Essay: Hobbes and Locke

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Locke and Hobbes

In many ways Hobbes and Locke agree on the nature of the family and its role in providing proof for mans desire for society, yet they disagree on the analogous comparison between family and government as well as many finer points of how a family is and should be governed. The family to both men is a scaled down model of a political society, but Hobbes voices that paternal power is based in fear, as the mother and father both hold the power to take the life of the child, just as it is in government and Locke stresses that maternal and paternal power is equal over children and that God directs the father than the mother to care for a child because he cannot care for himself. Within Hobbes, Leviathan and Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government are many direct and indirect clues as to how this scale model of a government, i.e. The family is similar and different from the larger man borne entity, the government. In most ways the two disagree boldly. The ultimate difference between the philosophies of Locke and Hobbes, with regard to family relies almost entirely on a core difference between the two philosophers, that of the ultimate jurisdiction of God over man, which Locke prescribes to and Hobbes does not.

The reason why Locke and Hobbes would have discussed the family, at all has to do with the fact that the debate about the nature of family, society and civil (voluntary) government and how they are all similar or different was an essential aspect of the philosophy of the time. The topic had a great deal to do with generational rights, or rights that one is born with and therefore inherits rather than is granted as a result of contract between two or many men. Additionally, the sociological and philosophical proof of contract theory, which both philosophers prescribe to include the family as proof that man is not meant to live alone, and therefore he acquires family and later contracted government to fulfill his need for society.

Locke speaks directly of this in the preliminary statements of his Second Treatise: "Moreover, man was not intended to be alone; God "put him under strong obligations of necessity, convenience, and inclination, to drive him into society, as well as fitted him with understanding and language to continue and enjoy it." 6 There is a natural society in the family,

Locke xiii) He then goes on to make a point that would seem to disagree with Hobbes. "but it falls short of political society, since the paterfamilias "has no legislative power of life and death" over the member of his family, 7 and indeed has no powers "but what a mistress of a family may have as well as he." 8 Political society exists only where men have agreed to give up their natural powers, and to erect a common authority to decide disputes and punish offenders."

Locke xiii)

Where Hobbes states that the family and government are very much alike, and only different in scale and impetus:

To govern well a family, and a kingdome, are not different degrees of Prudence; but different sorts of businesse; no more then to draw a picture in little, or as great, or greater then the life, are different degrees of Art. A plain husband-man is more Prudent in affaires of his own house, then a Privy Counseller in the affaires of another man.

Hobbes, Waller 44)

Both philosophers speak more specifically of family in later chapters and passages of these two works.

Hobbes stresses that the ultimate dominion over the child falls to that of the mother as the child cannot be guided by two masters and the mother is the only one who can be wholly proven to be a parent. (140-141) Hobbes also goes on to state that the development of civil law is dictate by men and not mothers and therefore this establishes their supremacy over mothers in the consideration of children. (141) Locke on the other hand stresses that there is an innate equality between mothers and fathers with regard to dominion over children as they are by scripture bound to obey both in a an equal sense. (27) Hobbes stresses that dominion can be acquired in only two ways, generation or conquest and that generational dominion is that of the paternal right, stressing that paternal right is granted by the commonwealth which is directed and contracted in a civil society by fathers rather than mothers and therefore given to fathers supremely. (140) Hobbes goes on to state that in a "state of nature" this dominion is mutable and can fall to the mother, as she is the parent of known origin. Hobbes also stresses that lacking a contract, where this dominion is forfeit parents are obligated to care for and protect the child and such dominion can only be forfeit if the mother exposes the child and they are then protected by another, who then retains dominion over the child. (141) in this statement Hobbes makes clear that the child is held in bondage to parents as parents have the right of life and death over it. He then goes on to discuss dominion gained by conquest, in which he places the paternal right of fathers to include servants, who have contracted, for self-preservation themselves to him under the jurisdiction of the family. "In summe, the Rights of Conquest of both Paternal and Despoticall Dominion, are the very same." (143)

Locke, on the other hand states that parents are obliged by their obedience to God to protect and teach children, until such time as those children reach equality through maturity and knowledge.

The power, then, that parents have over children arises from that duty which is incumbent on them, to take care of their offspring during the imperfect state of childhood. To inform the mind, and govern the actions of their yet ignorant nonage, till reason shall take its place and case them of that trouble, is what the children want, and the parents are bound to. For God, having given man an understanding to direct his actions, has allowed him a freedom of will and liberty of acting as properly belonging thereunto, within the bounds of the law he is under. (29)

This difference of opinion, regarding the supremacy of the parent(s) over the child goes back to the source of the difference between the two philosophers. Hobbes believing that all men will live in a state of war, and be in constant conflict with one another, as this is their nature, and with Locke believing that reason and the dominion of God will guide the man in a state of nature to choose the right. Locke even goes on to stress that it follows with logic that the early development of civil society, i.e. monarchical rule were a direct result of the tacit acceptance of the father over children, as he was looked to first within the family as its head and then among society as a monarch.

To conclude, then: though the father's power of commanding extends no farther than the minority of his children, and to a degree only fit for the discipline and government of that age; and though that honour and respect, and all that which the Latins called piety, which they indispensably owe to their parents all their lifetime and in all estates, with all that support and defence is due to them, gives the father no power of governing -- i.e., making laws and exacting penalties on his children -- though by this he has no dominion over the property or actions of his son, yet it is obvious to conceive how easy it was, in the first ages of the world, and in places still where the thinness of people gives families leave to separate into unpossessed quarters, and they have room to remove or plant themselves in yet vacant habitations, for the father of the family to become the prince of it.

Locke 37)

Hobbes on the other hand details no such easy transition and instead states that the logic of such a transition cannot be assumed and that instead monarchs gained rule first by conquest, and then by generation, which was in a constant state of challenge, due to man's brutal nature.

By this it appears, that a great Family if it be not part of some Common-wealth, is of it self, as to the. Rights of Soveraignty, a little Monarchy; whether that Family consist of a man and his children; or of a man and his servants; or of a man, and his children, and servants together: wherein the Father or Master is the Soveraign. But yet a Family is not properly a Common-wealth; unlesse it be of that power by its own number, or by other opportunities, as not to be subdued without the hazard of war. For where a number of men are manifestly too weak… [END OF PREVIEW]

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