: ‘The Natural Condition Of Mankind’. Essay, Research Paper
The idea for Hobbes was to try to see how humans would act without government, shown in ‘The Natural Condition of Mankind’. From this, he felt that a truthful form of government could be justified. The book, “The Leviathan” (1651) was Hobbes’s dissertation on what it meant to be human and how the state could best control them. Essentially, it raises a number of interesting and truthful points. However, there appears to be a number of inaccuracies which lead to some problems in Hobbes’s political philosophy. In this essay, it will be shown what ‘The natural Condition of mankind’ is. Secondly, a number – but by no means exhaustive – of criticisms which demonstrate some flaws in his argument. Lastly, an evaluation of the usefulness of the argument. Thomas Hobbes ( 1588 – 1679 ) lived in a stormy period of English history. The most significant example being the English Civil war ( 1642 – 1648 ). Viewing Hobbes with this in mind, it is understandable that he sees humans pessimistically. Hobbes tries to show how he thinks humans would act without society, government or a code of moral values, this is called, ‘The Natural Condition of Mankind’ or ‘The State of Nature’. From this version of mankind, Hobbes then explains how to govern correctly. Hobbes was a firm believer that the principles of geometry, the ‘true’ science, could be applied to politics and the result would be correct government. The only way, for Hobbes, to show the correct form of government is to break down what it means to be human and then build it back up, similar to breaking down a watch to understand ‘what makes it tick’. In his introduction, Hobbes states, “For what is the Heart, but a Spring; and the Nerves, but so many Strings; and the joynts, but so many Wheeles, giving motion to the whole body,” `There are a number of criticisms that can be levelled at Hobbes, these fall in to two broad categories, external criticisms and internal contradictions. Hobbes spends a great deal of time examining human nature in his book “Leviathan”. This culminates in the description of ‘The Natural Condition of Mankind’. It is believed that ‘The State of Nature’ has never existed. It is merely a rational fiction that allows Hobbes to strip man of society and show how he would really act. The closest comparison to ‘The State of Nature’ could be North America just after colonial rule and the settling of the relatively lawless west. Another example could be the book, “The Lord of the Flies,” by William Golding, a story about a group of boys marooned on a desert island together and how they consequently interact, sometimes quite violently. Hobbes sees people as rational machines governed by passions combined with reason. Using reason in their search to be happier, Hobbes argues, is what distinguishes humans from other animals because it allows us to create phenomena such as language and science. One passion that never ceases to delight an individual is their superiority over other people, especially when this is recognised by the inferior. This means that people will compete for superiority, this may be over symbols of power, status or recognition. When two beings compete for the same object, Hobbes argued that they will become enemies and so endeavour to destroy or subdue each other. A second cause of war between individuals in ‘The State of Nature’ is competition for items of desire or need. Again if items are scarce, it is feasible that two individuals may attempt to claim the same object. This will result in them becoming enemies and trying to kill each other. A third cause of war is diffidence or safety. Here Hobbes takes the Machiavellian view that an innocent person will be destroyed unless they act ruthlessly to preserve themselves. An individual must be able to defend themselves as best as they can, and the best way to be safe from attack is to remove the threat – attack first. If an individual suspects attack from any other person, the individual should subdue them as quickly as possible. This leads to more war than what would ‘normally’ occur because threats are more numerous than actual attacks. Hobbes claims that all people are equal in mind and body. Because of the equality of mind, there will be frequent convergence’s of desires for items and so many confrontations. The idea of equality comes from that if one person is larger, stronger or more intelligent than another, the smaller, weaker or less intelligent one can still overcome them by “secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger as himself.” It can be seen by Hobbes that, if an individual becomes superior, they become happier, they will however be attacked by other individuals, both stronger and weaker, who perceive them as a threat to either their lives (weaker) or their happiness (stronger), In order to preserve their lives and current level of happiness, the individual must obtain further power to protect himself. This, combined with the notion that a person will always desire more, means that ‘The State of Nature’ will never come to rest in equilibrium, the war of all against all will always be fought unless a change to the structure of ‘The State of Nature’ ( that is, its removal) occurs.`Hobbes also argues that a fundamental motive for the individual is happiness. A great fear for individuals is death, since ‘The State of Nature’ means that a person’s life is “cruel, brutish, hard, solitary and short”, a great desire for the majority of individuals is to have peace. The reason inside people will eventually lead them to conclude that the way to end ‘The State of Nature’ is to relinquish some of their rights to a central power who will then use that authority to create a framework within which the subjects will have a degree of security, certainty and peace, therefore happiness. Hobbes believed that only a unified single power can successfully suppress the anarchy that ‘The State of Nature’ represents.. This he called the Leviathan. One of the most contentious issues in the Leviathan is the concept of justice. Hobbes does not recognise the then generally held view that there is a set of ‘higher’ moral values – that is, derived from God. In ‘The State of Nature’, there is no right or wrong. Hobbes argues that there is nothing unjust, “where there is no common Power, there is no Law: where no Law, no injustice.” for in order for there be something unjust, the sovereign must first decree it so. The concepts of justice and injustice are just words to describe an individuals desires and aversions. Only under state control do the terms refer to anything, in ‘The State of Nature’ there is no control, therefore no justice. Similarly there can be no industry, because this requires the co-operation of individuals to produce a product and for it to be consumed. Hobbes argues that it is impossible for two individuals to agree a ‘covenant’ or ‘deal’ because of the mistrust. Even though Hobbes believed that there was no such thing as justice in ‘The State of Nature’, he did however believe that there were a set of natural laws and rights. A right being what an individual may do, a law what they may not. There are nineteen laws in total, but the most important are the first three. The first is “That every man, ought to endeavour Peace, as farre as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of Warre.”. The second is an individual shall be prepared to accept as much peace as any other person. the third law is not to break any promises made. There are also two important rights. The first is, “By all means we can, to defend our selves.”. The second, “Whatsoever you require that others should do to you, that do ye to them.”. The transition from ‘The State of Nature’ to sovereign rule is a very ambiguous part of the book. As stated previously, one of Hobbes’s laws of nature is “that men performe their Covenants made:”. He argues that a person who enters into a deal will not break it because it is in their own interest to keep it, either through a benefit or as a stepping stone to building trust and it is “the Fountain and Originall of Justice.”. It appears that the reason for this law to be in the book is to allow Hobbes a way to escape ‘The natural Condition of mankind’. As a result it appears a weak proposition. A strong case could be made for the benefit of breaking contracts in ‘The State of Nature’. Hobbes believed that the political institutions of the state should take the form of an absolutist sovereign. The sovereign would act as peacemaker, a third actor in any confrontation between two subjects who could be trusted to hold power and defend each subject from another or collectively from another state. The sovereign would decide what was right and wrong and punish accordingly in order to keep its authority. The sovereign receives its authority from its subjects who consent to be governed (this is called the transference of rights). This initial consent is a ‘cart blanch’ by the subjects to allow the sovereign to do as it wishes in the name of the people. This is opposed to the then current view that monarchs received their right to govern from God. This consent to be governed means that the sovereigns’ actions are indirectly the actions of the subjects. If the sovereign creates a law, it is the people creating the law, if the sovereign executes a subject, the subject has in fact executed himself. It is however worth noting that it is the subjects duty to try to escape as Hobbesian thought believes that the highest evil is to “forsake the course” or more plainly, allow someone to kill them. The sovereign obviously cannot allow this as this will reduce its reputation and ability to govern. The consent to be governed is done between the individuals, the sovereign does not take part in it as it does not exist until the contract is completed. It therefore follows that the sovereign cannot break a contract it has not entered in to. This leads Hobbes to a difficult situation, the Leviathan is entirely justified in doing anything it wants to secure internal stability and defence Despite the believed preciseness that Hobbes was trying to relay in his book, a number of criticisms can be brought against him. The first kind are general arguments against the ideas contained in the book. The second show flaws in Hobbes’s logic which lead to contradictions or failures. The first big criticism of Hobbes is that ‘The Natural Condition of Mankind’ is a false and unnecessarily pessimistic impression. Hobbes states in the Leviathan that in order to arrive at ultimate truths, all definitions need to be defined. However he fails to define society, which leads to a number of problems with the book. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a proponent of this argument. He believed that Hobbes was a version of a violent society. Despite trying to show man out of society, Hobbes had let it in “through the back door”. The true notion of man would be “The Noble Savage”, “Hobbes claims that man is naturally intrepid and seeks only to attack and fight…on the contrary,…there is nothing so timid as man in ‘The State of Nature’.” It can be argued that humans have lived through a great deal of time without a form of government. It can be further argued that humans are naturally sociable. When first born they rely on a parent to protect them and to show them how to survive, without this ability to imitate, which requires a measure of social interaction, humans would be extinct. To further this point, social interaction, no matter how brief is needed in Hobbes’s theory in order for conflict to arise. If Hobbes had truly shown humans in their ‘natural condition’, there would be two major consequences for his theory. Firstly, there would be no conflict, or at least a different portrayal of human nature. Secondly, the resultant form of government would not necessarily be the same as the one which Hobbes advocates. If it is accepted that the ‘Natural condition of mankind’ never existed. then the justifications for the strong sovereign state are weak. Hobbes’s style of writing suggests that he is attempting to correct the shortfalls of ‘The State of Nature’ by the creation of the Leviathan. If ‘The State of Nature’ never existed there is no need for the Leviathan. It is based on groundless arguments and as such wrong to draw such conclusions from it. It can however be argued that Hobbes’s state of nature is a true depiction of areas of the world, such as Lebanon or Somalia, with a certain amount of social interaction but without government. If this is true, a good case for the Leviathan can be made. Hobbes states, “wee have no Imagination, wherof we have not formerly had Sense, in whole, or in parts”. This means that there is no such thing as an original thought, it always derives from a past experience, sight and so on. If this was true, then humans would not have been capable of developing complicated phenomena such as speech, or realising that the way to get out of ‘The State of Nature’ is to create a Leviathan. It appears that this is a somewhat unnecessary pre-clause for ‘The Natural Condition of Mankind’ and merely creates yet another problem for Hobbes to deal with. Hobbes introduced a new concept to politics in the seventeenth century. He could be said to have been the first to try to place scientific method (geometry) to the subject. He was not accepted easily because of the controversial contents of the book. The Leviathan marks a change in political thought and because of this deserves a great deal of attention. However, it is very easy to criticise Hobbes. There are a number of failures in the method and contradictions which need to be treated carefully. The main ones have been dealt with above. In view of the impossibilities of ‘The State of Nature’ and the weak transition to the sovereign. It appears that this view of ‘The Natural Condition of Mankind’ is quite limited. It is extremely doubtful whether it ever existed and to base the entire political theory so strongly on it practically makes the ideas invalid. The ideas of the state therefore have very weak foundations on which to rest upon. The question then that needs to be asked is, if the book is so obviously faulted, then why does it continue to be revered as a classic in political thought? The reason may be that despite its flaws, a number of sound arguments can be drawn from it, for example, Hobbes shows a different interpretation of justice that could be argued as valid. As already stated, it was also one of the first ’science based’ political books. A lot of the arguments in the book are quite open to interpretation by the reader. The reason why it appears that ‘The State of Nature’ is flawed is because of the different definitions of society. Perhaps the greatest flaw of the book is that a clear and precise definition of Society is not included. `Bibliography and Acknowlegements. Thomas Hobbes, `Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a COMMON-WEALTH `Ecclesiasticall and Civill. `Cambridge University Press. 1992. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, `Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality Among Men. `Penguin Classics. 1984. Professor Michael Freeman. `Lectures at Essex University. 1994.
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