Good morning teacher and students. Today Nicole and I will be discussing Thomas Hobbes’s and John Locke’s political philosophies. I will be presenting Thomas Hobbes’s philosophy whilst Nicole will be discussing John Locke’s philosophy. After both of our presentations, a comparison between their political philosophies will be made. Today, I will explain Hobbes’s political philosophy, which is divided into four different concepts. The four concepts are human nature, state of nature, social contract and natural rights. Also, I will justify the criticism of his philosophies. Firstly, I will briefly describe Thomas Hobbes’s history before endeavoring to provide an explanation to his philosophy. ‘It is not wisdom but Authority that makes a law’, quoted by the political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes.
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The English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, was born on April 5, 1588 in Wiltshire, England. However, there are some sources that say that he was born in Malmesbury. In the year when Thomas Hobbes was born, the Spanish Armada made its ill-fated attempt to invade England. Hobbes started learning Greek and Latin at the age of six. Furthermore, he started translating ‘Euripides’s Medea’ when he was fourteen years old. He was educated at Oxford University. In 1608, he tutored William Cavendish, the son of the first Earl of Devonshire. In 1642, Hobbes felt that he had to leave the country for his personal safety because of the civil war. This resulted in him living in France for eleven years. Also, this made Hobbes prefer a monarchy rather than a democratic government. In France, Mersenne, the great friend of Descartes, encouraged Hobbes to write his critical observations on the Meditations of Descartes. Hobbes published his philosophical work at three different times. Elementorum Philosophiae Sectio Tertia De Cive was his first book, which was published in 1642. In 1650, Human Nature and De Corpore Politico was published. This included much of The Elements of Law. His best piece of work called The Leviathan was published in 1651. Thomas Hobbes died on the 4th December, 1679 at the age of ninety-one, leaving a legacy behind.
Plato was born in 428 BCE and lived till 347 BCE. Plato influenced Thomas Hobbes’s perception of “who should be the ruler” (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p.71). Hobbes preferred an absolute monarchy rather than a democratic government or aristocracy because he believed there should be only one supreme authority. However, Plato’s view of the government was called “aristocratic” (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p.71) as he believed that the intellectuals were best fitted to rule. Aristocratic means “the rule by the best” (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p.71). Thus, this formulated Hobbes’s own radically different beliefs in government as Hobbes preferred a monarchy because he lived in an age where there was civil war. The reason behind this thought was because he feared a chaotic society as he lived in a period of great social unrest.
Before we start discussing Hobbes’s philosophy, we must first understand the basic concepts of what political philosophy is. Hobbes divided philosophy into natural, social and political philosophy. Natural philosophy is concerned with the consequences of physical phenomena. On the other hand, social philosophy involves the consequences of social phenomena. It is difficult to devise an accurate definition of ‘political philosophy’ as political philosophy seems to have no special subject matter of its own. However, I believe that political philosophy deals with what happens when human beings interact. Furthermore, political philosophy is the study of government and the relationship of individuals and communities to the state. Today, I will be talking about Thomas Hobbes’s political philosophy. I will concentrate on his theories on human nature, state of nature, social contract and natural rights. I will firstly attempt to summarise the four fundamental concepts of Hobbes before providing my own opinion and view on his political philosophy. Political philosophy is divided into classical and modern theories. Classical political theories may be roughly defined as those which provide advice for achieving an ideal society (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p.69). Hobbes’s political philosophy falls into classical political theories. Modern theories, on the other hand, deal with such questions as ‘What is meant by the phrase “universal human rights”?’ and ‘What is the correct analysis of the word “state”?’ and so forth. It is primarily devoted to philosophical analysis which is the purpose of clarifying the meaning of the advice and of the terms used in political discussions.
I will first examine Hobbes’s philosophy on human nature. Hobbes was a philosopher who preferred the evils of absolute power to the evils of life in a society which did not contain such an authority (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 76). He feared a chaotic society as he lived in a period of great social unrest. According to his view, which was dependant almost entirely upon a psychological theory about the nature of people, a person is by nature selfish and egoistic. People’s actions can be explained in terms of the attempt to satisfy their needs and desires, such as the desire for jobs, for sex, for living and for fortune. This was how Hobbes perceived human nature, the psychological qualities that exemplify humankind.
In order to better understand this philosophy, I will give you an example. Imagine two dogs are fighting for the same bone. In order to satisfy their desires, there is only one way to solve this situation and that is to compete and fight for the bone. Whoever wins will be able to have their bone and therefore satisfy their desire.
Furthermore, human nature consists of two major aspects. The first aspect is what motivates human beings to act. This was extremely important to Hobbes. The second aspect concerns human powers of judgment and reasoning which Hobbes tended to be extremely sceptical about. I believe that the reason behind why Hobbes was extremely sceptical was because he lived in an age where there was civil war. The reason behind this thought was because he felt unsafe and vulnerable.
STATE OF NATURE
Hobbes stated that the life of man in the state of nature “is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 78). The state of nature is a philosophical concept of pre-organised society. People are in constant state of war. This occurs when someone or some group attempts to gain absolute control over others. But before I continue, you will need to understand what ‘a state of war’ is. State of war is a situation of conflict between nations, either undeclared or officially declared. A state of war is established between a person and those who he attempts to dominate. In order to end “the war of each against all” (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 78), people develop a ‘society’.
Social contract is an agreement for reciprocal benefit between an individual or group and the government or community as a whole (Dictionary.com). Hobbes preferred an absolute monarchy rather than a democratic government because he believed there should be only one supreme authority, and he felt unsafe when he was living in the period of great social unrest. He only required an absolute power to keep society together as this followed the definition of an absolute monarchy. Why did he only require an absolute power to keep society together? According to his view, the reason for this was because the single ruler would control the society’s violence and selfish desires. By obeying the ruler’s command, the ruler would in turn assure the people of their self-preservation. Thus their domain would be controlled by the ruler who was referred to as the Sovereign.
The compromise, or ‘covenant’ as Hobbes called it, consists of an agreement among people to abide by a certain set of rules, or ‘convention’ (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 78). This is now called the ‘laws of the society’. An enforcing authority must be present in order for the law to be effective. The enforcing authority must have absolute power to prevent conflict. Therefore, Hobbes suggested that the sovereignty be in the hands of one person.
If you shut up and do as you are told, then you have the right not to be hurt, for no matter what the person does, it does not constitute violation of the contract. This is an example of a social contract.
By definition, natural rights are any rights that exist by virtue of natural law. The subject does have certain ‘liberties’. Hobbes defines these liberties as those things the subject may refuse to do even when commanded by the sovereign. Liberty does not include the defence of any man against the sovereign (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 79). The subject retains some natural rights that they don’t surrender to the sovereign which concerns his survival. Since the subject entered into the social contract to ensure his safety and to protect his life, he is entitled to disobey the sovereign when to do so would place his life in danger. No subject can make a new covenant or rebel against the monarch except when the monarch is incapable of protecting him: “the end (i.e., the purpose) of obedience is protection” (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 79). Examples of natural rights include the rights to life, liberty, health and property.
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HOW DOES HUMAN NATURE, STATE OF NATURE, SOCIAL CONTRACT AND NATURAL RIGHTS RELATE TO POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY?
How does human nature, state of nature, social contract and natural rights relate to political philosophy? The human nature of a person is selfish and egoistic which then creates a state of war between him and those whom he attempts to dominate. This results in the state of nature. In this state, a single ruler would control the society’s violence and selfish desires. By obeying their wills to the ruler would in turn assure the people of their self-preservation which is the social contract. Since the subject entered into the social contract to ensure their safety and to protect their life, they are entitled to disobey the sovereign when to do so would place their life in danger. As a result, human nature, state of nature, social contract and natural rights are the four fundamental concepts that form Thomas Hobbes’s political philosophy.
Who did Thomas Hobbes influence? Thomas Hobbes influenced many countries such as Bhutan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Swaziland. These countries employ Hobbes’s absolute monarchy except Bhutan as they are a constitutional monarchy. The difference between an absolute monarchy and a constitutional monarchy is that an absolute monarchy is a form of government where a single ruler has an absolute control over all aspects of government. In contrast, a constitutional monarchy is a type of monarchy whereby the ruler is restricted by a constitution. This demonstrates that they believe a ruler of some kind seems to be critical for their country to thrive and flourish. The country would fall apart if there was no leader. Also, Hobbes influenced the people of his own time by refuting England’s parliament and France’s papal system. Furthermore, his political philosophy influenced and led to investigations by other political theorists such as Locke, Spinoza and Rousseau. However, these philosophers have formulated their own radically different theories of the social contract.
APPLICATION AND / OR RELEVANCE TO TODAY’S SOCIETY
Hobbes’s social contract is still relevant to today’s society. This is because an enforcing authority must be present in order for the law to be effective. The enforcing authority must have absolute power to prevent conflict. This concept is used when new laws are made. For example, if a new law about not smoking in front of a person’s face was made, then a person with absolute power would make everyone obey this new law. Also, the concept about a monarchy is evident in today’s society. The reason for this is because many countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Swaziland still have Hobbes’s absolute monarchy. I believe there are political problems with Hobbes’s absolute monarchy. Let us now analyse how the constitutional monarchy is coping in today’s society by looking at Bhutan as an example of a country that still utilises the constitutional monarchy.
From what I know since 1991, there are more than 100, 000 Bhutanese refugees living in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) administered refugee camps in Nepal. Bhutan might be in trouble, perhaps due to the inability of the monarchy to provide for its people. Now, let us compare this to a country that employs Hobbes’s absolute monarchy such as Qatar. Human rights in Qatar have had improvements. However, serious problems still remain whilst new problems are emerging. The rights to peacefully change their government are restricted for citizens, civil liberties restricted, such as freedoms of speech, religion, press, assembly and association. Furthermore, worker rights are severely restricted, discrimination against women still occurs, the government is corrupted and there is a lack of transparency and trafficking in persons occurs. These are some of the few human rights problems. I believe that Hobbes’s absolute monarchy would be more relevant in his era rather than today’s society although many countries are still using his monarchy to have a peaceful society.
I believe that Hobbes’s argument about human nature and the state of nature is flawed under a few conditions. For the first condition I will analyse whether his inference “that people are basically motivated by the drive to satisfy their egoistic desires” (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 80) is justified. People may be motivated by desires but this does not necessarily follow that all desires are egoistic. A person may desire to contribute to the happiness of others as well as their own. Man is not by nature entirely selfish and egoistic: they sometimes work for the good of others and they cooperate with each other. It can be seen that from a psychological standpoint Hobbes is incorrect. As another example, he also states that the life of man in the state of nature “is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 78). This is obviously untrue since there is no historical evidence to support his belief or view. Furthermore, modern society is far richer. In conclusion, Hobbes’s assertion that “the life of man in the state of nature is solitary, poor, brutish and short” (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 78), is flawed.
Secondly, Hobbes suggests that an absolute authority is necessary in order to achieve a good society. However, this concept contradicts the view that a powerful person who does not have absolute authority may yet have enough authority to eliminate conflicts. Hobbes argued that the sovereign authority of any nation must be absolute. I believe that Hobbes, in an attempt to avoid the evil effects of internecine (mutually destructive) conflict, was willing to submit to the evils of tyranny and to surrender liberty in return for security. It seems that Hobbes’s political philosophy is essentially an expression of defeatism: it is a peace at any price philosophy (Philosophy Made Simple, 1999, p. 81). His theory failed in an essential respect: by giving up their rights to an absolute sovereign, men were no more secure than they had been in the state of nature. For now, they were subject to the sudden desires and impulses of the monarch. Men merely traded one form of chaos for another.
COMPARISON BETWEEN HOBBES’S AND LOCKE’S POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
In conclusion, Locke’s argument about the state of nature and the social contract allows men very considerable freedom within society, even if it doesn’t allow them absolute freedom. Hobbes’s however does not. For all the reasons Nicole explained, Locke’s solution to the problem of the state of nature is a better answer than Hobbes. Furthermore, I believe that Hobbes’s monarchy can be rejected. Locke argues that since the monarch is seeking absolute domination over the citizens, he has established a state of war with them.
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