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Nature and State

What is 'unaccommodated' man really like? A 'poor bare, forked thing' - as Shakespeare depicts him on the heath in King Lear? And what follows from man's natural state with respect to his social and political being?

We will examine the shocking portrayal of man in King Lear and will go on to contrast the representation of the state of nature and the deductions we can make from it in the work of two of the great political theorists of the 17th Century, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

Shakespeare, Lear III, iv:

'Thou wert better in a grave than to answer with thy uncovered body this extremity of the skies. Is man no more than this? Consider him well. Thou owest the worm no silk, the beast no hide, the sheep no wool, the cat no perfume. Ha! here's three on 's are sophisticated; thou art the thing itself; unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art'.

Core Reading:

Hobbes, Leviathan Chs 1-16 (see electronic edition ed Noel Malcom, via the Library) or On-line Library of Liberty

Locke, Second Treatise 1-9, 17-19 JC153.L85 (and on-line Library of Liberty)

Class Questions: Worth focusing on Locke and how far he differs from Hobbes


Wat is H/L account of the state of nature: How do their accounts of the state of nature differ

How does H/L understand the law of nature and our obligation to obey it?

How does H/L understand liberty?

How does H/L understand the nature of the social contract

What is H/L's account of the power and rights of government ?

How should we explain the divergences in their accounts?

Suggestions for further reading:

A good overview of Hobbes life and thought can be found in Richard Tuck, Hobbes (1989) - at B 1247.T8. Tuck also wrote The very short introduction to Hobbes, which is a good basic overview, and avaliable online via the library.

C.B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (1962). A 'classic' reading of Hobbes and Locke, and the connections between them. At JC153.M2

Johann P. Sommerville, Thomas Hobbes: political ideas in historical context (1992). For my money, if you're only going to read one secondary text on Hobbes, it should be this one. A really excellent re-examination of Hobbes that gives due weight to the historical context he was writing in. At JC153.H63 S66

Ross Harrison, Hobbes, Locke, and confusion's masterpiece: an examination of seventeenth-century political philosophy (2003) - online via the library

Deborah Baumgold, Contract theory in historical context: essays on Grotius, Hobbes, and Locke (2010) - online via library catalogue. Essays on Hobbes and Locke as contract theorists.