PHL265 Hobbes response to the Foole.docx

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19 Apr 2012
PHL265 The Rationality of Rule-Following: Hobbes’ Dispute with the Foole – Gregory Kavka SU Oct 30, 2011
The Foole: ‘hath sayd in his heart, there is no such thing as justice’
-argues that it is sometimes rational to violate an agreement that your partner has kept
-the foole has claimed that not keeping covenants was not against reason when it conduced to one’s benefit
SO: once the other party to an agreement has complied, you will sometimes benefit more by breaking the agreement
than by keeping it; when this is so it is rational (though unjust) to violate the agreement
Hobbes has 2 arguments
1. Any fact that tendeth to his (the agent’s) own destruction but turns out to the agent’s benefit by some accident which
he could not expect is not a reasonable one.
-every person needs the cooperation of others to escape the state of nature, survive and live decently
-a person who breaks his covenant cannot be in society
Foole Argues: whenever I expect to gain more by unilaterally violating than keeping an agreement, it is rational to do so
-Hobbes argues the costs of error (loss of other’s future cooperation) is high compared to the likely gains of violation
Or Foole Argues: it is rational for me to unilaterally violate an agreement on whatever occasions I will, and so benefit
more by violating than by keeping it
-Hobbes replies that we never know at the time of action whether the agreement is one of these types of agreements
-in lacking this knowledge, the risks and gains outweigh the violation of the agreement
-laws of nature promises each individual better outcomes over time than choosing actions on a case-by-case basis
-all laws of nature have two parts; a main clause expressing a basic moral prohibition and an escape clause that allows
the agent to act in the prohibited manner if others are doing so
-Hobbes’ system prohibits offensive violations of core moral rules, but allows defensive violations of those same rules to
protect the agent from being taken advantage of by others who violate
So this is a question about an offense on the third law of nature, keeping one’s covenant
-the third law of nature is a corollary of the first and fundamental law which prescribes seeking peace
Hobbes answers: if you act in a way that shows a lack of peaceful intentions, others will not react peaceably to you
-what matters to the Foole is that the rule violation should promise benefit
-what matters to Hobbes is that it should risk hostility and loss of cooperation
ISSUE: Hobbes and the Foole disagree over whether it is rational for an agent to violate core moral rules when
doing so promises to benefit him
-what if the keeping of a covenant after surrendering one’s right does more damage rather than furthers one’s best
interest? Would Hobbes still counsel men to keep their agreements?
ANSWER: no, according to Hobbes, contractual obligations exist only insofar as it is in our interest to perform them
-Hobbes agrees with the Foole in that it is irrational to keep an agreement f one knows for certain it would better
promote one’s interests to break it – Hobbes thinks that one never does know such things with certainty, so rejects it
Hobbes holds 3 doctrines:
-people by nature act solely to promote their own interests
-people are able to make rational choices under uncertainty
-practical rationality as case-by-case rather than rule-governed reasoning
SO: practical rationality under uncertainty amounts to case-by-case maximization of expected personal benefit
-thus it is rational to violate a moral rule whenever the expected value of doing so exceeds the expected value of
compliance- this is Hobbes’ apparent view, but it is also the same view as the Foole
But- maybe Hobbes is proposing that when one does the expected value calculations right, one will always find
that compliance with a law of nature always promises greater expected benefit than noncompliance
ANOTHER PROBLEM: Hobbes reliance on the sovereign; if people are egoistic, and rationality amounts to case-by-case
expected utility maximizing, a rational citizen would feel obligated by the social contract, and would obey the sovereign,
only when he believed it best promoted his interest to do so; and so the sovereign is not absolute at all
SO: the rationality and obligatory nature of obedience to the sovereign depends in each instance on the individual’s
calculation of whether such obedience is beneficial to himself; if it not beneficial for enough citizens, they will rationally
rebel and dispose of the sovereign
CONFLICT: Hobbes sovereign must be absolute, and his subjects must be antirevolutionists
-Hobbes instigates disobedience against the sovereign if his own life is endangered
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