Human Nature And Philosophy
Human beings are physical objects, according to Hobbes, sophisticated machines all of whose functions and activities can be described and explained in purely mechanistic terms. Even thought itself, therefore, must be understood as an instance of the physical operation of the human body. Sensation, for example, involves a series of mechanical processes operating within the human nervous system, by means of which the sensible features of material things produce ideas in the brains of the human beings who perceive them.
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Human action is similarly to be explained on Hobbes’s view. Specific desires and appetites arise in the human body and are experienced as discomforts or pains which must be overcome. Thus, each of us is motivated to act in such ways as we believe likely to relieve our discomfort, to preserve and promote our own well-being. (Leviathan I 6) Everything we choose to do is strictly determined by this natural inclination to relieve the physical pressures that impinge upon our bodies. Human volition is nothing but the determination of the will by the strongest present desire.
Hobbes nevertheless supposed that human agents are free in the sense that their activities are not under onstraint from anyone else. On this compatibilist view, we have no reason to complain about the strict determination of the will so long as we are not subject to interference from outside ourselves. (Leviathan II 21) As Hobbes acknowledged, this account of human nature emphasizes our animal nature, leaving each of us to live independently of everyone else, acting only in his or her own self-interest, without regard for others.
This produces what he called the “state of war,” a way of life that is certain to prove “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. ” (Leviathan I 13) The only escape is by entering into ontracts with each othermutually beneficial agreements to surrender our individual interests in order to achieve the advantages of security that only a social existence can provide. (Leviathan I 14) Human Society Unable to rely indefinitely on their individual powers in the effort to secure livelihood and contentment, Hobbes supposed, human beings join together in the formation of a commonwealth.
Thus, the commonwealth as a whole embodies a network of associated contracts and provides for the highest form of social organization. On Hobbes’s view, the formation of the commonwealth creates a new, artificial person (the Leviathan) to hom all responsibility for social order and public welfare is entrusted. (Leviathan II 17) Of course, someone must make decisions on behalf of this new whole, and that person will be the sovereign. The commonwealth-creating covenant is not in essence a relationship between subjects and their sovereign at all.
Rather, what counts is the relationship among subjects, all of whom agree to divest themselves of their native powers in order to secure the benefits of orderly government by obeying the dictates of the sovereign authority. (Leviathan II 18) That’s why the minority who might prefer a different sovereign uthority have no complaint, on Hobbes’s view: even though they have no respect for this particular sovereign, they are still bound by their contract with fellow-subjects to be governed by a single authority.
The sovereign is nothing more than the institutional embodiment of orderly government. Since the decisions of the sovereign are entirely arbitrary, it hardly matters where they come from, so long as they are understood and obeyed universally. Thus, Hobbes’s account explicitly leaves open the possibility that the sovereign will itself be a corporate persona legislature or an assembly of all itizensas well as a single human being. Regarding these three forms, however, Hobbes himself maintained that the commonwealth operates most effectively when a hereditary monarch assumes the sovereign role. Leviathan II 19)
Investing power in a single natural person who can choose advisors and rule consistently without fear of internal conflicts is the best fulfillment of our social needs. Thus, the radical metaphysical positions defended by Hobbes lead to a notably conservative political result, an endorsement of the paternalistic view. Hobbes argued that the commonwealth secures the liberty of its citizens. Genuine human freedom, he maintained, is just the ability to carry out one’s will without interference from others.
This doesn’t entail an absence of law; indeed, our agreement to be subject to a common authority helps each of us to secure liberty with respect to others. (Leviathan II 21) Submission to the sovereign is absolutely decisive, except where it is silent or where it claims control over individual rights to life itself, which cannot be transferred to anyone else. But the structure provided by orderly government, according to Hobbes, enhances rather than restricts individual liberty. Whether or not the sovereign is a single heredetary monarch, of course, its administration of social order may require the cooperation and assistance of others.
Within the commonwealth as a whole, there may arise smaller “bodies politic” with authority over portions of the lives of those who enter into them. The sovereign will appoint agents whose responsibility is to act on its behalf in matters of less than highest importance. Most important, the will of the sovereign for its subjects will be expressed in the form of civil laws that have either been decreed or tacitly accepted. (Leviathan II 26) Criminal violations of hese laws by any subject will be appropriately punished by the sovereign authority.
Despite his firm insistence on the vital role of the sovereign as the embodiment of the commonwealth, Hobbes acknowledged that there are particular circumstances under which it may fail to accomplish its purpose. (Leviathan II 29) If the sovereign has too little power, is made subject to its own laws, or allows its power to be divided, problems will arise. Similarly, if individual subjects make private judgments of right and wrong based on conscience, succomb to religious enthisiasm, or acquire excessive rivate property, the state will suffer. Even a well-designed commonwealth may, over time, cease to function and will be dissolved.
Justice is the proper functioning of a society, where each plays the appropriate role and no one interferes with anyone else. This view was based on the optimistic analogy with health: the good state is the one functioning in a way that is best naturally. Christian political philosophy was of two minds. Augustine typifies the attitude that the community of the church and state constitute two entirely separate realms. A political philosophy of the “city of man” is independent of that of the “city of God. The opposite view is that the state should be a theocracy, in which the laws of the state are the laws of God.
There are some theocratic states in existence now (e. g. , Iran), and in the medieval period most states in Europe were closely tied to the Roman Catholic Church. Theocracies can flourish only when there is a considerable unity of religious thinking. With the Reformation and the breakup of the Roman Catholic Church, the close connection between church and state began to be torn asunder. Deadly religious wars were fought across the European continent. It was in this climate the Thomas Hobbes proposed the first modern olitical philosophy.
Hobbes returned to human nature as the basis of the state, but the nature he found was quite different from that discussed by Plato, Aristotle and most of the other Greek philosophers. Taking his cue from modern natural science, which rejected the Aristotelian world-view, Hobbes declared the human being to be nothing more than matter in motion: he was a materialist. Reason, formerly arbiter of the good, now becomes a mere calculating device, no different in principle from a computer. Material man has as his end merely the preservation and promotion of his own existence.
The ethical view ere is known as egoism: the good is what is in my interests alone. Egoism works against social relations, Hobbes believed. It leads to competition, creating enmity among persons; to distrust, which leads us to master others for our own protection; to a lust for recognition for others, leading to revenge when it is not given. Further, each one of us is capable of subjugating or even destroying anyone else, through the use of technology, through collusion with others, etc. This, Hobbes proclaimed, is the natural condition of the human race.
It can only result in a war of all against all, with the consequence that all normal uman endeavors (agriculture, industry, trade, etc. as in Plato’s Republic) are doomed to failure. Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. There is no right or wrong, justice or injustice. These things come into being only with the creation of the state. We may contrast Hobbes’ description of the state of nature with that of Locke, whose work inspired the founders of the United States. He claimed that the natural state is one of peoples’ liberty to do what they please without requiring permission of anyone else.
This must be done in conformity with a law of ature, according to which “no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, or possessions” (Second Treatise of Government, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 308 of our text). Locke emphasized the equality of all persons in their creation by God. He implicitly criticized Hobbes by claiming that the state of nature is not one of war, for in a state of war, one inflicts force on others without right, thus violating the law of nature. Although in the state of nature, there is no right or wrong, no justice or injustice, there are still a “right of nature” and “laws of nature.
The right of nature is that of self-preservation, and the only road o preserving one’s self is through seeking peace and following it. Corresponding to this right is a law of nature, which enjoins us to defend ourselves. We can defend ourselves best when we give up our liberty, our “right to all things. ” In Book II of Plato’s Republic, Socrates’ antagonists had claimed that this kind of agreement is in the interests of those who do not have the power to commit injustice. Hobbes could reply by pointing out that in the state of nature, everyone has the power to destroy anyone else, either through contrivance or through collusion with others.
So the contract is in the nterest of the strong as well as the weak. Locke held that what we give up to form civil government is nothing more than inconvenience which results from the extreme liberty in the state of nature. In that state, each person must be the judge of right and wrong, which leads inevitably to conflicts. There is no recourse when there are transgressions, so the state is erected to adjudicate conflict. Once one lays down one’s rights, then one incurs a duty or obligation not to interfere with others who wish to take that which has been renounced. One would do this only for something in return.
A contract is nly good so long as it can be enforced, which requires that there be a “coercive power. ” Thus justice requires both a contract and the power of enforcement. Hobbes found many other conditions for giving up one’s rights, some of them sounding quite modern. Punishment should be for the end of rehabilitation, there should be no overt declarations of hatred (compare the UCD “Principles of Community”), one has a right to govern one’s own body, etc. As stated above, the social contract requires that power be conferred on an individual or assembly, the sovereign.
Otherwise, there can be no confidence that urrendered rights will yield security in return. This security is needed for there to be any hope of enjoying the fruits of one’s labors. Hobbes listed various rights of the sovereign, including censorship, lawmaking, judging, and making war and peace. There is never a right to revolution against the sovereign, since this is a breaking of the contract. The sovereign cannot break the contract, since the contract itself gives him the right to do what he thinks fit. In a discussion of the best form of the commonwealth, Hobbes came down in favor of the monarch, where the power is invested in one person.
The chief advantage s that the monarch’s public and private interests correspond exactly. (Compare the granting of stock options to corporate executives, on the grounds that if they have a personal stake in the company, they will perform better. ) Locke later argued against the absolute monarch, on the grounds that there is no appeal to his decision. Since government is established to mediate disputes, if one cannot dispute with the monarch, the purpose of instituting government is underc At this point, we turn to Plato’s more sophisticated treatment of the matter.
In the Republic, Socrates was challenged to “tell us how justice benefits a man ntrinsically, and in the same way how injustice harms him” (p. 61). To do this, he had to show what justice is. His model of the just state was that of a healthy organism, where all the parts function for the benefit of the whole, and the whole benefits the parts. Socrates gave an elaborate account of the elements which go into the making of a city (a small state). Many different kinds of roles are undertaken by different people. The survival of the whole depends on each one performing their functions properly.
Justice is sticking to one’s role, doing one’s own work and not interfering with others. It, along with the other irtues of a state, temperance, courage and wisdom, contributes to the excellence of that state. Indeed, justice is necessary for the other three virtues. In the case of the individual, Plato also appealed to a model of harmonious functioning. The soul has its divisions just as the state does. There is reason, the passions and the “spirit” that enlivens them. The just man is one who keeps these in harmony with one another. Justice, like health, depends upon the persence of a natural order governing the soul in the relation of its parts and in the conduct of the whole. ”
This is how justice benefits a man ntrisically, just as good health does. In the discussion of Plato’s theory of virtue, we found that he considered virtue to be an excellence of the soul. Insofar as the soul has several components, there will be many components of its excellence. The excellence of reason is wisdom, of the passions, attributes such as courage, and of the spirit, temperance. Spirit is a kind of intensity of the soul, for Plato.
Finally, justice is that excellence which consists in a harmonious relation of the three parts. In the state, justice is each individual fulfilling his or her own function, without interfering with the others. So it is for the soul. Now the question arises what relation this account of justice has to the theory of the forms. When I queried Professor Malcolm, an expert on the Republic, he replied that the account stands on its own, and so requires no reference to the forms at all. Nonetheless, there is this relation. The forms were sometimes described by Plato as ideal objects, such as triangle itself.
The state and the soul that is really just is also an ideal. No actual individual attains the state of overall virtue adequate to Plato’s account. Next Lecture Plato’s ultimate answer to the sort of question Socrates asked, what makes a kind of thing the kind of thing it is, was that the form itself does so, and that the form is something different from the thing, having an eternal existence on its own. Thus beautiful things are beautiful because they partake of beauty itself, and just acts are just insofar as they partake of justice itself, and so forth. The highest form was that of the good.
In the Republic, Plato undertook to describe this form through two famous analogies, that of the line and that of the cave. The analogy of the line has to do with the theory of knowledge. Plato recognized that knowledge is better han opinion. If Euthyphro was to know what piety is, he must know it through the form, which can only be thought and not sensed. Thus knowledge belongs to an invisible, intangible, insensible world of the intellect, while of the visible, tangible, sensible world we have only opinion. The intelligible world is more real and true than the sensible world, as well as being more distinct.
Suppose we say in the abstract that there is some proportion of reality, truth and distinctness between the invisible and visible worlds. This can be represented on a line. (You can suppose the ratio be whatever you like, say 3:1). Now Plato says that within each realm there is a further division. In the realm of the visible, there are real objects and their images (shadows, etc. ). The images give us the lowest grade of belief, mere conjecture. If I see a shadow of an object, I get very little information about what specific object it is.
Plato lays it down that the proportion of truth, reality and distinctness holding between the object and the image is the same as that holding between the intelligible and sensible worlds (e. g. , 3:1). Similarly, there is a division within the intelligible realm, between the forms themselves and images of the forms. Knowledge of the forms themselves through reason is the highest kind of knowledge, while knowledge of the images of the forms through their images through the understanding is a lower form. (Again, the ratio would be 3:1). This identification may perhaps be understood in this way.
Our opinions about the objects of the world are formed through the use of the senses, by observation. We can observe that things tend to go together all the time, and thus form the opinion that those things belong together. If Euthyphro had the right information about the preferences of the gods, he could observe that certain acts are pleasing to all of hem. But he has not explained anything. He is left with mere opinion. We might try to understand objects of the visible world by using our understanding. We can make assumptions and show what follows from them.
The use of these assumptions can enable us to generate laws which explain why things go together the way they do. For example, Newton assumed that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, and bodies at rest tend to stay at rest, unless some outside agency acts on them. This assumption about inertia helped him generate further principles about motion, but it is not itself proved. It is an unexamined assumption, in Plato’s terms. This method of proceeding is not the best way possible. One must instead start with forms and use them in explaining other things .
The cave analogy is in many respects similar to that of the line. It distinguishes between the most true, real, and most distinct (in this case, it is compared to the world outside the cave) and the least (the shadows in the cave and higher than them the objects in the cave casting the shadows when illuminated by fire within the cave). The difference between the analogies is that the cave analogy is more vivid in its depiction of the sensible nd intelligible realms, and that it illustrates the problems of coming to know through the forms.
Each step in our progress, from conjecture, to opinion, to knowledge, has its difficulties. The images on the wall of the cave are easily mistaken for the real if they are all one can experience. When one breaks free and looks toward the fire, the objects casting the shadow are now mistaken for the truly real, and the light of the fire is painful and dazzling. This effect of bewilderment is even more intense outside the cave. Here, however, one has reached the real at last. Finally, if a person trained by the state reaches this igher form, he has the responsibility to govern.
The philosopher-king knows the good itself, and hence knows what is good to do. A last point about the forms. They are what gives us knowledge, but they are also what gives things their reality. The sun casts light upon the earth, allowing us to see what is there, and it also supplies the energy through which things grow and prosper. So the form of the good gives to the sensible world the reality it has. Later philosophers in the early days of Christianity were to adapt this image of the sun into a thought of God as the source of all reality and knowledge.