Locke Lecture Notes
Recap on Hobbes: Law of Nature for Hobbes is a dictate of reason, prescribing a general
course of action that each person must take towards their own preservation In other
words, its content is about others only indirectly its direct content concerns what is
rational for the particular individual, to whom the dictate is directed. Law of Nature as
dictates of Reason here can be understood as prudence This is why such laws of nature,
as dictates of reason, do not oblige absolutely, for the law of nature or reason cannot
prescribe a course of action tending towards ones destruction.
Recall, Hobbes general rule of reason: that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far
as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all
helps and advantages of war. The first branch of which rule containeth the first and
fundamental law of nature, which is: to seek peace and follow it. The second, the sum of
the right of nature, which is: by all means we can to defend ourselves.
Right, for Hobbes concerns the liberty or freedom to do a particular action. Recall, in the
state of nature, all persons have a right to all things that they judge as necessary for their
preservation. It is very important to note, rights for Hobbes, in the state of nature, do not
have any corresponding duties of others. Duty, as we normally understand it, implies an
obligation to refrain from doing something or obligation to do something (negative and
positive duty). Obligation, as such, implies the lack of liberty or freedom following from
anothers right. But, for Hobbes, since everyone has a right to everything, it does not
make sense to speak of duties.
Law of Nature for Locke is also a dictate of reason but unlike Hobbes, Locke thinks
that the content of the law of nature directly concerns others: no one ought to harm
another in his life, health, liberty or possessions (ch2/sec6):
a) Law of Nature follows from natural equality among persons
b) Asserts the natural rights of persons, provided by the law of nature
c) Asserts the natural limit to liberty, constrained or bound by the law of nature
Natural Equality: Moral equality of persons: should be equal amongst one another
without subordination or subjection (ch2/sec4)
a) God has made everyone equal, i.e. not appointed any person natural sovereign over
another. We have no natural superiors on earth. Of course, we are all the property of
God we have, it seems, a caretaker relationship with ourselves or our own person, and
1 | P a g e insofar as possible, i.e. insofar as there is no competition for preservation or explicit
declaration of conflict, we each have a caretaker relationship with each other.
Compare Hobbes notion of equality: descriptive account of the relatively equal statuses
of our mental and physical capacities.
Lockes notion of equality is normative (action guiding or prescriptive): it is a
normative claim about our moral status as persons, and our right thereof
Natural Rights: life, health, liberty, and possessions (which Locke consigns under the
general term property, but sometimes when he speaks of property, he is referring to
possessions) corresponding duties of others.
a) The Law of Nature both provides right of persons, but also corresponding duties of
Again Compare Hobbes notion of right: right to all things, right to do anything and take
any means necessary for self preservation.
Lockes notions of rights is more robust, in that every right has a corresponding duty, but
more constrained, in that because we have duties corresponding to others rights, our
rights are thus limited to a) what we have a natural right to, and b) those what we are not
obliged to do or refrain from doing
Natural Liberty: our liberty or freedom is constrained by the law of nature: Regarding
the natural liberty we find in the state of nature, But though this be a state of liberty,
yet it is not a state of license: though man in that state have an uncontrollable
liberty to dispose of his person or possessions (to use himself and his possessions in
any manner he or she see fit), yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as
any creature in his possession (ch2/sec6)
We do not have the freedom or liberty to destroy ourselves or others, or deprive others of
their rights, as our person nor other persons belong to us
a) Freedom for Locke is a positive conception of freedom: One has the liberty to do what
the Law of Nature allows. Insofar as one is acting according to the Law of Nature,
according to reason, one is acting freely.
Compare Hobbes notion of liberty, which is a negative conception: one is free insofar as
there are no external constraints or impediments preventing one from exercising their
An example to distinguish the two: the taking of the possessions of another
For Hobbes, one is free to do so, insofar as one is able to do so. Restraint comes in the
form of a physical response from those whom one is trying to deprive. For Locke, one is
not free to do so. Restraint comes in the form of normative relationship between persons.
2 | P a g eIt is not an impediment or limitation upon ones freedom denying the right to take
anothers possessions, for one is not free or does not have the liberty to take anothers
How do we make sense of the act of depriving another of their property, for it appears to
be a freely chosen act? It seems that one is free insofar as one is rational to transgress
the law of nature is both to act against reason and against ones humanity as such, one
can be treated as one would treat a lion or wolf
State of Nature: Condition by which Men living according to reason, without a
common superior on earth, to judge between them, is properly the state of nature.
We are not merely to understand this condition as a hypothetical or thought experiment.
For Locke, the state of nature is the conceptualization of the relationship between persons
whom do not have common power between them to decide controversies The state of
nature has existed, and can exist between persons. Like Hobbes, with Lockes
conception, we can appeal to the natural condition whereby we can both a) determine the
relationship between person absent mutual power to arbitrate conflict and render laws and
b) to provide an account of justi