Nature of Liberty



  • Thomas Hobbes
  • John Locke
  • Jean Jacques Rousseau
  • Jeremy Bentham
  • John Stuart Mill


Nature of Liberty:

Thomas Hobbes :

Thomas Hobbes was an English philosopher, considered to be one of the founders of modern political philosophy. Hobbes is best known for his 1651 book Leviathan, in which he expounds an influential formulation of social contract theory. In addition to political philosophy, Hobbes contributed to a diverse array of other fields, including history, jurisprudence, geometry, the physics of gases, theology, and ethics, as well as philosophy in general.

Hobbes considers liberty as a natural right of an individual. Hobbes considers the nature of liberty under sovereign power and says that liberty means the ability to act according to one's will without being physically hindered from performing that act. Only chains or imprisonment can prevent one from acting, so all subjects have absolute liberty under sovereignty. Although the contract and the civil laws mandated by the sovereign are "artificial chains" preventing certain actions, absolute freedom and liberty still exist because the subjects themselves created the chains. Subjects write the social contract and are the authors of the sovereign's power. Thus, argues Hobbes, the subject is responsible for all hindrances to his actions and therefore cannot complain.

John Locke:

Locke wrote that all individuals are equal in the sense that they are born with certain "inalienable" natural rights. That is, rights that are God-given and can never be taken or even given away. Among these fundamental natural rights, Locke said, are "life, liberty, and property."Locke believed that the most basic human law of nature is the preservation of mankind. To serve that purpose, he reasoned, individuals have both a right and a duty to preserve their own lives. Murderers, however, forfeit their right to life since they act outside the law of reason.

Locke also argued that individuals should be free to make choices about how to conduct their own lives as long as they do not interfere with the liberty of others. Locke therefore believed liberty should be far-reaching.By "property," Locke meant more than land and goods that could be sold, given away, or even confiscated by the government under certain circumstances. Property also referred to ownership of one's self, which included a right to personal well being.

These ideas have been taken into consideration by Thomas Jefferson while drafting the Declaration of Independence and that’s how “Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness” came into existence.

Jean Jacques Rousseau :

Rousseau looked at liberty from a collective perspective. According to him an individual should keep personal interests aside for social interests. His concept of liberty frees the individual from a class based system and inequality. According to him inequality is an obstacle in the attainment of liberty. He maintains that liberty frees an individual from the hurdles created by the rise of civil and political society. He describes two hurdles on liberty:

  • One which prohibits an individual to think about public interest.
  • One which is created due to inequality in society

Rousseau did not consider liberty as a natural right as advocated by Hobbes and Locke. He believed that the society comes together to protect the life and interest of the individual. Therefore he gave more importance to emancipation from social inequality.

Jeremy Bentham:

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) trained as a lawyer and founded the early 19th century school of political thought known as “Benthamism” later called utilitarianism - based on the idea that governments should act so as to promote “the greatest good of the greatest number” of people. He spent much of his life attempting to drawn up an ideal Constitutional Code, but he was also active in parliamentary reform, education, and prison reform.He considered liberty and happiness as interconnected concepts. To achieve liberty one must gain happiness and eliminate sorrow.

John Stuart Mill :

Mill has supported individual liberty and opposed unrestrained controls by the State. His ideas are based on the concept, that ‘man has full control over his body and mind’. These ideas of Mill are relevant even today. His ideas regarding liberty are found in his work ‘On Liberty’.

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