Philosophy Exam notes 2
Hobbes: Leviathan, Part 1
Thomas Hobbes (5 April 1588-4 December 1679)
o Life and times
Scotland at war with rest of Great Britain
Lots of unrest politically
Wrote Leviathan to provide some sort of reassurance for the government
o At last: philosophy written in English!
Everything is made up of things in motion
o The project of the Leviathan:
A) To establish a rational and secular basis for government
B) To assess political systems scientifically, that is, through first principles
C) To identify the necessary features of government
Hobbes couches his project in terms of his scientific materialism, which, surprisingly, extends all the way to the mind-for Hobbes thinking is no more than rearranging
parcels of matter:
o See 5.1 for instance.
He dismisses Descartess sceptical worries in a single sentence (at the end of 2.5), and he takes scarcely longer with Aristotles view that human
happiness consists in contemplation (11.1), asserting instead that life is a continual progress of the desire, from one object to another
In short, Hobbes wants to make a fresh start in philosophy, which he takes to be an empirical enterprise
The technique Hobbes uses in the Leviathan is known as social contract theory
o Its guiding intuition is that social institutions are the product of voluntary agreement among free individuals
Hence the scope and nature and even the extent of government, as a particular kind of social institution, should be understood by analyzing the
agreements that would be so made
o The conceptual connections here are as follows
Individual consent to such an agreement, the contract, is conceived as the basis for legitimacy, which is what gives a government authority-that is, the
right to issue commands and in general create political obligations that are binding on its subjects
The function of social contract theory is therefore to explain why there is any moral obligation at all among people in society, and to give an
account of the nature of moral obligation which will allow us to deduce particular obligations
Of course, it also had a political function, namely to combat other accounts of human society (such as divine right), and so to provide an ideology
for the rising middle class
There are therefore two key components in any social contract theory, namely State of Nature
What things are like prior to entering into any contract whatsoever, and the Contract (which is entered into)
The State of Nature (13)
o Not necessarily historical, but an analytical device to examine the key ingredients relevant to political theory, namely, the self-interested behaviour of rational
o There are good reasons for starting with such minimal assumptions not least of which is the generality and the power of the resulting account
Hobbess Question: How would people behave in the complete absence of any form of social or political organization, in conditions of scarcity?
o Think of this as a post-apocalyptic problem
Hobbess Answer: there would be a war of all against all. His reasoning is as follows
o 1) The State of Nature is characterized by factual egalitarianism (i.e. were all more or less equal in our abilities) and the fear of death
o 2) Natural equality leads each person to an equal hope of attaining his or her ends, and so produces competition, for the sake of (individual) gain o 3) The absence of social or political ties leads to diffidence (mistrust), and produces in each the desire for power, for the sake of (individual) security
o 4) Now power must be apparent as well as real; thus there is a desire for glory for the sake of reputation
Hence each person competes for gain with all others, and each equally strives for power and reputation
Therefore: the state of nature is thus a struggle of each with all others- a war of all against all.
The result of this thoroughgoing conflict is a situation that no one actually wants, namely one in which their lives are solitary, poor nasty, brutish, and short,
o What to do?
Leviathan 2: The Social Contract
Recall Hobbess conclusion, that in a State of Nature there would be a war of all against all.
o This is clearly unacceptable to everyone, and everyone can see that everyone else thinks so too
o How to escape the situation?
Hobbes begins his account in 14 by distinguishing between natural right and natural law
o The sole natural right he recognizes in the State of Nature is that each person has the liberty to use any means possible to preserve his or her life (14.4)
This derives, at least in part, from the basic right to self-defence, and gets its unrestricted form due to the circumstances
Hobbes defines a natural law as follows (14.3):
o A law of Nature 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 taken away
the means of preserving the same
o So a natural law is a directive that a rational person would adopt, given the circumstances.
o Hobbes argues that the most fundamental natural laws in the Sate of Nature are these:
1. Each person ought to try to attain peace in whatever way possible (14.4)
2. Each person ought to lay down his or her right to all things insofar as doing so promotes peace, allowing others the same amount of liberty (14.5)
Each person ought to abide by the agreement (i.e. the contract) so made (15.1)
o These three laws sketch out how Hobbes will get around the war of all against all in the Sate of Nature. He reasons as follows
If each person were to agree not to attack anyone else, on the condition that everyone else agree likewise, then we should all make that agreement
But since covenants without swords are but words there needs to be some sort of common power that can enforce the agreement (14.8 and
So the agreement has to set up an enforcement agency
Hobbess full account of the social contract is as follows (17.3):
o [The social contract] is the covenant of every man with every man, in such a manner as if every man should say to every man: I authorise and give up my right
of governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that you give up your right to him, and authorize all his actions in like matter.
o To make sense of this account we need to get a handle on Hobbess distinctions between authors and actors
o But the key elements are in place, and the forcefulness of his approach should be apparent
On this reading of Hobbes, his account of the origins of political society is akin to one way of solving a standard problem of contemporary game theory known as the
Prisoners Dilemma (which turns out to have wide application in social theory and economics)
o Two prisoners suspected of jointly committing a crime are put into separate cells;
o If both confess each will be sentenced to five years in prison,
o If one but not the other confesses the confessor gets one year and the non-confessor ten,
o If neither confess they are convicted on a lesser charge and each gets three years
This game has the following strategy matrix:
Dont Confess Confess
Dont Confess 3, 3 10,1
Confess 1, 10 5,5 Since neither prisoner knows what the other will do, each has to reason strategically to act in his own interests
o Each reasons as follows:
No matter what the other prisoner does, Im better off if I do confess and he doesnt, Ill get only one year. It would be better overall if neither of us
confessed, but in each case I do better to confess.
o Each prisoner reasons in this fashion, and so each chooses to confess, leading to the (dominant) outcome in which each gets five years in jail
o Yet each could get less jail time overall if neither confessed, that is, if each were willing to stay a bit longer to guarantee the other an equal less amount of jail
time, since in that case each would get three rather than five years of jail time
o Hence the outcome prescribed by rational self-interest is clearly not (Pareto) optimal
So too in Hobbess State of Nature
o Each person can clearly see that the optimal situation would be to have an agreement that everyone follows
o But what if a person can do better by not following the agreement?
o That is, what if I do better by breaking the agreement, taking advantag