied in 1691 to Oates manor in Essex, the house of Lady Masham, daughter of Ralph Cudworth, the Cambridge Patonist.  In the midst of political unrest, he expressed his views on silver money and further considering on raising the value of money.

Locke’s last years were spent quietly in retirement at value.22  He kept himself busy with biblical studies and wrote a commentary on St. Paul’s Epistles. He was in the midst of writing the fourth Toleration when he gave up on October 28, 1704. He was buried near Oates by the Parish Church of High Lower.







Hobbes is known for his theory of social contract. He was the first to give full exposition and defence of the concept. However, he has not the monopoly of the word.


Social contract is an agreement between individuals. The contract is entered when people come together; willingly decide to hand over their individual rights, powers, freedom and liberty to a sovereign called the Leviathan. According to Hobbes, State of nature is the condition in which men were prior to the setting up of organized civil state.23 In that state, there is lawlessness, no authority, no morality, no sense of right and wrong, and there is no sense of justice.

This is in connection with what Hobbes called “the war of all against all” in the state of nature. Man is a wolf to his fellow man (Homo hominis lopus).The equality he talk about here implies, the capacity of harming one’s neighbour and taking away what he can use for his own protection. Hobbes argues that;

Each of us, a rational being, can see that a “war of all against all” is inimical to the satisfaction of her interests, and so can agree that peace is good and therefore also the way or means of peace are good24

Human recognizes as imperative the injunction to seek peace, and to do those things necessary to secure it, when they can do solely, Hobbes calls these practical imperatives “Law of nature”, the sum of which is not to treat others in ways we would not have them treat us.

It is to move from the natural state of man to the civil society that the people decide to resign and alienate their wills for the Leviathan. They entrust him with the challenge of governing and taking decisions for them. This Leviathan can be one person or a group of persons. It is this agreement among the people that Hobbes calls the social contract.

Social contract is constructed to afford men a life other than that available to them in the state of nature. This contract constitutes two distinguishable contracts. First, they agree to establish society by collectively and reciprocally renouncing the right they had against one another in the state of nature. Second, they must imbue one person or assembly of persons with the authority and power to enforce the initial contract.

This movement from the state of nature into the political society is better pictured thus,

Political society comes into being when individual men, representing their families come together in the state of nature and agree to each other to give up the executive power of punishing those who transgress the law of nature and hand over that powgovernment.25

By making a compact to leave the state of nature and form organized society, they make “one body politic under one government” and submit themselves to the will of that body.26

Men then gain three things, which they lacked in the state of nature: Laws, judges to adjudicate laws, and the executive power necessary to enforce the laws. Each man therefore gives over the power to protect himself and punish transgressor of the laws of nature to the government that he has created through the compact.27

The contract by which the people avoid the state of nature and enter the civil society is an agreement between individuals. This is the summation of social contract as conceived by Hobbes. Much as it is very important before a more in-depth analysis of the meaning of social contract as Hobbes has it. It cannot be over emphasized for a better descriptive work. So, an academic analysis of Hobbesian social contract follow suit.

Importantly, it should be pointed out that Hobbes does not view social contract from a historical standpoint. He, instead, sees it from the point of view of analysis and logic. His interest is not on when this contract was entered into, but on a logical, coherent and analytical explanation of a civil society. Thus, his interest is not on “when” but on “how” of the emergence of a civil state. From the on- set, according to Hobbes, it is known that the state of nature is characterized mainly of three things.


  1. “First, the state of nature is a state of scarcity.
  2. Second, is fear or difference?
  3. Third, is pride of vainglory?”


The combined pressure of competition, difference and glory leads to the “war of all against all” and to a life that is wretched, solitary, nasty, brutish and short.

Moreso, Hobbes is of the view that many conclusions, which are very logical conclusions, have the natural laws as one. The natural laws as it states, is…

A precept or general rule found out by which a man is forbidden by reason to do that which is destructive to his life, or take away the means of preserving the same: and to omit that by which he thinketh it may be preserved.28

As the above citation pictures, a natural law is found on reason. It is a precept of a general rule that is discovered by reason. To be certain for survival, peace is of great importance. For a person to survive he must pursue peace. It is for the desire to survive that people move towards seeking for peace.

Hobbes teaches in his political philosophy that there are up to nineteen laws of nature, which shows how people should guide and conduct themselves to attain the civil state or society. These nineteen laws are summarized in the golden rule. Do not that to another; which thou would not have done to thyself.29 The precept forbids many familiar vices such as iniquity, cruelty, ingratitude and injustice. In the words of Hobbes, “natural laws are not laws in the strict sense of the word”. According to him, law is a command essentially. It commands and directs people to submit to political authority. Natural laws are conclusions or theorems.

They are not commands but conclusions or theorems concerning what conduce to conservation and defence of themselves. (Men); whereas law, property, is the world of him, that by right has command over them.30


Regrettably, the conditions that can necessitate living by these laws are absent in the state of nature. It is not that one is commanded to live by these laws because:

For he should be modest, and traceable and perform all he promises, in such time and place, where no man else should do so, should but mark himself a prey to others, and procure his own certain ruin.31

The dilemma is that each of the two parties to the predicament faces a condition in which should he do the co-operative things and the other not, he suffers a great loss, whereas if they both do, they do badly.


The state of nature has no moral obligation. People have no duty to keep the laws. Humanity is necessarily and exclusively self-centred. Out of the nineteen laws of nature as prescribed by Hobbes in the chapter fourteen of his Leviathan, the first three are of paramount importance for detailed explanation. They are:

a). The first law is a precept or general rule of reason “that every man ought to endeavour to pursuer peace, as far as he hopes of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it that is when he may seek, and use all helps and advantages of wars.”

b). The second law of nature is “that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth, as for peace, and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things, and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.”

c). It is third law of nature that men perform their covenant made32


The first two laws can be kept in the state of nature. In fact, people ought to keep them in their own interest. It is with the third law that problem arises. This is because power is necessary to enforce a covenant. It is not just that power is necessary but that power is strong enough and vital to enforce a covenant. Without such a strong power, the covenant does not.

The oft-quoted line of Hobbes “covenants without a sword, are but words, and of no strength to force a man at all! The only such a common power could be erected is for all men to confer all their power and strength upon one man, or one Assembly of men, that they may reduce all their wills by plurality of vices unto one will.33


It is also in order to avoid the pathetic state of nature that people seek peace and respond to the covenant does dictates of the natural law surrender their individual rights and freedom to enter into a social contract.

Hobbes emphasizes that the basic motivator that make people enter the civil society is fear. Fear of the state of nature because of the inhuman treatment associated with it. This fear also is responsible for what makes people maintain the civil state. They are afraid to go back to the state of nature. As a matter of fact, they are bound to stick strictly to the dictates of the Leviathan.

As it stands, the contract is an agreement between individuals. The individuals who are party to the contract, Promise each other to handover their rights and freedom to the sovereign. The sovereign is not a party to the contract. Therefore, the transfer of rights from the people to the sovereign is irrevocable and absolute.

It should be understood that two things stand out clearly in this contract. Firstly, it is a contract between individuals to surrender their rights to the Leviathan. As if everyman should say to any man I authorized and give up my rights of governing myself, to this man, or this assembly of men. This kind of power can only come through agreement. This agreement generates the establishment of civil state. Secondly, the sovereign can be “this man” or “assembly of men”. That is to say that this concept of sovereign is not equal to any form of government.

Moreso, the sovereign defines reality and he has the final words; what he considers good is good and just is just. For there to be social contract, it does not end by the people relinquishing their rights to the sovereign, it is more than that. The above-mentioned duties of the individual are surrendered to the sovereign who takes decision on their behalf. He defines goodness, justice and reality for them. The people simply have to obey.

According to Hobbes, social contract overcomes anarchy and makes a single body out of several bodies of citizens. Again, it changes the individual multiples judgments into a single judgment. This will and judgment are now one and it is that of the sovereign. The sovereign is the Leviathan. The sovereign does not act only on their behalf but also represents the embodiment of the will of the citizens. Here to disobey the sovereign will be senseless, because it will result to one disobeying himself. Again, resistance against the sovereign will lead to anarchy, which is as good as going back to the state of nature, which is feared.

To avoid the horrible prospect of government collapse and return to the State of nature, people should also treat their sovereign as having absolute authority.34

This is to provide enduing peace, law and order in the civil society.

In addition, with the sovereign, there can be no unjust laws. Hobbes gave two reasons for saying this. First, in the civil state, justice simply means obeying the sovereign so as to keep the contract and sustain the covenant made. Second, it is the sovereign that makes the law. What the people agree upon cannot be unjust.

Furthermore, Hobbes agrees that though the sovereign cannot make an unjust law, he can make bad law. Unfortunately, this does not give the people the contention to disobey it. It is a matter between the citizens and the sovereign even when commanding sovereign violates God’s laws the citizens must obey it instead they go to Christ in martyrdom.


In general, Locke started his social contract in his second treatise of government by describing the state of nature. The state of nature (that is, the condition in which men were before political government came into existence or would be if government did not exist) no condition of war and anarchy as Hobbes has declared. On the contrary,

Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth with authority to judge between them, are properly living in the state of nature35

Locke envisaged this state as:

A state of perfect freedom to order their action and persons as they think fit within the bonds of law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of other men.36

Thus, the state of nature is better described as the state of “1 for 1” and “mine for mine”, a state where every person is a lord of himself, where every person depends wholly on his thought. It is a state of consciousness and individualism. Yet having a state of liberty, it is still not that of license. Different from Hobbes’ state of nature where in there was “war of all against all”, and life was nasty, insecure, short and brutish37.

Locke’s individual in the state of nature “has no liberty to destroy himself or so much as any creature in his possession”. It is intrinsically characterized freedom and equality, a state in which all powers are equal, no one having more than the other. Each person is ranked equally with the same intelligence and faculty even of punishing offenders against him and as such no person may be subjected to others. It is a state of government by the principle of give and take, whereby the measure you give is the measure you will take. Locke describes it as:

A state of equality, wherein all the power and

jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more

than others38.

It is a state that condemns every form of “ultra-vires” (arbitrariness) in the use of power on people’s life and property; it abhors despotism, anarchism absolutism and authoritarianism. But at this point, one may ask why in the state of nature, it is not possible for one to lawfully harm another unlike in Hobbes’. Locke responses that the state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which commands everyone: This law is known by reason and it teaches all mankind, who will but consult it39.

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For Locke;

The natural law is intelligible and clear to all rational creatures, and in the state of nature, each individual was charged with executing and enforcing its requirements. In short, every person had the rights to punish those who invaded the rights of others40.

People decided to leave the state of nature and journey into the political society through the social contract they have entered. The state according to Locke is created through the avenue of a contract in which the individual agrees with every other to give up to the community the natural rights of enforcing the law of reason in order that property may be protected. Michael Oakesshott calls such a contract a doctrine of will and artifice41. It must however be understood that social contract is not a means that contracting parties forgo their liberty and then live in servitude as obtainable in the rules of Hobbes Leviathan42. It means, they forgo their rights of correction and hand them over to a common legislative power for the common good.

For Locke, social contract and consent go through three stages: firstly, men must agree together to maintain one another as community to pool their natural power so that they act together to maintain one another’s rights. Secondly, the members of this community must agree by majority vote to set up legislative and other institutions. Thirdly, power of property in the society must agree either personally or through their representative to whatever taxes is imposed on the people.

Property in Locke’s philosophy means a collective right to life, liberty and estates. He holds: Lives, liberty and estate I call by the general name, property43.

So Locke does not take “property” to mean only the material and economic acquisition but fundamental human rights, which according to him is inalienable. He went on to say that the rights belong to men even before the formation of civil state. The sources of these right is the “reason” with which man is endowed for his own benefits

It is pertinent to note however, that Locke associated the rights to private property with the produce of one’s own labour. The justification of private ownership is labour44.

Private property, for Hobbes’ there could be a right to property only after the legal order had been set up, while Locke said that, “the right to private property proceeds the civil law”, for it is rooted in the natural moral law. Since one’s labour is one’s own, this means that whatever one transforms from its original condition becomes his. This is because one’s labour is now mixed with those things. It is by mixing his/her labour with something that a person takes what was common property and makes it private. There is consequently a limit to the amount of property one can accumulate, namely: “as much as anyone can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labour fix a property in.

The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say are his property.

Whatever, then, he removes out of the state of nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with it, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property45.

It is the labour he offered in other to remove it from the common state of nature that excludes the common rights of other men and makes it his. For labour is an unquestionable property of the labour.

The labour that was mine, removing them out of that common state they were in, hath fixed property in them46.

There were two fundamental limits, which checkmated human acquisition actions in the early state of nature. First, inasmuch as people labour so as to enjoy the fruits of their hard work, any labour that produced surplus, which could not be consumed before it spoils, lacked a basic logistical justification. Second, individuals could acquire as much as they could consumed alone if they left enough, and of equal quantity in common for others. The effect of this qualification was to restrict human acquisitions and thereby create a bounded property system.

According to Locke, society existed solely for the sake of preserving life, liberty, and property. Second by specifying the aim of the political community, Locke’s teaching on property also served to make definite limits to the exercise of political power. Political power was legitimate only when it is channelled to achieve those goals for which it was created. Any attempt to shift such a power for different purpose is therefore arbitrary and as a result, lacked binding authority.

It is true that people know the moral laws in the state of nature, or rather they are capable of knowing it if they turn their minds to it. But through indifference and neglect they don’t always develop knowledge of it. Moreover, when disputes arise, people tend to decide them in their own favour. It is desirable therefore to have both a set of written laws and also an independent judge to decide disputes. To achieve those ends, people create a political society.

Locke agrees that there must be a “supreme” power, but he carefully placed this in the hand of the legislative. Here he emphasized the separation of power to avoid arbitrary use of power in any sort. The doctrine that the legislative, executive and judiciary functions of government should be kept separate is a characteristic of liberalism. For, Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Locke emphasized the importance of the division of power chiefly to ensure that those who execute the power do not make them47.

The executive is therefore under the law even the legislative power is held as a trust and is therefore only a fiduciary power. Locke would never agree that man had irrevocably transferred their rights to the sovereign. It is this phenomenon that guarantee checks and balances in the ‘polis’. The right to rebellion is retained, though rebellion is justified only when the government does not exercise their trust in the interest of the governed. Hobbes places the sovereign under God’s judgment.


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