Truth suffers from too much analysis

Thomas Hobbs view of Morality

Posted by allzermalmer on February 19, 2012

This blog will be based on Thomas Hobbs view of morality. This derives from certain sections of his book Leviathan.

Hobbes holds that there isn’t anything that is absolutely good or evil, which means that there’s nothing that is objectively good or objectively evil. What he believed was that what is good and what is bad is based on our appetite or desire. What meets our personal desire we call good and what goes against our personal desire we call evil. He also holds, because of this, there is no common rule for what is good and what is evil. For if there were, then there would be objective good and evil, but he’s already denied this. It should be kept in mind that Hobbes is dealing with us in our State of Nature when he says there is no common rule for good or bad, which means this is before we form a society.

“whatsoever is the object of any man’s appetite or desire; that is it which he for his part calleth good; and the object of his hate, and aversion, evil; and of his contempt, vile and inconsiderable. For these words of good, evil, and contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that useth them: there being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common rule of good and evil, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves; but from the person of the man (where there is no commonwealth;) or, (in a commonwealth,) from the person that representeth it; or from an arbitrator or judge, whom men disagreeing shall by consent set up, and make his sentence the rule thereof.”

Hobbes brings up that the power of man is the present means to obtain some future apparent goods. And as he previously stated, goods or good is what ever that person desires. Therefore, the persons power is the means that they have right now to obtain whatever they desire.

The value, or worth of man, is his price. The price of the person is based on how much would be given for the use of the power of a person, but this isn’t absolute either. And this is dependent on the judgement and need of another. Thus, the value or worth of man, is based on how much another person values the power of another person. This person could use another, because this second individual can obtain something for another, and what can be obtained is looked upon favorable by this original person. So your value to me is based what you can obtain for me that I desire. In other words, your value is based on how much I can use you in order to obtain those things that I desire for myself.

Hobbes says that the basis of all human action is to obtain those things that they desire, and they continue on to do these things until that death comes for them. One of the basis of human actions is to stay alive, and so peace is something that is sought because it helps stave off their death, and “desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living; and a hope by their industry to obtain them.”

Now Hobbes tries to come up with some of the natural conditions of mankind. He holds that man is roughly equivalent in body and mind, and holds that the strongest person can be killed by the weakest person. They also don’t differ much in their ability to find the means to ends that people desire. With this, Hobbes assumes that other people are aware of this equality between one another as well.

With this, there are three things causes of quarrel between people, which are 1. competition, 2. diffidence,  and 3. glory. The first makes man fight over gain, the second for safety, and the third for reputation. In these conditions, man lives without some common power to keep them all under control. Instead, they are all in a state of war.

“they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war, as is of every man, against every man… The life of man in a condition of war is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.””

Hobbes points out that there is no sin in man or any sin done by man, in the state of nature. In other words, the passions of men are not, in themselves, sin. Their actions, that follow from these passions, aren’t sins either. This means that the passions of people aren’t, in themselves, sin. This also means that their actions, in themselves, aren’t sin. What also follows is that when it is war of all against all, the actions of people aren’t unjust. This is all because there is no common law, or none that people recognize. When there is no objective morality, let alone any that people recognize, there is no good or evil actions in themselves. Justice, injustice, good, and evil, have no place in the state of nature.

Hobbes points out that there are two things, one that is called Rights of Nature and the other is Laws of Nature. Here is how he states what a Right of Nature is, or what the Right of Nature is.

“The Right of Nature . . . is the liberty each man hath, to use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing any thing, which in his own judgment, and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto.”

This means that man can do anything that they want, in order to reach any ends that they want. But don’t forget, anything that people do under their power, they are doing what they consider to be good. Anything, in the state of nature, is permissible. What is within your power is good, because power is the ability to reach any end that you desire, and what you desire is what is good. We have to remember that there was on thing, that we understand to be the most good of things, which is the preservation of our own life. The Right of Nature is summed up, when in the state of nature, to be “By all means we can, to defend ourselves.” Our liberty, or Right of Nature, “consists in liberty to do, or to forebear.” This means our liberty is to do anything we like in the state of nature, and to forebear our own death by any means that we can or is at our disposal.

Now that we know what the Right of Nature is, there is also a Law of Nature. He states it as follows.

“A Law of Nature, (lex naturalis) is a precept, or general rule, found out by reason, by which a man is forbidden to do, that, which is destructive of his life, or taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit, that, by which he thinketh it may be best preserved.”

So the Law of Nature is found out by reason, and it is through reason that we find out what is forbidden for us to do. And one of these is that which is destructive to our lives, or taking away means that preserve our lives. Thus, a law of nature, at least in the moral realm, is based on doing things that wouldn’t take our lives away, or lead to our deaths. Reason forbids us to do anything that would lead to our death.

There are at least two major laws of nature. One of them is to seek peace and follow peace. A second law is “That a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth, as for peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.”

There is moral obligations, and they follow from when we form into a society. This society is formed when we give up some of our liberty, which was abundant in a state of nature. Thus, when we give up some of our liberty, we are confined to keep these agreements once we set them up in society. It is in society that we give up our liberty that was found in nature, and we are obliged to keep these agreements that we’ve set up upon entering into a society. We are “not to make void that voluntary act
of his own: and that such hindrance is injustice”. In other words, you sign a contract and you do injustice when you don’t follow that contract that you signed. Another injustice is to grant away or give up our right to defend ourselves when someone is trying to kill us or take our lives.

The main point of Hobbes is that we are not moral creatures until we have formed into a social contract in which we are obliged to follow that contract. When we don’t follow this contract, we have done injustice. But without these social contracts, and in a state of nature, there is no right or wrong when we act against other people or do any type of action. In fact, the only good things are those that we desire, and the only bad things are doing those things that we don’t desire.

There does seem to be one obvious problem, of course, which is that he says that all people are on equal standing in a state of nature, and that there are laws of nature. One of these is to seek peace. But this would seem to also be applied in a state of nature. But he says that we are in a constant state of war of all against all. But reason would dictate not to be at war with one another, but to seek peace. Thus, Hobbes does seem to be obviously inconsistent in his stance. But this is one typical response that some make to someone who says that there are no objective right or wrong.


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