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    Thomas Hobbes Essay (1936 words)

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    THE STATE OF NATURE. In his brief introduction to the Leviathan, Hobbes describes the state as an organism analogous to a large person. He shows how each part of the state parallels the function of the parts of the human body.

    He notes that the first part of his project is to describe human nature, insofar as humans are the creators of the state. To this end, he advises that we look into ourselves to see the nature of humanity in general. Hobbes argues that, in the absence of social condition, every action we perform, no matter how charitable or benevolent, is done for reasons which are ultimately self-serving. For example, when I donate to charity, I am actually taking delight in demonstrating my powers. In its most extreme form, this view of human nature has since been termed psychological egoism.

    Hobbes believes that any account of human action, including morality, must be consistent with the fact that we are all self-serving. In this chapter. Hobbes speculates how selfish people would behave in a state of nature, prior to the formation of any government He begins noting that humans are essentially equal, both mentally and physically, insofar as even the weakest person has the strength to kill the strongest. Given our equal standing, Hobbes continues noting how we are situations in nature make us naturally prone to quarrel. There are three natural causes of quarrel among people: competition for limited supplies of material possessions, distrust of one another, and glory insofar as people remain hostile to preserve their powerful reputation. Given the natural causes of quarrel, Hobbes concludes that the natural condition of humans is a state of perpetual war of all against all, where no morality exists, and everyone lives in constant fear: In such condition, there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of people, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

    Hobbes continues offering proofs that the state of nature would be as brutal as he describes. We see signs of this in the mistrust we show of others in our daily lives. In countries which have yet to be civilized people treat are barbaric to each other. Finally, in the absence of international law, strong countries pray on the weakness of weak countries. Humans have three motivations for ending this state of war: the fear of death, the desire to have an adequate living, and the hope to attain this through one’s labor. Nevertheless, until the state of war ends, each person has a right to everything, including another person’s life.

    LAWS OF NATURE. In articulating the peace-securing process, Hobbes draws on the language of the natural law tradition of morality, which was then championed by Dutch politician Hugo Grotius (1583-1645). According to Grotius, all particular moral principles derive from immutable principles of reason. Since these moral mandates are fixed in nature, they are thus called “laws of nature.

    ” By using the jargon of natural law theory, Hobbes is suggesting that, from human self-interest and social agreement alone, one can derive the same kinds of laws which Grotius believes are immutably fixed in nature. Throughout his discussion of morality, Hobbes continually re-defines traditional moral terms (such as right, liberty, contract, and justice) in ways which reflects his account of self-interest and social agreement. For Grotius and other natural law theorists, a law of nature is an unchangeable truth which establishes proper conduct. Hobbes defines a law of nature as follows: A Law of Nature (lex naturalis) is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a person is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life, or takes away the means of preserving the same; and to omit that by which he thinks it may be best preserved. Hobbes continues by listing specific laws of nature all of which aim at preserving a person’s life. Hobbes’s first three Laws of Nature are the most important since they establish the overall framework for putting an end to the state of nature.

    Given our desire to get out of the state of nature, and thereby preserve our lives, Hobbes concludes that we should seek peace. This becomes his first law of nature: “That every person ought to endeavor peace as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war; the first branch of which rule contains the first and fundamental Law of Nature, which is, To seek peace and follow it; the second, the sum of the right of nature, which is, By all means we can, to defend ourselves. The reasonableness of seeking peace, indicated by the first law, immediately suggests a second law of nature, which is that we mutually divest ourselves of certain rights (such as the right to take another person’s life) so to achieve peace: That a person be willing, when others are so too (as far-forth as for peace and defense of himself he shall think it necessary), to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other people, as he would allow other people against himself. The mutual transferring of these rights is called a contract and is the basis of the notion of moral obligation and duty. For example, I agree to give up my right to steal from you, if you give up your right to steal from me.

    We have then transferred these rights to each other and thereby become obligated to not steal from each other. From selfish reasons alone, we are both motivated to mutually transfer these and other rights, since this will end the dreaded state of war between us. Hobbes continues by discussing the validity of certain contracts. For example, contracts made in the state of nature are not generally binding, for, if I fear that you will violate your part of the bargain, then no true agreement can be reached.

    No contracts can be made with animals since animals cannot understand an agreement. Most significantly, I cannot contract to give up my right to self-defense since self-defense (or self-preservation) is my sole motive for entering into any contract. OTHER LAWS OF NATURE. Hobbes derives his laws of nature deductively, modeled after the type reasoning used in geometry. That is, from a set of general principles, more specific principles are logically derived. Hobbes’s general principles are (1) that people pursue only their own self-interest, (2) the equality of people, (3) the causes of quarrel, (4) the natural condition of war, and (5) the motivations for peace.

    From these he derives the above two laws, along with at least 13 others. Simply making contracts will not in and of itself secure peace. We also need to keep the contracts we make, and this is Hobbes’s third law of nature. Hobbes notes a fundamental problem underlying all contracts: as selfish people, each of us will have an incentive to violate a contract when it serves our best interests. For example, it is in the mutual best interests of Jones and myself to agree to not steal from each other.

    However, it is also in my best interests to break this contract and steal from Jones if I can get away with it. And, what complicates matters more, Jones is also aware of this fact. Thus, it seems that no contract can ever get off the ground. This is accomplished by giving unlimited power to a political sovereign who will punish us if we violate our contracts. Again, it is for purely selfish reasons (i. e.

    ending the state of nature) that I agree to set up a policing power which will punish me. As noted, Hobbes’s first three Laws of Nature establish the overall framework for putting an end to the state of nature. The remaining laws give content to the earlier ones by describing more precisely the kinds of contracts which will preserve peace. For example, the fourth law is to show Gratitude toward those who comply with contracts. Otherwise people will regret that they complied when someone is ungrateful.

    Similarly, the fifth law is that we should be accommodating to the interests of society. For, if we quarrel over every minor issue, then this will interrupt the peace process. Briefly, here are the remaining laws: (6) cautious pardoning of those who commit past offenses; (7) the purpose of punishment is to correct the offender, not “an eye for an eye” retribution; (8) avoid direct or indirect signs of hatred or contempt of another; (9) avoid pride; (10) retain only those rights which you would acknowledge in others; (11) be equitable (impartial); (12) share in common that which cannot be divided, such as rivers; (13) items which cannot be divided or enjoyed in common should be assigned by lot; (14) mediators of peace should have safe conduct; (15) Resolve disputes through an arbitrator. Hobbes explains that there are other possible laws which are less important, such as those against drunkenness, which tends to the destruction of particular people. At the close of Chapter 15 Hobbes states that morality consists entirely of these Laws of Nature which are arrived at though social contract. Contrary to Aristotle’s account of virtue ethics, Hobbes adds that moral virtues are relevant to ethical theory only insofar as they promote peace.

    Outside of this function, virtues have no moral significance. GOVERNMENTS. Hobbes continues in Chapter 17 that to ensure contracts (and peace) power must be given to one person, or one assembly. We do this by saying, implicitly or explicitly, “I authorize and give up my right of governing myself, to this person, or to this assembly of people, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner. ” His definition of a commonwealth, then, is this: “One person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants on with another, have mad themselves every on the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their peace and common defense” This person is called a “sovereign.

    ” He continues that there are two ways of establishing a commonwealth: through acquisition (force), or through institution (agreement). In Chapter 18 Hobbes lists the rights of rights of sovereigns. They are, (1) Subjects owe him sole loyalty; (2) Subjects cannot be freed from their obligation; (3) Dissenters must consent with the majority in declaring a sovereign; (4) Sovereign cannot be unjust or injure any subject; (5) The sovereign cannot be put to death; (6) The right to censor doctrines repugnant to peace; (7) Legislative power of prescribing rules; (8) Judicial power of deciding all controversies; (9) Make war and peace with other nations; (10) Choose counselors; (11) Power of reward and punishment; (12) Power of all civil appointments, including the militia. In Chapter 19 he discusses the kinds of governments that can be instituted. The three main forms are monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. He argues that monarchy is best for several reasons.

    Monarch’s interests are the same as the people’s. He will receive better counsel since he can select experts and get advice in private. His policies will be more consistent. Finally, there is less chance of a civil war since the monarch cannot disagree with himself.

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    Thomas Hobbes Essay (1936 words). (2019, Jan 07). Retrieved from

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