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Ownership as the “Chief End” of Society

November 2, 2010

In discussing the “chief end” of civil society, Hobbes mentions that the “chief end” is the “protection of lives” while Locke argues that the “protection of property” is the aim of society.

When comparing and contrasting Hobbes and Locke, I came to question the differing ideas of the “chief end” stated by these two theorists. Hobbes focuses on the fact that civil society is in place to protect people from an untimely death. In the state of nature, according to Hobbes there is a “continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And thus, it is the “chief end” of society to protect people from perpetual fear and worry of death. Conversely, Locke claims that the main goal of society is the protection of property. I would venture to say that in Locke’s argument of the main aim of society, Locke includes the ownership of one’s own body in the idea of ownership of property. After all, a body has been used, although wrongly, as property in the past. In this sense, Locke is not only taking what Hobbes says as the “chief end”, but also adding onto it.

I think in today’s modern times and back when Locke was writing, owning property (as in land) was imperative to making a living. Although, less emphasis may be put on farming today, owning land is still of utmost importance to the feeling of true stability and security. If you own your own home, you know you have shelter, the ability to produce food, and a place of solitude if necessary. However, this is all superfluous if you do not own your own body. Without ownership of ones own body, they cannot feasibly own anything else.

I think that it is the ability to have ownership that is the chief end of society. Without the idea of ownership for each person, there would be no ownership of either property or body. So, I agree that Locke and Hobbes both discuss the “chief end” having to do with ownership of property / ownership of oneself; but, I think that the “chief end” of society is the ability of people in the society to have personal ownership. This idea would then encompass ownership of material property and body, which Hobbes and Locke discuss, as well as ownership of intangible property – like intellectual property.

So I ask you the question does society in the USA achieve this aim, that citizens have the ability to true ownership – be it property, material or intangible, and  oneself? Does society anywhere?


  1. jacobjam permalink
    November 2, 2010 10:51 AM

    I must agree with your analysis regarding Hobbes and Lockes connections in their “chief ends.” I must voice my opinion in regards to which “chief end” I would prefer to see in a civil society in regards to answering your question. I believe that in order to have a complete and functioning civil society, Locke’s view of the “chief end” should be focused on the most. Although fear does allow a society to function, I do not believe a society should have to live in fear in order to live justly. But, I believe that in todays society, the United States only gives the privilege of true ownership to those who can truly afford it. As disheartening as it is to think, I adamantly believe that no citizen of the United States can truly own anything without being able to afford and continuously pay the government for what they want to own, in the material terms aspect. It seems as though even the intangible items can be difficult to achieve, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, because many a times these aspects result in conflict. So, in my opinion, it seems as though today’s society revolves around a Hobbesian “chief end” society. A society in which fear dominates the daily living of everyone that lives in a civil society in order to continue living in civil society. Even though it may not seem “justly” in some aspects, it seems to be working as of now and due to the fact that a civil society has continued to remain, maybe the complete ownership of certain aspects should remain incapable. I am personally conflicted with this issue. Thanks for bringing up a great topic!

  2. joshuacy permalink
    November 2, 2010 10:03 PM

    In response to your question: yes, we do have property, and our government does extremely well to protect it.

    In communist countries, citizens are allowed nothing except what is allotted to them by their government. No property. These governments are often headed by corrupt leaders who, striving to keep their seat of power, restrict information access and often silence their opposition with swift force. No ideas, no dissent. Even in other, more “free” countries, citizens are required to enlist in the military when they become adults, spending a required amount of time in the armed forces. In a sense, these people do not even own themselves.

    So, barring any shadowy outside organization controlling information flow, government leaders, our thoughts and our every move, we can proudly declare ourselves a free nation.

  3. aaronyan1123 permalink
    November 3, 2010 12:23 AM

    I totally argee with your analysis of Locke and Hobbes ‘chief ends’. Locke did bring Hobbes’ idea of ‘chief end’ society into his ‘chief end’ society idea. Though I am not a citizen of the United States, according to the defination of ‘chief end’ society from both Locke and Hobbes, the modern United States is a kind of society that both political theorists mentioned.

  4. changmc permalink
    November 3, 2010 4:34 PM

    I enjoy how you likened Locke’s chief end to a medical model where without our bodies or our health, material possession is worthless. In regards to your question, I think that the United States has the best ability out of any society in the world to ensure that property remains in the hands of the owners. If we are able to pay our taxes and pay our debts, contracts ensure that property remains ours. Since we live in a capitalist society and because we place technology at the forefront, the United States can afford to give its people the liberty of keeping their material possessions even in times of disaster or war. The chances of conscription are close to zero because of all our resources and therefore people have control of their material possessions as well as the use of their bodies.

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