Fundamental Nature Of Man – Good or Bad?

Do you intuitively trust or distrust other people? This boils down to whether your world view is Lockean or Hobbesian.

Many people regard strangers with suspicion rather than trust. Those of us who choose to believe the best of others (Lockeans) are regarded as naive by the other camp (Hobbesians) who consider themselves ‘worldly-wise.”

Let me introduce you briefly to John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, and explain in simple terms their opposing beliefs about the nature of man. Then you can choose which camp you want to belong to.

The nature of man according to Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) held the depressing view that man, left to himself, would descend into “a war of all against all.” To prevent us from killing and otherwise hurting each other, government is needed. We grant the government our rights in exchange for its protection.

Hobbes thought that we cannot know the difference between good and evil, and cannot achieve peace by our own means. Civil society is thus based on a strong government telling us what to do, and peace is achieved when we do what we are told

Hobbesians, therefore, live in the belief that we are constantly at risk of being hurt by one another. Our assumption is that others are out to get us, and our instinct is to protect ourselves.

The nature of man according to Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) believed that man is by nature a social animal. For the most part, we are reasonable and tolerant. We tend to live in a state of peace and honour our obligations to each other. Occasional conflicts would arise and so it is important to establish boundaries of ownership.

Locke thought that people had an innate sense of right and wrong, even if we disagreed over the specifics from time to time. We are therefore capable of resolving conflicts in a fair and peaceful manner. The state exists to formalise our individual rights in the form of property rights.

Lockeans, therefore, are convinced that people are by nature good, and will deal fairly with each other. Our assumption is that others will respect our rights, and our inclination is to seek peaceful co-existence through mutual respect.

The nature of man according to you?

I like to think I’m Lockean in my outlook, because it just seems more politically correct especially if we’re into personal development and all that. Still, I’m aware that sometimes I tend to distrust the intentions of strangers and perhaps am more Hobbesian than I care to admit.

What about you? What is your world view regarding the nature of man? Do you fly the banner for the Hobbesian or the Lockean camp? Or are you like me, an unwilling Hobbesian who has decided that citizenship in the Lockean country is by far a better deal and is working on migrating over?

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