The thought of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Second Discourse

Atualizado: 4 de Ago de 2020

Bárbara Dantas

ABSTRACT: Between HOBBES's sixteenth century, LOCKE's seventeenth, and ROUSSEAU's eighteenth, not only themselves, but other great theorists focused on two primordial questions: The State and its Origins. Reciprocal readings, exchanges of praise or offense, corroboration or counterposition were all part of that universe of thinkers who - either at the dawn of modernity in the sixteenth century or in the terminal years of the Ancien Régime in the eighteenth century - besides reading fundamental authors, did not fail to cite them as a good basis for or against an idea. Perhaps ROUSSEAU used - directly or indirectly - HOBBES's and LOCKE's ideas to emphasize his own, as it showed that the issues He raised had already been addressed and, for better or for worse, deserved and should be remembered.

KEYWORDS: Thomas Hobbes. John Locke. Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Political philosophy.

RESUMO: Entre o século XVI de HOBBES, o XVII de LOCKE e o XVIII de ROUSSEAU, não apenas eles mesmos, mas outros grandes teóricos concentraram-se em duas questões primordiais: o Estado e suas origens. Leituras recíprocas, trocas de elogios ou ofensas, corroboração ou contraposição faziam parte desse universo de pensadores que - tanto no início da modernidade no século XVI quanto nos anos terminais do Antigo Regime no século XVIII - além de ler autores fundamentais , não deixou de citá-los como uma boa base a favor ou contra uma ideia. Talvez ROUSSEAU tenha usado - direta ou indiretamente - as idéias de HOBBES e LOCKE para enfatizar as suas, pois mostrava que as questões que ele levantou já haviam sido abordadas e, para o bem ou para o mal, mereciam e deveriam ser lembradas.

PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Filosofia Política. Thomas Hobbes. John Locke. Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

RESUMEN: Entre el siglo XVI de HOBBES, el siglo XVII de LOCKE y el siglo XVIII de ROUSSEAU, no solo ellos mismos, sino también otros grandes teóricos se han centrados en dos cuestiones principales: el Estado y sus orígenes. Las lecturas recíprocas, los intercambios de elogios u ofensas, la corroboración u oposición fueron parte de este universo de pensadores que, tanto en el comienzo de la modernidad en el siglo XVI como en los años finales del Antiguo Régimen en el siglo XVIII, además de leer autores fundamentales, no dejaron de mencionarlos como una buena base a favor o en contra de una idea. Quizás ROUSSEAU utilizó, directa o indirectamente, las ideas de HOBBES y LOCKE para enfatizar las suyas, ya que demostró que los problemas que planteó ya se habían abordado y, para bien o para mal, merecían y debían ser recordados.

PALABRAS CLAVE: Filosofía política. Thomas Hobbes. John Locke. Jean-Jacques Rousseau.


Amid the doctoral research in Social History of Political Relations, I came across the classics of modern thought, and will continue to do so over the next few years. From MACHIAVELLI to BODIN, from DECARTES to ROUSSEAU.

What strikes us most when we enter the universe of European thinkers of Modernity is how much they read each other, that is, how much they knew and sought the texts of each other, whether they were the works from the writers of the past, or those of contemporary writings. Nothing was alien to the curiosity or the theoretical and empirical pursuits of those men who devoted themselves to letters: works of literary, scientific, artistic and - with ever increasing importance - the texts that became known as the classics of Political Philosophy.

Let us remember how ROUSSEAU himself did not fail to read VOLTAIRE's works to attack him, and VOLTAIRE returned in the same currency, he read ROUSSEAU's texts to counter the attacks.

That panorama transports us to ours, a time when the classics continue with their nickname, but gradually lose space in academic work. Therefore, this paper intends to show, through the example of ROUSSEAU, how comprehensive and insightful research as well as critical reading can make a book unique - even if it refers directly, in some parts, to works from other authors - unprecedented and timeless, that is, always current. This is what happened with Rousseau's Second Speech, in addition to establishing his fame, he installed it in the high pantheon of the Classics of the History of Political Thought.

We cannot know whether it was ROUSSEAU's readings that made his work so important - perhaps the most important of modernity - or whether his reference to his readings was written to substantiate his hypotheses, or in Rousseau's own words, “his conjectures". One certainty emerges, that without reference to those authors, ROUSSEAU's book would lose a reasonable amount of its genius. After all, it is well known that, to judge well, you have to know.

This work I present to you is more a comparative exercise than necessarily a theoretical text. It is the demonstration in a way that we academics - whether student or teacher - must perform our readings, that is, strive for a critical reading. During the act of reading - simultaneously with it - make mental associations with other texts. This premise greatly enhances the reader's perspective and makes him a shrewd writer. Moreover, this practice reaffirms what ROUSSEAU's small / large book shows us: throughout his text, he has made associations, comparisons, both to substantiate his ideas and to exemplify statements.

The thinkers most often cited, explicitly or implicitly, in ROUSSEAU's book were not contemporary with him. Thomas HOBBES must have turned in the grave, for his ideas became the basis on which ROUSSEAU attacked theorists who, he said, "tried" to explain the origin of inequality between men. Directly or indirectly, the Genevan philosopher used HOBBES's ideas to demonstrate the incongruous theories that preceded his own.

John LOCKE, in turn, treated with remarkable respect, served as an example to emphasize some ideas about slavery, wars of conquest, and other matters pertaining to those times of Ancien Régime and Enlightenment, diachronic entities per si, but which divided the same geographical and temporal space.

Finally - and to make them more comfortable and relaxed - after reading ROUSSEAU's three main books, I noticed - having such an association - that his first book, published in 1750, Discourse on Sciences and the Arts, looks like your TCC (undergraduate work); his second paper, published in 1755, The Origin and Foundations of Inequality between Men, was his master's dissertation; and his masterpiece, published in 1762, Social Contract, was his doctoral thesis. The conclusion reached is that knowledge, its construction, is a gradual, cumulative, systematized and associative path in order to produce something with empirical evidence, but above all, with new developments that become a thesis.

I took the liberty of inserting in this work the images of two busts and an engraving to show that the associations go beyond the comparison between texts, after all, the images have much to say, but - unfortunately - little space in the academic works. Systematizations and associations are very instructive and fruitful exercises They allow, through sometimes rather boring theoretical surveys, very enlightening results. And the purpose of this demonstration is to help academics draw from their readings as much as they can.


Jean-Jacques ROUSSEAU (1712-1778) was born in Geneva-Switzerland and died in Paris-France. Enlightenment philosopher (although dislike the nickname), still in life was considered one of the leading French thinkers of the eighteenth century, alternating at the top of fame with the notoriety of Voltaire (1694-1778), with whom he had several intellectual disagreements.

Son of a line of Protestant French emigrated to Switzerland during the 16th century, his life was, from an early age, marked by poverty. His mother died a few days after his birth and was abandoned by his father at the age of 10. He lived in Geneva until 1728, when he left the city and toured Europe until 1732 doing temporary work as a tape recorder, secretary and page. He converted to Catholicism in Turin and, as a footman, seminarian, music teacher or tutor, visited many parts of Switzerland and France.

Jean Antoine Houdon. Bust of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 1778. MetMuseum, New York.

One of the most influential thinkers of the modern age, Rousseau's writing was linked to many of the vogues that marked late eighteenth-century intellectual life, including the belief in the redemptive force of nature, the idealization of childhood, and the freedom and equality of mankind. Many of his political theories were incorporated into the tenets of the French Revolution and he was idolized by later advocates of Romantic naturalism.

The typology of this bust, in stiff wig and contemporary dress, matches the similar version of Houdon's celebrated portrait of Voltaire with which it has long been paired (see 08.89.1a). However, unlike that sculpture, which was produced after several live sittings, the bust of Rousseau is based on a death mask. When the two Enlightenment heroes died, mere weeks apart, Houdon seized on the lucrative opportunity to offer his much praised portraits as a pair, despite the well-known enmity that had developed between the two men. He first made them available to the public á la française, as here, or á l'antique, following the type exemplified by the Stroganov Voltaire (1972.61). A third classical type of pairing also exists, with each bust squarely truncated and draped in a toga, a "philosopher's band" encircling their "natural" hair. In that version, Rousseau's gaze is directed upward, as if toward another, more spiritual world, in sharp contrast to Voltaire's more ironic expression.[1]

ROUSSEAU had no regular education, but for certain periods, and did not attend university. Self-taught, while still in his father's house, he read a great deal, mainly, about the books left by his mother and his maternal grandfather. He used to read to his father while he worked at home as a watchmaker. Along with these readings, he added many more, especially history books. Studied music and Latin. He worked as a music teacher and wrote musical pieces, operas and ballets.[2]

In 1745, He connected with Thérèse LEVASSEUR, with whom He had five children. But He abandoned them and the children were sent to orphanages. Rousseau argued that He could not take care of them being poor and sick...

In 1750, He received the first prize from the Dijon Academy Competition. Four years later, on his return to Geneva, He broke off relations with DIDEROT, VOLTAIRE and D'ALEMBERT and was the target of public censorship. He became sick and moved away from the busy life of Paris. In the year of 1755 participated again of Competition of Dijon Academy on the Origin of the inequality between the men. To write it, He walked in the woods at Saint-Germin in an attempt to recreate the image of the natural man in his mind. Even without winning, his fame was assured.

His most fruitful years were those in which He lived in Montmorency. There He wrote The New Heloise (1761) and Emile (1762), in addition to his masterpiece, The Social Contract (1762). From then on, He suffered severe persecution and had to flee from France and was expelled from Switzerland. He traveled to England in 1765 at the invitation of David HUME (1711-1776), English philosopher and historian, radical and skeptical empiricist. Two years later, she broke up with him and returned to Paris, where she lived until the end of her days. In 1770, He published his Confessions.[3]

The book to which this work focuses, Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality between Men, is one of the most revolutionary texts of the 18th century, and can be considered, along with the Social Contract, the matrix of moral and political thought from ROUSSEAU. In the first place, He asks, "What is man?" And, just like HOBBES and LOCKE before him, he reassembled the idea of a "state of nature" to show, very lucidly, how far mankind has strayed from him. His text opened a new perspective by demonstrating the roots upon which evils have grown to fall upon human societies, century after century. All, even the tribal ones - already in ROUSSEAU's time - were quite distant from that primitive and naive state of the early days.

As a faithful citizen of Geneva, ROUSSEAU dedicated his book to the “magnificent, most honorable and sovereign masters” of what he considered the most perfect of all republics. Despite being continually remembered for its somewhat averse character to the pompous speech of those who practice flattery, the dedication of this book is a set of justifications in which it is noted that its work was accepted and well rewarded:

Your sovereignty, acquired or recovered at the point of the sword and preserved for two centuries by force of value and wisdom, is finally fully and universally recognized. Honorable treaties set your boundaries, secure your rights and consolidate your rest. Your constitution is excellent, dictated by the most sublime reason and guaranteed by friendly and respectable powers. Your state is quiet, you have no rules or conquerors to fear; have no other masters than the wise laws you have made, administered by righteous magistrates of your choice.[4]


In 1742, He traveled to Paris and had contact with CONDILLAC (1715-1780) and Denis DIDEROT (1713-1784), who invited him to write articles on music for Encyclopedie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des metiers, [Encyclopedia, or rational dictionary of the sciences, arts and professions], a grand compilation of all known knowledge in 35 volumes published until 1772. This work is considered the junction of Enlightenment ideas.

Denis Diderot & Jean Le Rond d’Alembert. Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonnée des sciences, des arts, et des métiers. 1751 – 65. France.

(Left) Title page from Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonnée des sciences, des arts, et des métiers...; Vol.XIII, published by chez Briasson, printed by le Breton, 1751 - 65, France (Paris). Museum no. NAL.38041800785941. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Right) Frontispiece from Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonnée des sciences, des arts, et des métiers...; Vol.13, published by chez Briasson, printed by le Breton, 1751-65, France (Paris). Museum no. NAL. 38041800785941. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

As work began, it was agreed that the scope of the English two-volume dictionary should be widened to include recent advances in science, technology, travel and the arts. From being a simple translation, the project became a massive undertaking.

In 1747, a mathematician called Jean Le Rond d’Alembert and a brilliant but little-known writer called Denis Diderot were recruited as editors. But they had their own agenda. Their goal was to use knowledge and reason to challenge the orthodoxy of the Catholic Church and the authority of the state.

The bulk of the work fell to Denis Diderot. As sole editor from 1757, he recruited over 140 contributors as well as writing, or rewriting, many of the articles himself. He also briefed the illustrators, liaised with printers and publishers, and negotiated with the authorities.

In doing so, Diderot devoted his whole life to the project. He did this in the belief that knowledge would make people happier and more virtuous. His novels and other literary works were published only after his death.

Contributors to the Encyclopédie ranged from wealthy amateurs to respected scholars. They included some of the most famous names of 18th-century Europe. Jean-Jacques Rousseau supplied an article on Political Economy and many others on music.

Voltaire wrote on History, Fornication and Taste. One of the lesser known, but most productive, authors was Chevalier Louis de Jaucourt. With the help of secretaries, he supplied 17,266 articles out of the total of 71,818.[5]


With this work, he participated in the new Dijon Academy of Letters Competition in 1755: "What is the origin of inequality between men, and whether it is legitimized by natural law". Did not win, but his notoriety was established.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

In the centuries following the publication of his Leviathan, a number of authors succeeded in denying the Hobbean idea that human societies need an absolute sovereign to prevent men from killing each other. However, his work is more than that, among the fundamental questions discussed by HOBBES with respect to “self-preservation”, the thinker emphasizes that there is nothing or no one who can oppose or act against it. Now, in that regard, there can be no opposition.[6]

Unknown artist. Thomas Hobbes. Work on paper. Unknown date created.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Let us now look at the derogatory references to HOBBES found in ROUSSEAU's celebrated book:

Others, beginning with giving the strongest authority over the weakest, soon gave birth to government, without thinking about the time that must have passed before the meaning of the words 'authority' and 'government' could exist among men; (p. 34)

It would no longer be reasonable to believe that peoples first fell into the arms of an absolute, unconditional, and homeless master, and that the first means of providing the common security imagined by haughty and untamed men was to rush into slavery; (p. 90)

Let us not conclude at all with Hobbes that, having no Idea of goodness, man is naturally evil, that He is perverted because He does not know virtue, that He always refuses his fellow servants who do not believe they owe them, nor that by virtue of the right which he rightly gives himself over the things he needs, he madly believes himself to be the sole owner of the whole universe. Hobbes saw very well the failure of all modern definitions of natural law, but the consequences he derives from his show that he takes it in a sense no less false; (p. 59)

Hobbes did not see that the same cause that prevents savages from using reason, as our jurisconsultants claim, at the same time prevents them from abusing their faculties, as He himself claims, so that we might say that savages are not evil precisely because not knowing what it is to be good; (p. 59-60)

Always hear it repeated that the strong will oppress the weak; but then explain to me what is meant by the word 'oppression'. Some will dominate violently, others will moan under all the whims of the former: this is precisely what is observed among us, but I do not see how this could be said of savage men, who would have a hard time understanding what servitude is and what it is domination; (p. 68)

Seeing that all who behaved like him in the same circumstances, he concluded that their thinking and feeling was entirely his own, and this important truth, well established in his mind, made him follow, for such a safe feeling and more ready than dialectics, the best rules of conduct which, for their advantage and safety, should be observed with them; (p. 73)

Hobbes assumes that man is naturally fearless and only seeks to attack and fight; (p. 39)

Indeed, it is easy to see that, among the differences that distinguish men, many are given as natural, but they are only a work of custom and of various genres of life that men adopt in society; (p. 67)

This is exactly the degree to which we reach most of the savage peoples who are known; It is because of the lack of distinction between the ideas and the perception of how many countries are already further than the state of nature, if many are pressured to conclude who the naturally cruel man is and it needs rules to slow it down, whereas nothing is as sweet as it is in its primitive state, when it is in nature at distances equal to the stupidity of the brutes and the deep lights of civilized man; (p. 78)

Let us unite, I told them, to protect the weak from oppression, to contain the ambitious, and to assure each other of their own possession: let us establish rules of justice and peace that all must conform, make no distinction from anyone, and somehow repair the vagaries of luck by subjecting the mighty and the weak alike to mutual duties. In a word, instead of turning our forces against ourselves, we come together in a supreme power that rules us according to wise laws, protects and defends all members of the association, repels common enemies and keeps us in eternal concord. (p. 87)

John Locke (1632-1704)

John Locke systematized the philosophical doctrine inaugurated by René DESCARTES, empiricism (philosophy that strives for experience to achieve knowledge). LOCKE's empiricist theses had a great influence on Western thinking. Moreover, his sociopolitical theories inspired 18th century Enlightenment philosophers and their work, Second Treatise on Government, became the basis of modern political liberalism. The English philosopher began his analysis by explaining what the true "state of nature" of man would be. To this end, it discussed the origin, organization and ends of political societies and governments. Freedom, for LOCKE, was the essence of political sovereignty if delegated by all the citizens gathered in Parliament. LOCKE was one of the authors who most emphatically criticized the "patriarchal thesis".[7]

Unknown artist. Bust of John Locke. 1765–75. MetMuseum, New York. American art.

The placement of busts of learned men in libraries is a tradition that dates from antiquity and proliferated in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. The likeness of the English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) was a preferred subject that often ornamented the pediment tops of desks and bookcases. This example has a distinct naturalism in the sculpting of the philosopher’s features that may have been inspired by well-known prints. Americans esteemed Locke for his philosophies that endorsed individual conscience, religious tolerance, and the defense of democracy. Locke’s theories were fundamental to the thinking of American Revolutionaries, especially the authors of the Declaration of Independence.[8]

Let us now turn to ROUSSEAU's considerations of Lockean thinking:

Because, according to the wisdom of wise Locke, there could be no injury where there is no property; (p. 78)

The right of conquest, since it is not a right, could not found any other, the conquered and the conquered peoples always remaining in a state of war with each other, unless the nation can again, in full freedom, voluntarily choose your winner as your boss. Until then, whatever capitulations may have been made as a form based solely on violence, and void by that fact, there can be no real society in this hypothesis, neither body politic, nor other law, except of the strongest; (p. 89)

These words, 'strong' and 'weak', are equivocal [...] in the interval between the establishment of the right of ownership or first occupant and that of political governments, the meaning of these terms is better spelled out by those of 'poor' and 'rich', because indeed a man had no prior means of subjecting his equals except by attacking their good or providing them with a part of his own; (p. 89)

Since the poor had nothing to lose but their freedom, it would be foolish for them to voluntarily deprive themselves of their only good and gain nothing in return; whereas, on the contrary, being the rich, so to speak, sensitive in all parts of their goods, it was much easier to harm them; whereas they therefore had more precautions to be taken to guarantee them; and that, finally, it is more reasonable to believe that something was invented by those to whom it is useful than by those to whom it causes harm; (p. 89)

The son, perfectly independent of the father, owes him only respect, not obedience, because recognition is a duty to be performed, but not a right that can be demanded [...] an individual was only recognized as a parent of several when they remained gathered around him. (p. 92)

We would find neither solidity nor truth in the voluntary establishment of tyranny, and it would be difficult to show the validity of a contract that would oblige only one party, which would put everything on one side and nothing on the other and would only harm those who accept it; (p. 93)

It is within this disorder and revolutions that despotism, gradually raising its hideous head and devouring all that it would have seen as good and wholesome in all parts of the state, would at last trample upon the laws and the people and settle down upon the ruins of the Republic [...] everything would be devoured by the monster and the peoples would no longer have chiefs or laws, only tyrants; (p. 102)

Will neglect, if I may permit, the authority of Barbeyrac, who clearly states, along with Locke, that no one can sell his freedom to the point of submitting to an arbitrary power that treats him according to his fantasy. Because, He adds, it would be selling his own life, of which we are not masters. I will ask only by what right those who did not fear to be debased at this point could subject their posterity to the same ignominy and renounce, by it, to goods which it does not receive from their liberality and without which life itself is onerous to all who are worthy of it? (p. 94)


Between HOBBES's sixteenth century, LOCKE's seventeenth, and ROUSSEAU's eighteenth, not only themselves, but other great theorists focused on two primordial questions: The State and its Origins. Reciprocal readings, exchanges of praise or offense, corroboration or counterposition were all part of that universe of thinkers who - either at the dawn of modernity in the sixteenth century or in the terminal years of the Ancien Régime in the eighteenth century - besides reading fundamental authors, did not fail to cite them as a good basis for or against an idea. Perhaps ROUSSEAU used - directly or indirectly - HOBBES's and LOCKE's ideas to emphasize his own, as it showed that the issues He raised had already been addressed and, for better or for worse, deserved and should be remembered.


JOHN LOCKE. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1765–75. Internet:

JEAN Antoine Houdon. Bust of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1908. Internet:

LOCKE, John. Segundo Tratado Sobre o Governo. São Paulo: Martin Claret, 2011.

PEREIRA, Carlos Alberto. Notas sobre Rousseau. 2001. Internet:

ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques. A origem da desigualdade entre os homens. São Paulo: Penguin & Companhia das Letras, 2017.

SKINNER, Quentin. Os fundamentos do pensamento político moderno. São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 1996.

SOUZA, Agnes Cruz de. Rousseau: A arte da Filosofia, Literatura e Educação. 2002. Internet:

THOMAS HOBBES. Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Internet:


Bárbara Dantas has a degree in History, a Master's Degree in Art History and student with scholarship (FAPES) of the doctorate degree in Political History with emphasis on visual and artistic sources, all from the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES). On the website are available her published works in Brazil and abroad.



[1] Jean Antoine Houdon. Bust of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1908. Internet:

[2] PEREIRA, Carlos Alberto. Notas sobre Rousseau. 2001. Internet:

[3] SOUZA, Agnes Cruz de. Rousseau: A arte da Filosofia, Literatura e Educação. 2002. Internet:

[4] ROUSSEAU, Jean-Jacques. A origem da desigualdade entre os homens. São Paulo: Penguin & Companhia das Letras, 2017, p. 14-15.

[5] DIDEROT, Denis; ALEMBERT, Jean Le Rond d’. Encyclopédie. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 1751-65. Internet:

[6] SKINNER, Quentin. Os fundamentos do pensamento político moderno. São Paulo: Cia das Letras, 1996, p. 454.

[7] SKINNER, 1996, p. 433.

[8] JOHN LOCKE. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1765–75. Internet:


* Se precisar citar, tê-lo como referência, seguir:

DANTAS, Bárbara. "The thought of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Second Discourse." In: DANTAS, Bárbara; BARBOSA, Rodrigo Cesar. Legal Science Series: themes and crisis. E-BOOK 2. Legal System and Crisis. Vila Velha-ES: Balsamum, 2019, p. 117-127. Internet: e


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