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The History Of The Grotius And Hobbes Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1063 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Grotius and Hobbes both lived lives of extraordinary literary and education in their time, with access to an unlimited amount of information and resources, whether it was books about Greek philosophy, law, poetry, or even geometry, it was at their fingertips. Grotius had the privilege of being born in a rich and well known political family which gave him a free ticket to higher education and lead him to a road of political lifestyle. Hobbes however did not start as lucky. After his father abandoned him he was sent to his uncle who looked after him but eventually after graduating from Oxford and turning to tutoring he managed to position himself with prestigious families which helped with his finances and granted him a great deal of resources. How they both grew up gave me a great insight on how different their thoughts and ideas were but still they managed to have some similarity in which I assume was because of their intense passion for philosophy and political thinking.

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For example, state of nature, which is a social contract theory addressing the origin of social behavior because government was not always around. So how did people behave and how should they naturally behave in society? Or more specifically, how do people naturally act when there is no government or leadership in place? Hobbes argues that all humans are by nature equal in faculties of body and mind. And from this equality and other causes in human nature, everyone is naturally willing to fight one another. He even goes further in saying that the lives of individuals in the state of nature were “solitary, poor, brutish and short.” Meaning that humans are simply animals and barbaric creatures and need to be babysat because we are egotistical and only run on self-interest; thus I assume giving him inspiration in naming his most famous work “Leviathan.” I recently came across the Christianity definition of Leviathan which I found on the internet goes as follows. “The leviathan of the Middle Ages was used as an image of Satan, endangering both God’s creatures by attempting to eat them and God’s creation.” Also they were described as demons of envy and sinners and they are these huge monstrous animals. So this is how Hobbes views the natural state of human beings which to me is pretty harsh and makes me wonder why such negativity towards man? Is it because his father abandoned him? That’s what I believe. The reason I mention this is because something Hobbes says later in his life that baffled me, “my mother gave birth to twins: myself and fear.” I could not decrypt exactly what he meant but it surely doesn’t sound positive. Hobbes gives such a negative portrayal of our natural state out of an assumption that human nature remains unchanged with or without political institutions. If human beings today were suddenly to find themselves without political institutions, they would indeed lead unpleasant lives because they would have all the selfishness and greed that society has bred in them without any of the safeguards and protections of that society. 

Grotius on the other hand is more poetic and positive with his words on the natural state and how he perceives man. I really like when he says, “Man is an animal indeed, but an excellent kind, differing much more from all other tribes of animals than they differ from one another; which appear by the evidence of many actions peculiar to the human species…” This statement gives me the ideal that Grotius even though he worded it differently is not far from Hobbes idea that the natural man was primarily concerned with his own preservation and also with avoiding injuring other people and would also be inclined to help each other but with only the creation of a civil society. In that human beings are animals but do have the potential to become something much better or “excellent” as he puts it. The biggest difference between Grotius and Hobbes was that Hobbes believed that even becoming a civil society is not enough to prevent wars and conflict. But more rules or laws need to be in place, or as they called natural laws. Hobbes goes in further to actually creating nineteen natural laws that a society needs to comply with in order to become at peace. Grotius proposes that there is a covenant between the king and his people a “right of slavery” where the people agree to surrender their freedom to the king. Grotius is not clear what the people get in return for their freedom. It is not preservation. The king keeps himself fed and contented off the labor of the people, and not the other way around. It is not security. Civil peace is of little value if the king makes his people go to war, and desolates the country by stockpiling all its goods for his own consumption. Yet it must be something, because only a lunatic would give up his freedom for nothing, and a covenant made by a lunatic would be void. Besides, even if people were able to surrender their own freedom, they could not justifiably surrender the freedom of their children as well.

Hobbes first natural law states, “The first law of nature is that every man 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.” To me he is contradicting himself here, in that if “peace” should be man’s agenda and goal, but if for some reason he cannot achieve this goal he may seek “war” to obtain it, which reverses man’s agenda and thoughts to be more inclined in becoming evil because to use war as a tool requires a person to think, live and breathe war in order to be successful at it. It’s like saying if someone doesn’t want to be my friend I should force him to, which does not make any sense. The only way Hobbes thought a society could become civil and at peace was to submit to the commands of the sovereign of sovereign authority. Any abuses of power by this authority are to be accepted as the price of peace. However, he also states that in severe cases of abuse, rebellion is expected. In particular, the doctrine of separation of powers is rejected: the sovereign must control civil, military, judicial and ecclesiastical powers.


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