November 7, 2013
Social Contract Theorists
Use state of nature to explain how human beings went from a pre-social condition to
forming a political society. State of nature is a thought experiment, if you take an
individual and strip them of any social attachment/group and look at the individual in
abstraction, what is the individual like? State of nature is also of the absence of any
binding authority. What happens when there is no particular authority? Example: civil
Hobbes-state of nature is one where the individual is self interested, egoistic, sort of
rational calculator of what is in his best interests. He explains how we go from a state of
nature to society.
Different from the ancients because of the distinction between phusis and nomos (nature
and convention/agreement). Ancients say nomos is secondary and that society is natural.
Moderns say that it is a matter of convention, there is nothing natural about society.
Hobbes says in fear of a violent death that human beings in a state of nature decide they
want to form society. The only reason they want to join a society is fear of a violent
death, you have natural rights because there are natural rights in the state of nature.
Living in this condition, you live in fear for your life everyday, as there is no right or
wrong. Everyone must agree to give up their natural rights and choose a sovereign to
rule over them, entrusting power to an absolute ruler, once an agreement is formed. The
ruler can do whatever they want because justice=obedience to the sovereign, but they will
not abuse this power because they are giving the ruler a mandate, provided that the ruler
provides peace and security. Is peace the highest virtue? Hobbes believes so. Criticism:
peace is the highest virtue and it is a means to self-preservation and life, not the good life
but just life. Hobbes does not discuss the higher virtues in the Leviathan (honour,
courage) but the paradox is that this commitment that he has peace relies on the
individuals in society who value something besides their own self interest, who are
willing to sacrifice their lives for something of greater significance and glory. The only
way that peace can be achieved is for these individuals to go beyond peace, therefore it is
not the highest virtue.
His approach is completely scientific in the sense that he wants to start with the
individual-what is a human being? He says the human being is nothing but a body, a
machine in motion. Hobbes is therefore a materialist. He thought science could be
applied to politics, that there was a science of politics.