Hey all, I'm going to be relatively busy this weekend, so I don't know if I'll be getting around to writing much f=of anything other than practice essays for an upcoming exam... Plus I don't usually put up as much philosophical stuff as I may like, so to fix both issues, I am putting up a paper I just wrote on a passage from Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. It deals with world and societal reformation so that Humans can have a more peaceful world to live in.
I'm also going to put the song up here, in case you just aren't that interested in Human nature without law. This is "11th Dimension," by Julian Casablancas. Enjoy!
In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes sets up rules and ideas with the goal of setting up a world and society that is much more peaceful than the one he was living in. When Hobbes is discussing Human nature without government, he says, “To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent: that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war and two cardinal virtues” (Leviathan, p. 78). In short, Hobbes is describing how Humans act in a natural world, without government. This passage is very important to everything Hobbes is trying to accomplish and is full of different things to talk about. If society implemented the foundation of ideas that Hobbes is proposing, then a volatile society, like Hobbes’, could benefit and reform itself into one that is more peaceful and longer lasting. I will be breaking down this passage and go over what Hobbes means by the war of all versus all, how Human ethics are affected in nature, and how a central power is necessary to uphold Human ethics. I will then briefly go over my own views of those ideas that Hobbes is discussing.
When Hobbes says, “…this war of every man against every man…” (Leviathan, p.78), he is means that in nature, everyone is working primarily on their own self-interest and trying to survive. Since there are no rules to abide by, the threat of being hurt or killed is a very real thing. Everyone works for himself or herself in the war for survival. For Hobbes, the circumstances under which this sort of scenario would happen is in a natural world, where there is no central power present to reinforce the morals and ethics that we know today. But how are our ethics affected by this natural world and the constant war for survival, where no person can be trusted?
With the understanding of what Hobbes is describing with the war of all versus all, we move on to the difference in ethics that we know compared to how they would exist in a natural world. Hobbes continues on by saying, “…this is consequent: that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place” (Leviathan, p. 78). This part of the passage is rather self-explanatory. What Hobbes is saying that given a world governed by the forces of nature, rather than one by society, all of the ethics and morals that we base society on disappear. There are no made-up rules that we feel we should abide by. The sense of justice that we know is suddenly thrown out of the window and is replaced by one that permits anything and everything, personal abilities permitting. There is no longer any sense of right or wrong, except in fulfilling our own needs to survive and working towards our self-interests. To Hobbes, in this world, nothing is unjust and there is no such thing as right and wrong, as we perceive them. Everything is permissible. This is true even in such examples of rape or killing an innocent child. In short: In nature, whatever happens, happens, and there is not much standing in the way of that, except for the prospects of ethics and society that governs us.
Now, at this point, it is important to begin remembering the bigger picture that Hobbes is setting up for us. He is trying to create a society and government that is peaceful and is on our terms (so far as we can achieve them), instead of the seeming lack of order in nature. Without such power, Human life is, as Hobbes puts it, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Leviathan, p. 76). In order to work past these risky and volatile conditions, there needs to be a central power, bigger than us, that controls how we act with one another. Continuing on with the original passage, Hobbes says, “Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice” (Leviathan, p. 78). When Hobbes says “common power,” he means something that can control most, if not all of Humanity. Since we are the top animals on Earth, it is left to us to create that power from and for ourselves. Our common power is a central government built on our ethics. Without such a common power upholding and enforcing laws that we create, then there are no laws to uphold, and therefore, there are no laws to follow.
So, to paraphrase the process that Hobbes is following: For Hobbes, the world is a very volatile place where society is seems to be crumbling and people are starting to expand their minds and reforming society. Hobbes is no different in this endeavor. He understands the knowledge we have gained and how his society works. He hypothetically destroys his society and throws everyone back into nature. With his prior knowledge, he then re-forges his society into one that recognizes how nature works and tries to work against the chaos that everyone has been exposed to, all in the attempt to create the blueprints for a society that is more peaceful and empirical than the one he knows.
When it comes to my views and opinions on Hobbes, I guess I will just say this: The more I read and understand what Hobbes is saying, the more I feel like at some point, I will be going back in time and writing this book myself. At almost no point have I found myself disagreeing with what he says. He reasons out his points effectively and what he says are things I have often found myself thinking too. Perhaps it may be because, like Hobbes, I see our society as one that is headed to its destruction, and more hopefully, a reformation that continues seeking the same values that Hobbes was looking for: peace, science, and the spread of intellectualism.
People seem to think that the society that we have been raised in is just how things always work, and do not take the time to recognize the forces of nature without the only setting we have ever known. I completely agree with what Hobbes says about the lack of justice and injustice in nature, the loss of right and wrong, and how Humans are easily willing to kill one another to get what they feel they need to survive. What I feel Hobbes neglects to distinguish in his nature scenario is whether such a society existed prior to the natural take-over. This is an aspect that I feel is quite important to take into account. In a natural world where so prior society existed, where Humans create order blindly and without much guidance, such a society would eventually grow into the one that Hobbes knew and the one that we know today. However, if there were such a prior society, it would most likely be one similar, if not identical, to ours. This difference, I feel, makes Hobbes’ overall point that much stronger, because those people that survive the destruction of our society would still have all of our prior knowledge and would probably try to reclaim it. With such prior knowledge, we could, and hopefully would, be able to reason out the same points that Hobbes is explaining in Leviathan. When Thomas Edison was going through his seemingly failing invention process for the light bulb, he was quoted as saying, “I have not failed. I have found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This applies to everything we create, and society is no different.
In the instance where a previous civilization falls and people are left in the state of nature, as Hobbes describes it, there is still a fair chance that society and peace could not be recovered. The chaos from the transition could be too powerful for us to endure or there could be too few survivors to reclaim peace and order. I do agree that, given circumstances like these, that state of nature that Hobbes describes is considerably accurate. From that point, I think anything could happen to Humanity. People are willing to hurt, kill and rape already, but in a world where there is nothing saying not to do that, such things would run rampant and unchecked. So many think that these sorts of things cannot happen and that we are invincible, unable to fall, but in reality, anything could put us on such a path, whether it be a reason outside of our control or ourselves. In either case, we have the potential to create wonderful things. What we need is some recognition of how things work in reality, outside of our minds.
So, to conclude, Hobbes does a wonderful job of reasoning and creating a blueprint of a newer, more peaceful society. He paints a picture of a world that is very real, and yet is relatively unseen, and shows us that knowing such possibilities and potential can help us reform and recreate civilization to prolong a peaceful Human existence.
Until next time...