was primarily a political, rather than ethical philosopher. While ethics
stresses the good for the human being, political philosophy emphasizes
the good for society. We saw in Plato a functional notion of the social
good. 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.
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.
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 political
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.
man has as his end merely the preservation and promotion of his own
existence. The ethical view here 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,
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 human 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
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 nature, 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.
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 to 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."
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 interest of the strong as well as the weak.
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.
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 only 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.
above, the social contract requires that power be conferred on an individual
or assembly, the sovereign. Otherwise, there can be no confidence that
surrendered 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
is 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 undercut.