Discussion 14: Is Locke’s equality anything like Hobbes’ equality?

Question: Is Locke’s equality anything like Hobbes’ equality? Explain your answer

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Locke’s equality is moral equality where all men are equal and no one has the right to rule another one. In the “Second Treatise of Government”, chapter 11 section 4, Locke states that naturally, men are in a perfect state of freedom. Furthermore, Locke states, “A state of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more power than another…” In this statement, Locke means that humans are morally equal and have the right and freedom to dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit without the influence of any person. Therefore, Locke talks about moral equality.

Conversely, Hobbes’s equality is based on physical and mental abilities. In “Leviathan” chapter 13, Hobbes states, “Nature hath made men so equal in the faculties of body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or quicker in mind than another, yet when all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he.” In this statement, Hobbes acknowledges the differences in physical and mental abilities of humans. While others are physically strong, others are mentally strong. However, Hobbes identifies that the difference between man and man is insignificant because people can use other means such as machinery or conspiracy to kill one another despite the differences in physical and mental capabilities.

Locke’ equality is inherent in the divine will, that is, to treat each other as we would expect to be treated. Locke talks of the preservation of human life as much as we can. Locke states, “The like natural inducement hath brought men to know that it is no less their duty, to love others than themselves;” Therefore, Locke’s view of equality is the same as Jesus Christ’s teaching that, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Mathew 22: 37-39).  On the other hand, Hobbes agrees that the Law of Nature commands humans to treat each other well, but only if people are fair. This means that we cannot treat each other well unless we can reasonably expect others to reciprocate.

Therefore, Locke’s equality is different from Hobbes’ equality in the manner that Locke advocates for moral equality as the law of nature and a divine command, while Hobbes states that the law of nature on equality is prudential, that is, we can only treat others with equality if we are certain that they will reciprocate. Hobbes implies that some people have bad intentions and being fair to them will only lead to our downfall.


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