John Locke and Jean Rousseau on the State of Nature
The concept of The State of Nature has functioned as an important philosophical model that has made it possible for many social contract theorists to expound their insight about human nature.
It has also facilitated the justification of governments’ erection. Precisely speaking, The State of Human Nature is a philosophical issue that has been much contentious over several decades now. Much dilemma and debates have been postulated by many ancient and contemporary philosophers, each applying his individualistic views, but to this date, no unanimous consensus has been reached.However, this paper is an examination of the juxtaposition between the works of John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau on the state of human nature. It attempts to show some possible areas in which the two philosophers were in agreement as well as quite a number of others in which they differed in their opinions. It also aims at giving a brief note on Freud’s approach as he compares to Rousseau’s opinion.
Definition of State of Human NatureThe State of Human Nature is a philosophical argument that has been taken to imply the condition in which human being’s were in before they acquired all the attributes they possess, both in their predispositions and in their government structures they have as a result of the social conventions they find themselves in. over the years, philosophers have attempted to remove all these attributes from human beings so that they can arrive at the human nature characteristics that were unchanging and universally possessed by all human beings.By doing this, and if it actually became the order of the day, then a determination of the most legitimate and effective forms of government would be established (John, Richard, 1982, 27). Discussion: Rousseau and Locke on state of nature: a comparison and contrasting opinion According to Locke, an intellectual exercise is inevitable I illustrating people’s obligation to one another.
These are obligations which must be articulated as part of the natural rights such the right to life, property, and liberty.His key elements are postulated in his opinions about these natural rights, the right of revolution, the social contract, and formation of a government by consent. Particularly, he was more concerned about the property right which he derived from higher law, even though to him such higher law was supposed to remain as natural as possible rather than being a result or effect of some Divine Revelation. He believed that the nature law had to remain as the operative tool in any civil society and likewise to act fundamentally as the measure of human being’s individual rights.To him natural will essentially begin and end with this natural property right, and therefore the true end of a civil government is to protect property. The right of property is thus the most appropriate and effective limitation upon which the government’s powers rests.
Furthermore, he interpreted natural law to mean the legitimate claim to the indefeasible, innate rights that are inherent in each and every individual. Such indefeasibility of human rights is the only limitation on the authority of the society and the government, as they both exist to preserve the natural rights (Rousseau, 1987, 14).Jean Jacques Rousseau on his part was of the opinion that human beings were inherently good by nature. His belief was that people were innocent in the state of nature. It was the unnaturalness of civilization that corrupted this good, of living entirely for themselves, at their best, and possessing some absolute independence which made them content. He states that people in this state of nature didn’t involve themselves in wars as they tended to be isolated with minimal desires that were circumscribed or commensurate only with the basic needs they required for survival.
On the same note, if people were contented with what they basically needed for their survival, then they didn’t aspire to possess any more possessions. There wasn’t any dependence on others and consequently the need for extensive or communal social interaction was not centrally placed in human society. However, Rousseau contends that some reflective general compassion and sympathy did exist though this was not based on any merits and at the same time it was purely indiscriminate. Furthermore, Rousseau is telling us that egoism was replaced by compassion in the state of nature.This compassion is seen by Rousseau as mainly been extended for man in general and for the undeserving in particular as the greatest forms of virtues.
Contempt of others is therefore regarded as a vice which eventually results to hurt feelings. At this point Rousseau is advocating for this compassion as a way of ensuring that no man’s feelings are hurt. This is why he argues that there can never be instances that allow any blame, comparison with others, worth distinction among men, judgment, and criticism in a proper society.He believes that inequality is a product of distinction recognition among people and it is among the gravest vices that can be allowed in such a proper or ideal state of nature.
He is here arguing that it would be better injure a person than to affront him. Thus, a person’s outer appearance or achievements doesn’t matter as important as his/her good intentions (Rousseau, 1987, 32). Natural goodness was proclaimed by Rousseau in as much as he believed that by nature, one man is equally as good as the other.In this natural state, it doesn’t require man to make any effort or to have any virtue in order to be good.
This is because in this state man is wise, good, and free, and the laws of nature are held with utmost benevolence. This is why it therefore follows that there isn’t any other aspect humankind that corrupt and enslave man other than civilization after making man unnatural. Moreover, civilization and culture produces differentiation and distinction among men, a phenomenon that would not be present in the order of nature.Any individual misconduct thereafter comes as a result of the corrupt influence the society has on the individual who by nature should have been a saint. Again, Locke is almost coming back to Rousseau’s idea when he asserts that the primitive man had existed in a state of nature, one which was of good will, peace, preservation, and mutual assistance.
In addition, Locke believes that accouterment of duties and human rights are completely provided for by the law of nature.However, he thinks that the state of nature is defected by lack of organization (such as written law, fixed penalties, and judges) which ought to give the rules of rights effect. On his part, Locke is of the view that whatever is right or wrong must be so eternally. In this respect he is contending Locke’s idea in the sense that to him positive law will not add anything to the underlying ethical quality of the various types of conduct. It is just a mere apparatus that will propel effective enforcement (John, Richard, 1982, 44).
On the same point, Locke believes that every man must protect, in the state of nature, his own interests as best as he can. This kind of protection of one’s own as well as the duty of respecting another’s can never be less as it can be under civil governance. At this juncture, Locke is saying that duties and moral rights are intrinsic and that law is never made by morality but mortality makes law. This therefore culminates to his notion that governments must be present to give the required effect to the natural right even before it gets enacted.Locke has a strong belief of property ownership in the state of nature. This he puts forward on the basis that every person had the right to get subsistence from all that nature provided/offered.
This is also a right that he says will correspond to the efforts that man makes, such as bodily labor through land enclosure and tilling. This right is to him extended by man himself as a form of private property ownership, and as an extension of one’s personality into available objects’ produce.These products thus become part of the person only after he has extended, upon them, his internal energy, and consequently their utility is dependent upon such expended labor on them. What Locke wish us to infer here is that private property right is prior even to the state of nature, which he calls primitive society. It is one which is brought by each and every individual to the society in the different personalities that we differently possess.
It is not a given or a societal creation, and as such it should not be a societal regulation except in some certain very specific limitations.Additionally, Locke indicates that prior right to property protection is the essence of both civil government and society existence. Locke sees the state of nature as one which does not require any external authority to govern one’s actions as each individual has perfect freedom with which they can order their actions as they wish. They also have the unrestricted ability to dispose any persons or possessions as they may deem fit as bounded by the law of nature without prior consultations for doing so.
This they also do without any dependence of any other person’s will and neither do they need to ask leave.To Locke, it is the inherent moral sense in individuals which will bar them from being engaged in certain acts or codes of behavior as laid down in the tradition of the natural law (John, Richard, 1982, 53). The contrast between Locke and Jean at this point is that Locke fundamentally believes in conflicting interest between individuals while Rousseau believes that man is neither good nor bad prior to the influence of the corrupt society. Locke also believes that by the fact of being God’s children, we can distinguish between the good and the bad.Through the process of extending what is good and lawful, these conflicts can consistently and fairly be resolved.
The two are mainly common in their approach in that they both believe in the presence of a God; or rather a supernatural power that leads man to understand what is expected of him even in a corrupting or a conflicting society. Locke talks of God knowledge as restrictive of doing harm to one another, and Rousseau indicates that it is God’s pure action to endow the natural man with understanding or knowledge for that matter.Rousseau argues that it is due to man’s incompetence, at least in the natural man, that he has not been able to maintain the state of nature as society progress to the civil society from nature. Again, Rousseau is of the opinions that even within the corrupting civilization and socialization processes, man can precisely cohabitate with the others without any conflicts or property ownership, which he takes as social dysfunctions, if he truly recognizes the predisposed elements of the state of nature.
Self-preservation is acknowledged by Rousseau as one of the human actions motivation principle. Together with pity (i. e. a repugnance so innate it doesn’t allow to see others suffer), they form the only two principles of the soul. Rousseau is not suggesting that human beings get back to the state of nature, all he is saying is that in the state of nature men are amoral.
This does not mean that they are good in the state of nature and neither is he claiming them to bad in the civil society. The bottom of the line in his thoughts is that man should remain neither vicious nor virtuous.Rousseau was in agreement with Freud’s conception of human nature a way or another. One such area of their agreement, and which makes Rousseau’s postulations more accurate than Locke’s, is that both Rousseau and Freud assigned primacy to intuition, passion, feelings, emotion, and instincts. They believed that reason could not match the above mentioned characteristics in its effort to provide the optimum insights into what ought to be good.
The moral worth was of persons is therefore superior to reason and differences that we find in human beings.However, unlike Locke, Rousseau and Freud failed to understand that in the absence of reason, freedom is basically worthless or meaningless. This because it is reason that connects the world of virtues to the moral subject (Rousseau, 1987, 76). Another observation that Rousseau made was that even in the peaceful state of nature, people would still be unfulfilled. One such lack was the need to interact as a source of self actualization. This became more aggravated when development and civilization of human society began which led to the emergence of selfishness, greed, and general evil.
Private property ownership thus became a destructive, egoistic, and impulsive institution, with rewards being on luck and greed. This opinion was held by Freud as we can see from his classification of human faculties from the ego, id, and the superego. The superego can thinly be equated to Rousseau’s human being in a state of nature while the ego is a form of the corrupted man’s manifestation. Property ownership thus encouraged (like in the ego that wants everything) self-interest and avarice. ConclusionRousseau’s understanding of the human nature is quite coherent, both during his time and even today.
Taking the environmental crisis we have in the world today as an example, we can see the sense in Rousseau’s point of view that people do not have the right to superiority above others without the consent of everyone else. This could be in political affiliations, economic supremacy among a myriad of many others. The environmental threat has thus come as a result of man’s deviation from the state of nature, an issue that is currently of much concern to environmentalists and conservationists as well.Well, I wouldn’t want to seem that I could advocate for the reduction of technological advancement we find ourselves in today. Rather my ideal opinion here is that as much as we develop our societies, we should at least give the idea of a coherent and co-habitable universe that is mutually beneficial to all.
In particular I’d consider Rousseau’s idea of a state of nature in the sense of the written laws regarding democratic governance, but in my opinion, if they may be so just for now, the laws remain in the books but we rarely find them one hundred percent effective in reality (Rousseau, 1987, 103).Sometimes I wonder if this is the same way Rousseau looked at civilization where individuals end up being indoctrinated to the point of believing personal interests can be reduced to public interests. I strongly believe in a social contract that can be remedial and corrective of the pathetic situations we are constantly finding ourselves in almost all spheres of life, bureaucracies, censorships, political dominations and many others.