Man’s State of Nature and How Ideas Are Formed
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke both have unique ideas about human nature and the way that ideas are formed in humans’ heads. Predicting human actions and analyzing what causes them is not something that can be easily done, but these writers have different opinions on how to do just that.
Hobbes insists that all humans are born with alike minds and mindsets. He also thinks that humans all have the same strength. He says that “though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body or of quicker 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,” (95). Meaning, although one person may, indeed, be stronger or smarter than someone else, it is not by a great amount.
So, in a state of nature, where all people are basically equal, they will also share desire for the same things. Although it is possible for everyone to acquire what they desire, people get greedy very quickly. Once there is not enough for everyone to have as much as they want of something, conflict will arise. Hobbes is saying that this “war” in inevitable. In fact, Hobbes is quite sure that men are constantly in a state of war, simply because of their mindset. He says, “Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man,” (96), meaning he believes that someone must be in charge for order to be in place.
Hobbes makes it very clear that he believes that there can be no peace without law and order. Laws set up boundaries as to what is right and what is not, and how far a person can go to fulfill their desires. However, law cannot be put into place until “they have agreed upon the person that shall make it,” (97). Without some kind of government or an obvious person in command, no man will be afraid to break the laws that are set up. With law, comes justice. If one were to disobey their leader, there would be repercussions. According to Hobbes, this system is the only thing that will keep mankind from war. His ideas and this theory help us to understand why we need someone to dictate what we can and cannot do, and what will happen if we go against orders. He makes it obvious why conflicts arise and what can be done to prevent them from doing so.
Locke, on the other hand, has a bit of a different view on this subject. He believes that all humans are born with a sense of tabula rasa, or a blank slate. He says, “Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas: How comes it to be furnished? …To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE,” (101). In this, Locke is stating that all human ideas or concepts are formed through living, and are most certainly not formed on their own.
He writes in great detail about how ideas are formed through sensation. One can use their senses to understand the world around them. Locke says, “And thus we come by those ideas we have of yellow, white, heat, cold, soft, hard, bitter, sweet and all those we call sensible qualities; which when I say the senses convey into the mind, I mean, they from external objects convey into the mind what produces there those perceptions,” (101). Humans perceive things in a certain way, through observation, and these observations then help to form ideas and theories.
He then goes on to say that ideas may also be formed by reflecting upon the ideas that come from these senses, and by understanding and reasoning with those ideas. According to Locke, external forces “furnish the mind with the ideas of sensible qualities, which are all those different perceptions they produce in us; and the mind furnishes the understanding with ideas of its own operations,” (102). Based upon his views, humans cannot form original ideas on their own at all and instead, they take inspiration from everything around them and form ideas based on what already exists.