The State Of Nature, Social Contract By John Locke

Filed in Articles by on July 6, 2021

The State Of Nature, Social Contract By John Locke


The state of nature, social contract theory by Locke starts from the concept of man in a primitive state without political authority or formal checks on the behavior of individuals.

They considered that such a stateless autonomous condition could not prevail if the man was to move beyond a primitive existence. This could only be achieved if a man could be guided by natural law that would lead them to a developed social and political life.

The major purpose of this project revolves around stating and analyzing the theory of the state of nature, social contract as seen and conceived by John Locke. John Locke’s state of nature is a state of natural law. The natural being “the non-aggression principle.”

The state of nature is governed by a law that creates obligations for everyone. And the reason, which is that law, teaches anyone who takes the trouble to consult it, that because we are all equal and independent, no one ought to harm anyone else in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.

There is a lot of information that can be derived from the study. In Locke’s state of nature, the social contract described the state of nature and man’s progression into ‘civil’ society. Locke agrees that before men came to govern themselves, they all existed in a state of nature.

But, however, the reasons which force man into such a society differ from one author to the other. This, in turn, leads them to have a contrasting viewpoint on the powers and duties of the sovereign as well the state.


John Locke (1632-1704) developed his social contract theory at a time of religious, political, and social upheaval in England. He was an archetypal enlightenment figure well acquainted with the scientific and philosophical concerns of their time.

Locke was a physician and a member of the Royal Society. He shared the enlightenment view of the world. For him, God was the first cause but his scientific understanding of cause and effect shaped his view, not just of physical objects in the natural world and how they interacted but also of individuals and how they interacted in society.

Locke published Two Treatises of Government in 1690 “to justify” (TToG) the struggle of 1640 – 1660 and the revolution of 1688. It was a time of great political turmoil. The certainty and stability that had been provided by the divine authority of the monarch had been removed.

With the removal of government legitimized by the church and by God, a return to stability required the creation of new certainties. Locke was both making social, political, and religious statements as a result of the Puritan uprising and civil war.

More importantly, they were intending to formulate forms of government that had intellectual integrity and gave legitimacy to the political structure after the revolution and the removal of the old order.

Using the scientific method, he argued from his understanding of the first principles of human interaction and he came to powerful rational conclusions. To develop his theory of government he started with a man in his original condition, or “the state of nature”.


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Hobbes, T. (1958). Leviathan or the Matter, Forms and Power of a Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil, Part 1. ‘Introduction by R. Kirk Chicago: Renery.
Hobbes, Thomas (1985). Leviathan. London: Penguin. p. 223.
Joseph, Kary  (2000). “Contract Law and the Social Contract: What Legal History Can Teach Us About the Political Theory of Hobbes and Locke”, 31 Ottawa Law Review 73.
Locke, John (1689). Second Treatise on Government
Riley, Patrick (1973). “How Coherent is the Social Contract Tradition?” Journal of the History of Ideas 34: 4 (Oct. – Dec., 1973): 543–62.
Ross, Harrison  (2003). “Hobbes seems to have invented this useful term.” See Ross Harrison, Locke, Hobbs, and Confusion’s Masterpiece(Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 70.

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