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





TITLE.      .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .         ii

CERTIFICATION.      .         .         .         .         .         .         .         iii

DEDICATION.                      .           .           .           .           .           .           .           iv

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.    .         .         .         .         .         .         v

TABLE OF CONTENTS.     .         .         .         .         .         .         vii 




1.0          General Introduction.         .         .         .         .         .         .         1

1.1           Purpose of the Study  .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .      .     1

1.2             Statement of the Problem .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .        .   3

1.3           Scope of the Study .     .    .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .        .  4

1.4           Methodology       .       .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     .        .  6

1.5           Division of the Work .     .      .     .     .     .     .     .    .        .   6

1.6           Literature Review     .      .       .     .     .     .     .     .    .       .   7


2.0          Historical Background    .      .         .          .         .        .       12

2.1           Thomas Hobbes     .      .      .       .         .         .         .        .       .     12

2.2          John Locke            .      .      .       .         .        .          .        .       .     15


3.0          The Social Contract Theory  .         .            .         .         .        .     20

3.1          Thomas Hobbes on Social Contract  .         .         .         .        .      20

3.2           John Locke on Social Contract       .           .         .         .        .      31


4.0                      Comparison of the Two Philosopher’s Ideas of Social Contract           Theory. .     .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .     39

4.1          Comparison of Hobbes and Locke’s Ideas of Social Contract.      39

4.1                        Contrasting Hobbes’ and Locke’s Ideas of Social Contract.        .      45


5.0           General Analysis and Evaluation.         .         .      .       .        .      50

5.1           Thomas Hobbes’s Social Contract  .         .        .       .       .       .   50

5.2            John Locke’s Social Contract           .         .       .       .      .     56

5.3            Conclusion.             .          .           .         .        .       .     .        60

BIBLIOGRAPHY.            .          .          .           .        .        .        .        63





Across the century, the social contract theory, nearly as old as philosophy itself, has been used and employed by many philosophers. Thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. John Rawls and Jeremy Bentham have employed it in different ways. This implies that the way the social contract theory is understood differs, at least insignificantly, from one philosopher to the other.

Theories of social contract differed according to their aims; some were fashioned to justify the power of the sovereign; some to safeguard the individual from oppression by an all-powerful sovereign.1

Despite all these differences, the theory has one central point it pursues. This central point runs through the various meanings of social contract theory as expressed and maintained by various scholars.

It is an agreement in which the people decide to journey from the state of nature into the political society, by relinquishing their executive power to an absolute Monarch.  It is also an agreement under which people contract to surrender their liberties in return for the guarantee of responsible government.

As if every man should say to every man, I authorize and give up my right of governing myself, to this man or to this assembly of men, on the condition that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner.2

Be it as it may, the major purpose of this project revolves in stating and analyzing the theory of social contract as seen and conceived by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Also, it posits to tackle certain questions like:

a) Does the theory of social contract in Thomas Hobbes share any similarity with that of John Locke?

b) Do they contrast at any point at all?

c) Can it be said that the social contract theory according to the two philosophers under consideration is completely the same?


As earlier stated, social contract theory has been used by many philosophers in various ways. Thomas Hobbes and John Locke also saw it from different perspectives to a certain level. Hobbes, the first to give its full exposition and defence postulates that social contract is an agreement to which the people surrender their will, freedom, and power to an absolute sovereign called the Leviathan. In his words …Thomas Hobbes saw the contract as one in which the citizens relinquish their freedom inherent in the state of nature to an absolute sovereign.3

For John Locke, who came after Hobbes…he conceived  social contract to exist wherever some citizens united into one body having a common established law and judicature to appeal to with authority to decide controversies between them and punish offenders. According to Locke:

Social contract exist wherever any number of men so unite into one society as to quit every clue of his executive power of the law of nature and to resign it to the public in all cases that excludes him from appealing for protection to the law established by it4

The problem consequently hinges in the confusion and discrepancy inherent in trying to understand the two philosophers’ theory of social contract.

1.3                   SCOPE OF THE STUDY

It is worthy of note to point out here clearly that the theory of social contract is not the generality of the works of our two philosophers. For instance, Hobbes is noted for his Leviathan, he has other works he wrote. The Leviathan is primarily a book on social and political Philosophy; Hobbes had not intended to restrict his attention to that subject caught up in the ocean tide for scientific discovery. He was deeply impressed by the precision of science and all by Certainty.5

On his own side, John Locke wrote other works in addition to his social contract. Locke’s most important and influential political writings are contained in his Second Treatises of Government. The second treatise contains Locke’s own constructive view of the aims and justification for civil government and is titled, Essay concerning the true original extent and ends of civil government.6

Locke’s books were the product of long years of reading and reflection. As at fifty-four, he has not published something of importance though he has written a good deal that remained in manuscript.  His letter on toleration appeared both in Latin and English in 1689.  His great essay concerning human understanding saw the light of the day in 1690. And in the same year, he published the two treatises of government.

Most importantly, it should be understood that this project does not intend in any way to handle all the philosophical works of these philosophers in view. The scope of this study is simply limited to their theory of social contract. It does not tackle any other issue outside this. That is to say that other philosophies postulated by the philosophers are outside the scope of this work.

For a more academic and scholarly work its scope extends to juxtaposing the theories in order to discover certain points at which they agree and at which they disagree.

1.4                       METHODOLOGY

The method of this research work shall be expository and analytical. I intend to expose the different views of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke on social contract. Since   social contract theory does not mean exactly the same thing to both of them. After the exposition of their thoughts, a comparison and a contrast and critical evaluation will follow. Over and above all, this research uses scholarly, academically and philosophical method.

1.5                  DIVISION OF WORK

This work is divided into five chapters. Chapter one is an introduction to the work. Chapter two is the historical background of the two philosophers. Chapter three exposes their idea of social contract. Chapter four compares and contrasts the ideas of both philosophers on the subject matter. In Chapter five, social contract in Thomas Hobbes and John Locke will be critically evaluated. Lastly the work is brought to a conclusion.


Thomas Hobbes was the first to give full exposition and defence of social contract. He does not have the monopoly of the idea. Just as many ideas and theories of philosophy have been used in different ways. Social contract theory has also been used and applied differently. Here my effort is channelled towards analyzing the concept, social contract as various philosophers understood it. This literature review is a critical analysis of the different notions of social contract. Philosophers to be reviewed include Plato (ca428-ca348BC), Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), and Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-17178).

Plato is of the view that the individuals and state are logically related. It is through the individual that the society emerges. This implies that the individual exists before the state, as the state radiates the individual constitution of the citizens. The citizens jointly radiate the qualities of the state. Moreso, the state emerges due to the economic needs of the people. This implies that one man cannot make a state; he needs others to solve his economic needs. He needs the artisans, the cooks, the dry-cleaners, the doctors, the lawyers to help him out in various ways or he cannot be all these at a time. This network of economic relationship and interaction brings about the formation of a state. Apart from these, wars have their root in passion, desires which are the most fruitful source of evils both to individuals and state7. To settle the war, we employ the tripartite nature of the soul as divided by Plato. They are: craftsmen, representing the appetitive element, the guardians representing the spirited element and the ruler representing the rational element.

For Aquinas, the state is a natural institution. It is obtained from the nature of humanity8. Unlike Plato, who holds that humanity’s needs are not only natural and material needs, they also have a super-natural ends. He stated that the state can be explained in terms of God’s creation comprising the state and the church. The church comes into play here in order to help man attain this ultimate goal. Left alone, the state is not equipped for this. The state needs to meet humanity’s social nature. It secures the common good by maintaining the peace and controlling obstacles to the good life. This function of the state in controlling obstacles to the social life is the point of connection between the state and the church; the state is under the control of the church.9 This does not make the church a super-state.

According to Rousseau in his book, the social contract begins with the oft-quoted line “man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains” (49)10. He started by describing the state of nature. He sees the state of nature as that in which every person is independent. No one depends on the other for his well-being. A geometric progression in the growth population made people to invent social contract. This invented social contract brings about all sorts of vices.

Social contract came about the need to find a form of association which will defend and protect the whole common force the person and goals of each associate and in which each, uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone. It is the total alienation of each associate joined with all his rights to the whole community. He gave the reason why people should obey the laws of government as contained in his book; ‘social contract’. What can make it legitimate and not how the change evolved is of his interest. This he explicates further,

The really condition of man eludes empirical investigation. Our interpretation, therefore, must take the form of a hypothetical account11.

According to him, man in the state of nature does not need social attachment and moral qualities. He is motivated by ‘amourde soi’ a natural sentiment. Which is directed by pity and reason gives rise to humanity and virtues. Man has also the reasoning power, free-will and capacity to become better. Man is faced with the task of procuring the means for his own continuous existence and as with the other species; they were guided in this effort by the instinct12.

Due to the increase in the number of people in the society, social bond is developed. The acquisition of private property is also introduced. Man begins to look for what he calls ‘mine’. The natural sentiments are replaced with the artificial sentiments (amour proper). This produces injustice and all sorts of evils. An individual begins to make for himself more than he needs.  Intense and unhealthy competition is inevitable under this condition. The political society is established as a solution to the societal ills. It is established through the contract or agreement to guarantee equality and protection for all.

1 P. Edwards, (ed.), The Encyclopedia of philosophyvol.7, (New York: Crowell Collier and Macmillan, Inc., 1967), P.466.

2 S. E. Stumpf, Philosophy, History and Problems (New York: fourth Edition, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1994), P.233.

4 S. P. Lamprecht, The Moral & Political Philosophy of John Locke, (New York: Russell & Russell inc., 1962), P.133.

11 J.C. Hall, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, (London: Macmillan1978), P.85.

12 J. C. Ekei, Justice in Communalism: A Foundation of Ethics in African Philosophy, (Lagos: Ream Communication Limited, 2001), P.144.


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