Locke Vs Hume on Consent Essay

Total Length: 2145 words ( 7 double-spaced pages)

Total Sources: 8

Page 1 of 7

Political Obligation

When it comes to political science and philosophy, there are many subjects and points of analysis that are very intriguing, widely discussed and heavily debated. There are also certain people, both past and present, that have proved themselves as scholars on those political subjects. Such is the case with both John Locke and David Hume. One particular subject that both men weighed in on was the role of consent when it comes to the creation of political obligation. The positions of both men will be covered in this report and the author of the same will come to a conclusion as to which man made the better argument. Political obligation, of course, is the general rule that the law must be obeyed. Consent, on the other hand, is much more nebulous in terms of definition and concept and that will be covered in this report. While both men have very informed and erudite opinions about the role of consent in political obligation, one of them clearly stands out from the other.



Locke's view on consent is pretty basic. Locke speaks to a symbiotic relationship between government and the people. The people consent to the government, their law and their rules based on the fact that the structure and function of the government serves as a means to provide stability and structure. However, he clearly had limits in terms of what political obligation and consent should (or must) exist. For example, he was all about separation of powers, the power of majority rule, a ban on allowing churches to have coercive power within the government. Beyond that, Locke clearly felt that consent, as mentioned above, played a central role in making society and government work for all involved. He even went so far as to say that people cannot be a full part and member of a society unless they agree to such a principle and then behave as such. Rather that state that implicit or non-direct consent is needed, Locke was clear to say that the consent has to be explicit and mindful. He further states that this is necessary for a government to be legitimate. After all, a government without the consent of their people is probably a dictatorship or something similar [footnoteRef:1]. [1: Tuckness, Alex. 2017. "Locke's Political Philosophy." plato.stanford.edu. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke-political/#ConPolOblEndGov.]


Hume took a rather different approach to consent. One example is when it comes to where someone calls their residence. Even if the moral significance of a residence area is known to all, there are some cases where it would not be free and voluntary. This is no small thing to many given that direct and free consent is seemingly necessary in a society. Hume, in one of his works, gave the example that a poor peasant or artisan cannot just pick up and move to another country to restrictions on immigration, not knowing the language and a few other things and this was obviously aggravated by the small amount of money he/she would have [footnoteRef:2]. Hume clearly focuses more on the idea and concept of how people come to agree that they are thus obligated due to the political and other paradigms that surround them in a society. Hume goes on to say that when a government does good things and does its job, they have the allegiance of the people for that reason alone.
Any amount of explicit consent, in the eye of Hume, does not change that [footnoteRef:3]. [2: UTM. 2017. "Political Obligation | Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy." Iep.Utm.Edu. http://www.iep.utm.edu/poli-obl/#SH1c.] [3: CSUSB. 2017. Rocket.Csusb.Edu. http://rocket.csusb.edu/~tmoody/hume%20-of%20the%20original%20contract-.html]

Further Stating of Compare & Contrast

The contrast of the arguments that the two men make is clear when looking at one idea. Hume held that there is nothing within modern governments that corresponds to the consent that is needed for them to be legitimate. If Locke were to responds that there are thus no legitimate governments by the standard, Locke would scoff and suggest that this is absurd. Hume, being the utilitarian that he is, would obviously argue that if the government is being effective from a utilitarian standpoint, then the people will consent and react based on the same. In a nutshell, Locke holds that obedience with the law is itself consent. Hume argues that this is not true [footnoteRef:4]. However, even Hume admits that political covenants emerge and evolve from social orders and arrangements. Thus, there has to be some agreement of understanding regarding the rules and norms of a society [footnoteRef:5]. Hume does have a bit of a point when it comes to the "original" contract and whether obligations under the same pass from one generation to the next. The founding documents and constitutional guidelines of a country would seem to be the former but the latter is something that Hume is prescient to say. Indeed, the poor or even the "average man" does not have the ability to just say "no" and go somewhere else. That being said, it is not impossible to depart for another country or situation if that is desired [footnoteRef:6]. Beyond that, there has to be some implied or generational continuity for society to work and there are only so many ways to reject the "contract" [footnoteRef:7]. This line of thought is consistent with Locke when he says " . . . but, with one consent, admitted the natural liberty and equality of mankind" [footnoteRef:8]. [4: CSUSB. 2017. Rocket.Csusb.Edu. http://rocket.csusb.edu/~tmoody/hume%20-of%20the%20original%20contract-.html.] [5: Warrender, Howard. 2004. The Political Philosophy Of Hobbes. 1st ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.] [6: Hume, David. 1748. "David Hume: Of The Original Contract." Constitution.Org. http://www.constitution.org/dh/origcont.htm.] [7: Hume, David. 2006. A Treatise Of Human Nature. 1st ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.] [8: Locke, John. 1993. Two Treatises Of Government. 1st ed. London: Everyman.]

Argument for One Side

As for what side makes more sense, it is perhaps reasonable on the past of Hume to suggest that no contract or "agreement" of the explicit sense is being made when people see what the government is doing yet they don't rise up, march the streets or otherwise engage in any sort of lawlessness or….....

Show More ⇣

     Open the full completed essay and source list


     Order a one-of-a-kind custom essay on this topic


Christiano, Tom. 2017. "Authority." plato.Stanford.Edu. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/authority/#TacCon.

CSUSB. 2017. Rocket.Csusb.Edu. http://rocket.csusb.edu/~tmoody/hume%20-of%20the%20original%20contract-.html.

Hume, David. 1748. "David Hume: Of The Original Contract." Constitution.Org. http://www.constitution.org/dh/origcont.htm.

Hume, David. 2006. A Treatise Of Human Nature. 1st ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Locke, John. 1993. Two Treatises Of Government. 1st ed. London: Everyman.

Tuckness, Alex. 2017. "Locke's Political Philosophy." Plato.Stanford.Edu. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke-political/#ConPolOblEndGov.

UTM. 2017. "Political Obligation | Internet Encyclopedia Of Philosophy." Iep.Utm.Edu. http://www.iep.utm.edu/poli-obl/#SH1c.

Warrender, Howard. 2004. The Political Philosophy Of Hobbes. 1st ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

sample essay writing service

Cite This Resource:

Latest APA Format (6th edition)

Copy Reference
"Locke Vs Hume On Consent" (2017, April 25) Retrieved May 6, 2021, from

Latest MLA Format (8th edition)

Copy Reference
"Locke Vs Hume On Consent" 25 April 2017. Web.6 May. 2021. <

Latest Chicago Format (16th edition)

Copy Reference
"Locke Vs Hume On Consent", 25 April 2017, Accessed.6 May. 2021,