John Locke’s View on Human Nature

The theory of Human nature is an old concept and an important theory in Political philosophy. This theory has drawn the attention of many political philosophers. There are some philosophers, who have given their ideas on human nature theory. But their view on human nature is different from each other. So key thinkers of The theory of human Nature are Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Niccolò Machiavelli, Karl Marx, etc. These are the key thinkers of the theory of human nature, but no one is considered as father of the theory of human nature. In the past, one political thinker regarded as the first thinker to provide a theory on human nature was Thales of Miletus. He was an ancient Greek Philosopher, best known for his work on Natural Philosophy. Thales of Miletus was the first thinker to provide ideas on human nature and later on, it got shaped by other Political philosophers.

John Locke

John Locke was an English Philosopher of the 17th- century. He was born in 1632 in Somerset, England. He had contributed a lot to Political Philosophy. His Ideas on Human nature, Government, and Social Contract Theory had a great impact on various fields, like philosophy, politics, and psychology. He emerged as a prominent English Philosopher during the Enlightenment period When the World was moving toward reason and individualism. Locke’s Famous work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1689), explores Human nature, and This book, deeply explains about Tabula rasa, the Role of experience, Empiricism, and the importance of education.

Important Works of John Locke

John Locke is best known for his works in various fields. There are some important works of John Lockes are as follows-

  1. An Essay Concerning Toleration- This book was published in 1667 and this was the first book of John Locke. This Book was written and published when England was facing Religious turmoil. In this Book, Locke argues that there must be religious tolerance and must be freedom of conscience.
  2. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding – This was John Locke’s famous book, published in 1689. This book had attracted the attention of various philosophers. This book explains human nature, how humans gain knowledge etc.
  3. Two Treatises of Government – Two Treatises of Government is another influential book by John Locke, which was published in 1689. This Book covers various topics such as natural rights, limited government, and social contract theory.

John Locke’s View on Human Nature

He writes in detail about human nature in his famous book, an essay on human understanding. Unlike Hobbes, Locke believes that men are rational, decent, orderly, social-minded, and capable of ruling themselves. In his civil government, he writes that all men are naturally in a state of equality, wherein all power and jurisdiction are reciprocal, with no one having more or less than the other. without subordination or subjugation to anyone, all are free of at par. he writes that the natural liberty of man is to be free of any superior power, not to be under the will of any legislature authority of men, but to have only the law of nature for his rile. however, he admitted that though all are equal, some men may be a little wiser or stronger, or more industrious than others. For Locke, men are utilitarian also. according to him, the main object of all actions of men is pleasure. men want to substitute a pair with pleasure(Happiness- This view was later adopted by Bentham.) that which gives us pleasure, we call it good and what gives us pain, we call it Evil. This Pleasure or utility according to John Locke can be explained as to the reason/ bases of the covenant or agreement or contract which was instrumental in bringing peace and harmony among people ensuring them their rights, which gives man pleasure and makes life worth living. There are some important concept, which highlights John Locke’s view on Human nature. Key points are Tabula rasa, experience, empiricism, and Education.

  1. Tabula rasa: The concept of a blank slate- Tabula rasa is the fundamental concept of John Locke to understand Human nature. according to Locke, men are born free, without knowledge, ideas, or any concepts. men are born with a blank mind, which is called tabula rasa or blank slate by John Locke. As a person grows up, his empty mind gets filled with knowledge. men were not born with their individual identity or during their birth, men do not get their destinies. In other words, it states that we are not born with predetermined characteristics or with a predetermined destiny. As a result of the experiences we accumulate throughout our lives and the choices we make, we are able to create our own identity. It is also important to note that Locke’s concept of a tabula rasa also highlights the importance of education and nurturing in shaping the individual. In the beginning, the mind is empty. It is through the process of teaching and exposing individuals to different ideas and viewpoints that they form their beliefs, values, and understanding of the world as we know it. Tabular rasa, when referred to as a state of complete passivity or a lack of personality, is not necessarily a term that implies complete passivity. Despite starting from a blank slate, each of us still possesses unique predispositions and abilities that are shaped by our experiences and interact with each other to shape who we are. Locke questioned the prevalent wisdom of his day, which held that people are born with certain knowledge or skills. He maintained that everyone had an empty mind at birth, devoid of any set characteristics or previous ideas. According to the notion of a tabula rasa, our experiences, relationships, and surroundings all influence who we are and what we know.
  2. The role of experience in shaping individual identity- Experience plays a big role in shaping our personal identity. When we were children we had no knowledge, concept, or experience. As we grow up and interact with different individuals, we learn things from them. This helps us to increase our experience. We do not gain experience in a day, it takes many days to gain a lot of experience. As we grow up, our experiences also increase. Locke argued that the human senses also help them to develop their personal identity. We create our identity by gathering facts from the people or world around us. For example, the taste of a ripe apple or the sound of waves crashing on the beach can evoke specific emotions and memories, which ultimately contribute to our sense of self. Locke again pointed out the place of introspection in the development of the person’s identity. In his opinion, self-consciousness and introspection help us to understand and evaluate our experiences, which eventually help us to understand ourselves better as individuals. Our personality, worldview, and dreams—these all contribute to who we are. This can be understood better by thinking about our ideas, emotions, and actions. The significance of Locke’s beliefs on experience and personal identity is that they underline the role of environment and individual traits, but do not neglect the role of heredity. Instead, he went on to say that our identities are to a large extent shaped and built by the experiences we have during our lifetime.
  3. Empiricism and the rejection of innate ideas-
    John Locke, the greatest philosopher of the 17th century, had a great impact on how we understand human nature and human identity. His main idea of empiricism, which focuses on experience and sensory perception as the way to obtain knowledge, is the most important for him. Locke’s empiricism overruled the traditional view of innate ideas which was the belief that all knowledge must come from the senses rather than being inherited. He proposed that at a child’s birth, the mind is like a blank slate, and our identity depends on the particular experiences and interactions we have with the world. This rejection of birthright ideas had an outstanding effect, as it meant that all people could make up their minds and knowledge by their own experience, not being limited by born notions or social hierarchies. Locke’s empiricism-based view of knowledge paved the way for a more democratic interpretation of human nature, whereby education, coupled with exposure to different experiences, is deemed to be critical in the growth and development of an individual and society. Locke’s repudiation of innate ideas and his promotion of empiricism, which became the ground-breaking paradigm in human nature and individual identity, marginalizing the role of experience in shaping who we are and what we know.
  4. The influence of education and society on human nature- Education and society have been topics of heated argument over the effect they have on human nature. An Enlightenment philosopher John Locke investigated this in his literature, he stated how these factors mold an individual’s identity. Locke argued that individuals come into this world as “tabula rasa” — blank slates without any knowledge. However, the identities are not created by the educational experience and society but the experiences themselves. Education plays a significant role in the development of human nature as it nurtures the knowledge, values, and attitudes of individuals. Kids learn subjects related to academics, social norms, and moral values in schools which is important in the formation of their intellectual perception of the world. In this regard, society also has a great direct impact on us by means of communication, culture, and expectations. The values and traditions of society that are dominant in our society influences our ways of thinking and behaviours. Besides, families, governments, and socioeconomic factors are also among the main factors. They set up structures that have an effect on chance, social status, and social relationships. But he also believed that society was an important factor in human life and that each person had his own power and free choice. One of the things that people can do is critically evaluate themselves and form their own identities. Education and society are the key elements that influence the human nature. Grasp of their impact gives one a clue about the factors that shape behavior, social structure, and personal development.

Thomas Hobbes Vs Locke On Human Nature

John Locke’s Views on Human NatureThomas Hobbes’s View on human nature
Humans are born as “tabula rasa” (blank slates), without innate knowledge or characteristics.Learning a new skill or hobby that requires starting from scratch, such as painting, playing a musical instrument, or learning a new language.
Our identities and behaviors are largely shaped by our experiences, particularly through education and society.Traveling to new places and immersing oneself in different cultures, or participating in group activities that encourage social interaction and learning from others.
Despite societal influences, individuals possess innate reason and the capacity to make choices.Engaging in activities that promote critical thinking and decision-making, such as debating, problem-solving games, or philosophical discussions.
Education plays a crucial role in molding human nature by imparting knowledge, values, and beliefs onto individuals.Reading books, attending classes or workshops, or pursuing higher education to expand one’s knowledge and perspective on various subjects.
Society influences individuals through interactions, cultural norms, and expectations.Participating in community events or volunteering for social causes, engaging in activities that reflect or challenge societal norms, or joining clubs or groups that share common interests.
Institutions like family, government, and economy establish frameworks influencing opportunities, social roles, and relationships.Engaging in activities that involve teamwork, leadership, or cooperation, such as team sports, community projects, or political activism.

Why Did Locke have such A positive view on Human nature as opposed to Hobbes?

The Reasons are

  1. Positive attitude of his father, whom he saw as unselfish.
  2. His friend whom he saw as ever ready to help and support each other.
  3. When the Glorious Revolution took place, he saw the change taking place with a minimum of disturbance.
  4. The accession of William and Mary to the throne made him offer consent to the basics of politics and that people have the ability to rule themselves and this made him completely disapprove of Hobbes’s view that man is irrational and selfish.
  5. All These happening showed Locke that men possess a social sense which brings them together and helps them live amicably and peacefully with each other and that human beings are reasonable, cooperative, social, and symphatic, and that human nature is marked with love, kindness, and goodwill.
    It is with these qualities that men, lived in the state of nature before entering the Civil Society.
Criticism of John Locke’s View on Human Nature-
  1. Rejection of the Blank Slate Theory: Rejection of the Blank Slate Theory:
  • Critics have a different view and they say that humans are not born as tabula rasa but they are born with some inherent characteristics or instincts that make them behave in a certain manner from their birth.
  1. Socio-cultural Influences on Identity:2. Socio-cultural Influences on Identity:
  • Others say that Locke’s individualism is too extreme because it ignores the huge impact of social and cultural factors on people’s identity. These people believe that society and culture also have a great effect on the way a person develops.
  1. Concerns about Private Property Rights:3. Concerns about Private Property Rights:
  • Critics are not sure about the Locke’s idea of private property rights, they even doubt that it may result in inequalities and exploitation. The alternative models are presented that will support equal resource allocation and communal ownership.
  1. Contextual Considerations:
  • Contemporary scholars now usually emphasize the historical and cultural context of Locke’s theories, and many of them claim that such theories may not be universally applicable to all societies. This, in turn, gives rise to the question of whether Locke’s ideas are universal and how can they be applied in different cultural contexts.
  1. Engaging with Criticisms for Deeper Understanding: Engaging with Criticisms for Deeper Understanding:
  • With their recognition and perception, we can build a more comprehensive picture of Locke’s views on human nature and identity.