High School and the State of Nature
As the college admissions process is becoming more “cutthroat” than ever, high school students are also becoming increasingly more competitive with one another. From my personal experience at high school (a small suburban high school twenty minutes outside of New York City), many students, especially upperclassmen, were very nervous that by helping their classmates, they would be putting themselves at an academic disadvantage when it came time to apply to college. With that being said, not all students subscribed to this philosophy. I believe that these two types of college-bound high school students can be classified into categories described by Hobbes’ and Locke’s differing ideas on man in the state of nature. These two basic classifications are as follows: the ruthless student and the more laid-back student.
Let me first briefly summarize the two types of man in each state of nature, one according to Hobbes and the other according to Locke. In Hobbes’ state of nature, people are self interested, ruthless, and brutish. According to Hobbes, every person has the innate right to the liberty to do anything he or she wishes to do. Furthermore, since there are no sets of laws in such a state, people are able and willing to do anything in order to be successful within society. On the other hand, Locke’s state of nature is based upon the ideals that man is innately good and that man is in accord with his community. This state emphasizes that no harm come to others and that man is moral and honest. These characteristics could easily be applied to the two types of college bound students previously mentioned.
Hobbes explains in his definition of man’s behavior in the state of nature that, “…the postulate of human greed by which each man insists upon his own private use of common property…” is emphasized. In other words, man is always in search of more for himself and behaves greedy in order to get what he wants. The type of student that can be identified with Hobbes’ definition of man in the state of nature is one that is ruthless in every sense of the word. This self-interested student rarely, if ever, will help other students with homework, tests, or general course questions. This student is typically, in accordance with Hobbes’ state of nature, brutish in the sense that he will always put himself and his academic work above assisting others with theirs. This type of student tries to gain an “edge” by being selfish. They think that if they help out the “competition”, they are in turn, lowering their chances of gaining acceptance into the college of their choice; therefore they (usually sneakily) refuse to help out their classmates.
In contrast to the “Hobbes state of nature student”, the student who is more laid-back and academically less brutal exemplifies characteristics of man in the state of nature as described by Locke. This student is not ruthless but rather willing to help others with their schoolwork. Locke believes that one should not, “…harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions”. When applied to the college bound high school student, those that fall under the “Locke’s state of nature student” are kids that look out for their fellow classmates and do not look to hurt another’s “life chances” (chance of getting into a desired college).
Although it is easy to separate high school students into categories based on Hobbes’ and Locke’s views of man in the state of nature, there are in fact some similarities between the two men in each state and, in turn, the two theoretical students. For example, both types of students, as both states of nature, are characterized by insecurity. In the two states, the people are trying to do what they perceive as the best to achieve a specific outcome for a given situation. Whether determining how to elect a ruler in a society or deciding whether or not to help a peer with their homework, both scenarios require a specific approach in order to reach the best possible decision.