Hobbes

This essay has a total of 1981 words and 8 pages.

Hobbes



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
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