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Hobbes and the Leviathan

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1 Hobbes and the Leviathan

2 Hobbes’ question How is social order possible?
Foundation of Western political philosophy, social contract theory, right of the individual. Materialism: human beings composed of matter and motion, obeying physical law.

3 Hobbes’ assumptions People have the capacity to reason
They weigh the costs and benefits They consider the consequences of their actions

4 Hobbes’ assumptions, cont’d
People are self-interested They seek to attain what they desire Security (avoid death and injury) Reputation (status) Gain (possessions)

5 Assumptions, cont’d Their ability to attain what they desire depends on their power Because men want a happy life, they seek sufficient power to ensure that life All men have a “restless desire for power”

6 Hobbes: New Approaches to an Old Problem
Hobbes’ approach: a theory of political obligation grounded in human rationality When is it rational for us as self-interested individuals to obey a ruler? When are we obliged to do so? The problem of conflict can be solved whenever we understand that our self-interest requires us to submit to a sovereign. Instead of attempting to educate human beings or to train their moral faculties, the point is to remember our rational self-interest.

7 Hobbes: New Approaches to an Old Problem
Hobbes’ solution: we must learn to recognize that our obligations to obey the sovereign are rationally justified, and hence to respect the sovereign power “Internal” focus Assumes people are not educable Assumes a certain amount of rationality and self-interest

8 The State of Nature What is our natural condition? Are people naturally equal? Aristotle: No, some are masters and some are slaves according to the degree of rationality Christian philosophy: yes, they are all equal in that all have an immortal soul Hobbes: yes, they are all equal in one important respect: equality to kill What do we mean by equality? What is the relevant respect that justifies equal treatment? Equality in what? when there is no common power to restrain them, they can all kill one another

9 Characteristics of the ‘state of nature’
People are insecure, and live in a constant fear of injury and death There is no place for industry, because the fruit of it is uncertain Hence, no agriculture, navigation, building, culture, science Life is short and unpleasant

10 Equality Everyone is strong enough to kill the strongest
Everyone thinks him/herself above average in practical intellectual ability (prudence) But prudence is merely experience Ergo, there are no natural distinctions distinguishing masters from slaves, or rulers from ruled

11 The State of Nature What is our most important natural desire?
Aristotle: the desire to have a good life Hobbes: the desire to avoid violent death First part of the book a kind of psychology. To ask about our natural condition is essentially to ask about our most important natural desires.

12 The State of Nature Do our most important natural desires lead to social integration or disintegration? Aristotle: our important natural desires lead to the creation of small communities and then to larger communities. We need and desire to be with others. Hobbes: our important natural desires lead to social disintegration, given our natural equality in the ability to kill or be killed. Do our most important natural desires lead to social integration or disintegration, given our natural equality or inequality?

13 The State of Nature Are our most important desires naturally integrative or disintegrative? Is there any empirical evidence that could settle this question? E.g., Somalia vs. other countries.

14 The State of Nature Natural causes of conflict:
Distrust: I do not trust you not to kill me, so I try to kill you first Love of gain (a natural desire): I know myself equal to you, and I want your things Love of glory (a natural desire): I think myself (erroneously) better than you are, and think I deserve reparation Natural causes of conflict, i.e., conflicts arising naturally from the key desire of human beings to avoid being victims of violent death

15 The State of Nature Trust and cooperate Do not trust, attack
We gain from cooperating: arts, sciences, etc. One of us gets killed, the other lives and takes your property One or both of us may get killed The natural desires of human beings would lead to a spiral of distrust; though there are many goods that could be obtained from cooperating, without a sovereign power, Hobbes argues, we can’t rationally cooperate

16 The State of Nature “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 man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Chapter 13)

17 Rights Is there a right to self-preservation? How far does it extend?
“even to one another’s bodies” in the state of nature The justification of this right comes from the universal interest in preserving yourself So long as there is no assurance of security, everyone has a right to everything as he or she may judge to be necessary to protect him/herself against violent death, because everything may be useful to protect oneself against the possibility of violent death

18 Rights and justice Because everyone has the same right to everything, there can be no justice or injustice in the state of nature Justice is a human construction that we have to make possible

19 Rights and justice Is Hobbes right?
Are there any places in the state of nature today?

20 Escaping the state of nature: the problem
There is an empirical problem: states actually exist The problem is not only empirical but also normative: are we obligated to obey existing states? We can only appeal to what is rational for us to do, not to God or some other agency Why does Hobbes frame the problem as one of rights? The problem is not simply a rational choice one, solved perhaps through iterative cooperation; it is also a normative one.

21 How do we escape the state of nature?
Could the problem be solved through the prospect of future cooperation? The stakes are always too high; death prevents future cooperation Repeated cooperation does not solve the problem of how we come to have obligations to the state

22 The sovereign Hobbes’ solution: we all together transfer (most of) our right to everything to a specific person to act in our name to preserve ourselves This person is then authorized (we are its “authors”) to use all means necessary to preserve the peace (to use “us”) Some things we cannot transfer, like the right to defend ourselves if we are directly attacked (even by the sovereign)

23 The Sovereign What is the sovereign made of? The sovereign is made of people!

24 The Sovereign Why is this a solution?
The sovereign has enough power (all of us) to prevent attacks by any of us individually So, obligations that it was not rational to keep in the state of nature now become rational to keep. Note that we transfer our right tacitly whenever, having come of age, we do not make war on the sovereign, fearing the sovereign. Covenants made out of fear are just as valid as all other covenants. To be sure, the obligation does not extend to harming yourself. This creates problems for Hobbes later.

25 The Sovereign Why is this a solution?
With the sovereign in place, what can be reasonably expected of others shifts: we can now expect that they will not attack us, so we can now speak of justice and injustice It is now generally rational to keep covenants (not just rational in some cases); this is enough to establish real obligations among people. Hobbes’ book is premised on the idea that all he needs to do is remind us of our rationality.

26 The Sovereign Why is this a solution?
The act of transferring our right to everything to the sovereign creates a presumptive obligation to obey the sovereign The obligation is nearly absolute, though, as we have seen, it does not extend to harming ourselves

27 The Sovereign The Sovereign is an artificial person
It can be a single natural person (a monarch) Or a collection of people that can act in a unified way (an assembly) There is always a sovereign, for Hobbes

28 Sovereignty and political regimes
For Hobbes, the most important thing is that there be a sovereign, not so much the form it takes For Aristotle, the more important question is the form of government So, though Hobbes prefers monarchy, he agrees that a rightful sovereign can be democratic. His problem is to ramind us of obedience

29 Politics For Aristotle, the purpose of politics is to realize man’s highest good The best regime most fully realizes the highest good, but other regimes also realize it to a smaller extent For Hobbes, the purpose of politics is to avoid the worst of evils Any regime avoids the worst of evils (war) So for Aristotle the distinctions among political regimes are very important; not so for Hobbes. Hobbes prefers monarchy to democracy or oligarchy, but these distinctions pale in significance to having a state at all – that is the true achievement of politics.

30 Hobbes’ approach to the problem of conflict
Hobbes wants to remind us that our obligations to obey the state are rationally justified They are obligations (i.e., they apply generally) They are in accord with our self-interest, and in particular with our interest in avoiding violent death Conflict arises ultimately from error and irrationality, but it does not require extensive education to solve it Focuses on the internal problem of conflict, leaving the external problem unresolved So states are in the state of nature, without any justice etc.

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