Lost: States of Nature and Social Contracts

On a routine flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California, Oceanic Flight 815 crashed somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean. Only 71 of the 352 passengers survived the horrific place crash, which involved the planes tail breaking off. The survivors were left on a mysterious island to fend for themselves. They were Lost.LPC

The hit TV show Lost, which first aired in 2004 and ended in 2010, has been hailed as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. The show focuses on how the survivors manage to live on this remote island. The main group highlighted in the show consists of Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hugo, Sayid, John Locke, Desmond and Claire.

Let’s look at the survivors’ situation through two theories of the state of nature and social contracts set forth by two different political theorists: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

  1. Thomas Hobbes729px-Thomas_Hobbes_(portrait)

Hobbes believed that people in the state of nature were self-interested, fearful and rational. In Lost, each survivor followed Hobbes’ state of nature because they were fearful of death, and were doing whatever they could to stay alive. Hobbes also believed that in the state of nature, the problem was constant fear and that there was a lack of authority. His solution to the lack of authority was to create a social contract by appointing a sovereign to decide all matters. The survivors in Lost did live in a constant state of fear because they were in an unknown setting with unknown people fighting to stay alive. Although a sovereign was not elected or decided upon, Jack emerged as a leader. In Hobbes’ state of nature, the people relinquish all their power and right to the sovereign. The sovereign is just and is to guide the people in the right direction. The people form a contract with the sovereign to obey him, but the sovereign does not make a contract in return. Therefore, the sovereign has no accountability for his actions and could abuse the power given to him. Although Jack is the leader of the group, he is not the sovereign nor did he make a contract with the rest of the group. Jack made decisions that the group followed, but some people had their own agendas and Jack did not have authority to dictate the actions of all, which is why he is not a true Hobbesian solution to the state of nature problem.

  1. John Locke Locke-John-LOC

Locke’s state of nature, like Hobbes’, dictates that people are self-interested and rational. Locke did not believe that humans were naturally fearful, but the survivors were in a dire situation. Occasional disputes were common in Locke’s state of nature, and this held true on the island. Disputes would break out over the use of resources and ideas on how to get off the island. As the leader, Jack would try and settle the disputes but he could only encourage the arguing parties to discuss a solution. Locke believed that the lack of impartial judges was the problem in solving disputes and that a contract should be created to hold people accountable. His contract stated that a liberal democracy would be employed to resolve issues. As time went by, democracy emerged as the way to solve problems on the island. People who were not directly involved in the dispute would vote on the solutions they deemed to be most fair and the right of the majority ruled. The people on the island solved problems the way Locke believed problems should be solved in a state of nature.

If we assume the Lost simulation to be true, Locke missed a key factor in the state of nature; fear. The survivors were constantly fighting for their lives on an unknown island in the middle of nowhere, with complete strangers. How could they not be afraid? Perhaps Locke overlooked a key component that Hobbes identified in his state of nature. Nonetheless, Locke’s’ social contract prevailed on the island and is also the most commonly used in the real world.


3 thoughts on “Lost: States of Nature and Social Contracts

  1. This is a very interesting blog post. I think you tied what we’ve studied in class to a unique real world tragedy.

    In times of real distress, such as surviving on a deserted island in the Pacific after a horrific plane crash, the real human desire to survive is revealed. I have been in two plane crashes and while the crash did not occur on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific, I somehow escaped the plane which burst into flames upon its impact with the ground.

    When facing a truly horrific situation, the human desire to survive is really revealed. I’m not writing this to give you all unnecessary details about what I’ve been through, but I think my unique life experiences tie in to this post pretty well.


  2. I’m glad you made this comparison to the show Lost. In one of our discussions we acted out a similar scenario to LOST with the different philosophers we had studied. The interesting part of the show is that Locke’s social contract is the one that survived. However when faced with situations where fear of the uncertain fear runs rampant, it seems that Hobbes rules the day, at least in hypothetical. If this show was a real documentary rather than a scripted drama, it would be quite interesting to see whose social contract would reign supreme.


  3. I agree with the above comment. I think that the element of fear is a pertinent and major factor in survival. While people naturally bond together to survive, there is never a complete trust as to personal safety. Social contracts are supposed to promote this bond for survival by ensuring people who break the contract are punished. In the real world, we have people who break the social contract, even without an element of fear that being on a deserted island provides.


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