Sunday, April 4, 2010

244: Thomas Hobbes (1588 -1679)

One of the greatest worries of philosophers like Plato and Aristotle was that the city-state would disintegrate into factions with their private interests and that this clash of interests would culminate in civil war.

A situation, where there is no control, no rule, but only a war of everyone against everyone. This was exactly what Thomas Hobbes saw happening to his country in 1641, a civil war that lasted ten years.

Thomas Hobbes, born in 1588, died in December 1979 at the remarkable age of 91. He analyzed his situation and wrote two influential books: De Cive ("About the citizen"), 1641 and Leviathan published in 1651.

If he hadn't written those books my lectures on Power and on Rights could have made history, like Hobbes did, for without depending on him I use similar arguments to describe a kind of first beginning of the state.

However, this rather means that my way of thinking is almost obvious for us, while in Hobbes' days it was an innovative way to describe the political state of the human being.

First of all Hobbes was everything, that God had forbidden in his days. He was a materialist, which means that he denied that there exists an immaterial reality.

And impressed as he was by the scientific methods and discoveries of his days he also was a mechanist ("man is a machine") and determinist, which means that everything is an endless chain of causes and effects. In relation to the later this can lead to hot debates on something like "free will".

We begin with our "status hominum naturals", our natural state, which is a state of war of all against all, "bellum omnium in omnes" in which "homo homini lupus est" or man is a wolf for his fellowman, which we can read in De Cive.

Maybe in the good English tradition with The Magna Carta Libertatum (The Great Charter of Freedom) of 1215 as an example Hobbes concluded, that only a social contract could create a life worth living.

I think that this social contract idea doesn't sound so special to us, but in 1650 it was special. Hobbes was in fact the first one who said that sovereignty and authority of the state are not based on religion, but on a social contract between men, no God or religion needed.

The social covenant involves both the renunciation or transfer of right and the authorization of the sovereign power. Political legitimacy depends not on how a government came to power, but only on whether it can effectively protect those who have consented to obey it; political obligation ends when protection ceases.

This convenant is not just an agreement, but a logical consequence of laws of nature, which Hobbes describes in the chapter 14 of his Leviathan. Law one states that "a man is forbidden to do that which is destructive of his life"

and law two "that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things."

And Hobbes explains: "These dictates of reason men used to call by the name of laws, but improperly: for they are but conclusions or theorems concerning what conduceth to the conservation and defence of themselves; whereas law, properly, is the word of him that by right hath command over others. (Chapter 15)
- End quote -

Of course we can put some question marks behind this initial state of nature of man. Children for instance are depended on their parents in stead of being in a state of war with them. There already is natural obedience.

Hobbes suggest that our communal life is prone to disaster when we are left to interact according only to our own individual judgments, but is that so? Does it turn into chaos and conflict unavoidably?

At first sight you might think, that everyone follows only his own interests. But isn't that a little against, what makes humans human: rationality? Also without a social contract you would discover, that you cant live in a group without dealing with the others in the group.

Or maybe Hobbes state of nature would be peaceful and only a small group driven by their passion instead of common sense would cause trouble in our natural state way of living.

A logical consequence of Hobbes' theory is, that the state takes over the role of the individual, and thence can be regarded to be in a state of nature.
This means in war with every other state.

Eventually this should lead to one global government. The ultimate result would be the final global social contract. So far we have only the United Nations.

However, the type of state Hobbes proposes is not exactly what would make us happy. Hobbes' main concern was to argue that effective government—whatever its form—must have absolute authority. Its powers must be neither divided nor limited. In other words: absolutism, the totalitarian state.

But he leaves an escape route, as he writes in chapter 14 of his Leviathan:
"A covenant not to defend myself from force, by force, is always void. For (as I have shown before) no man can transfer or lay down his right to save himself from death, wounds, and imprisonment, the avoiding whereof is the only end of laying down any right; and therefore the promise of not resisting force, in no covenant transferreth any right, nor is obliging.
- End quote

It is fascinating to read the words, which were written down by Hobbes more than 350 years ago. Just imagine the man sitting there, probably writing with a feather on paper, that may have been rather expensive in those days. And all these words are still clear to us, make sense and inspire us. Fascinating.

Here is a small sample of the texts from chapter 14 about the laws of nature, which Hobbes formulate. Just click the book to get the notecard.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
Chapter XIV
Of the First and Second Natural Laws, and of Contracts

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. For though they that speak of this subject use to confound jus and lex, right and law, yet they ought to be distinguished, because right consisteth in liberty to do, or to forbear; whereas law determineth and bindeth to one of them: so that law and right differ as much as obligation and liberty, which in one and the same matter are inconsistent.
And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of every one against every one, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies; it followeth that in such a condition every man has a right to every thing, even to one another's body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to every thing endureth, there can be no security to any man, how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily alloweth men to live. And consequently it is a precept, or general rule of reason: that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war. The first branch of which rule containeth the first and fundamental law of nature, which is: to seek peace and follow it. The second, the sum of the right of nature, which is: by all means we can to defend ourselves.
From this fundamental law of nature, by which men are commanded to endeavour peace, is derived this second law: that a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defence 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. For as long as every man holdeth this right, of doing anything he liketh; so long are all men in the condition of war. But if other men will not lay down their right, as well as he, then there is no reason for anyone to divest himself of his: for that were to expose himself to prey, which no man is bound to, rather than to dispose himself to peace. This is that law of the gospel: Whatsoever you require that others should do to you, that do ye to them. And that law of all men, quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris.
Complete text of Leviathan:

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: When you click the picture you get a part of chapter 14 of Leviathan
[13:21] herman Bergson: in which the two laws of nature are described
[13:22] herman Bergson: Leviathan is fascinating reading...
[13:22] herman Bergson: It is the age of rationalism....
[13:22] Object: Thank you for requesting this information
[13:23] herman Bergson: I guess you have to digest it all ^_^
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:24] ZANICIA Chau: haha
[13:25] herman Bergson: Most important aspect of Hobbes is that he doesn't need a god to establish a state and authority
[13:26] herman Bergson: Yet there is a lot of text about god , almost half the Leviathan
[13:26] herman Bergson: But scholars arent sure about how serious that was meant
[13:26] herman Bergson: because he was a materialist
[13:26] Repose Lionheart: yes, same with the founding documents of the american republic
[13:27] TBDiscovery Harbour: Would Hobbes agree with Socrates, in Crito, that a social contract is tacit?
[13:27] Repose Lionheart: would he agree with Socrates merely accepting death when there was an alternative
[13:27] herman Bergson: of the criticisms on Hobbes is that there almost never was established a state by contract but by war and occupation
[13:28] herman Bergson: So if socrates meant to say that such a social contract is a kind of natural phenomenon...
[13:29] herman Bergson: I guess Hobbes would agree and say that he only had created a theoretical justification]
[13:29] herman Bergson: Well Repose...that is the question...
[13:30] Rodney Handrick (appears in class): So, Wake up!
[13:30] Rodney Handrick: Mister Freeman...
[13:30] herman Bergson: in fact Hobbes states that no authority has the right to take someone's life
[13:30] Rodney Handrick: Wake up and...
[13:30] TBDiscovery Harbour: Well he seems to have felt that by living within a given region, one must abide by the social rules, and therefore cannot revert into what Locke would deem a state of nature.
[13:30] Rodney Handrick: Smell the Ashes...
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: rodney goodness
[13:30] Rodney Handrick: Hi Gemma
[13:31] herman Bergson: This state of nature is questionable...if it even ever existed
[13:31] ZANICIA Chau: That was truly unnecessary , Rodney
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: the gesture
[13:31] Rodney Handrick: testing new viewer
[13:31] TBDiscovery Harbour: Could it exist for someone such as Ted Kaczynski? (pre-prison)
[13:31] herman Bergson: Dont do that in class Rodney ..dont think it is the right place for that
[13:32] ZANICIA Chau: huh not in the middle. How rude
[13:32] Rodney Handrick: sorry
[13:32] ZANICIA Chau: apologies proff
[13:32] herman Bergson: Who is this Ted TD?
[13:32] TBDiscovery Harbour: The Unabomber.
[13:32] Repose Lionheart: serial bomber
[13:33] herman Bergson: Ah I remember
[13:33] herman Bergson: We were talking about this state of nature man would have been in..
[13:33] TBDiscovery Harbour: He wrote the Communist Manifesto - brilliant guy, but you know the rest.
[13:34] herman Bergson: and I think we now are more inclined to say that this primary state already a social state was
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:34] TBDiscovery Harbour: But my point is that he lived in the woods and aimed to keep laws away from him and as such, separated from government. However, his mailing brought him back into the governed culture.
[13:34] herman Bergson: Well the communist manifest presupposes also a natural state
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: and his education
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: he was not a blank slate
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: "state of nature" falsely assumes we are
[13:35] herman Bergson: youmean that this TEd lived in the state of naturre?
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: he did
[13:35] TBDiscovery Harbour: True. So there is no way to completely assuage all guilt and live alone without culture?
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: off the grid as they say
[13:35] TBDiscovery Harbour: I'm asking, not necessarily arguing for it.
[13:35] herman Bergson: I would doubt that...impossible to return to such a state after being educated
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: naw, he just lived IN nature
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: lol true
[13:36] herman Bergson: Yes Repose, I would agree with that
[13:36] TBDiscovery Harbour: Then could we claim that feral children are in a state of nature, or does the animal culture make them assimilated?
[13:36] bergfrau Apfelbaum: :-( afk
[13:37] Kiki Walpanheim: nothing wrong for the state to protect each individual from the harm of others, either by fraud or force
[13:37] TBDiscovery Harbour: Perhaps, Kiki, but what if one does not want such comforts?
[13:37] herman Bergson: That was Hobbes main focus, Kiki...the role of the state is offering protection
[13:37] TBDiscovery Harbour: We assume that they do, but what if one does not?
[13:38] herman Bergson: Well TD is one doesnt want such comfort he places himself ourttside society, outside the group
[13:38] Gemma Cleanslate: well i agree with that
[13:38] Kiki Walpanheim: why not? TB? then everybody takes care of themselves, fear->defense->fear, seems like mob rules
[13:38] herman Bergson: in fact he shows contempt for the values of the group
[13:38] Gemma Cleanslate: cannot do that in this society
[13:38] herman Bergson: and claims to have a better set of values
[13:39] TBDiscovery Harbour: So if there is no outlet for the solo avenger, then are we not setting ourselves up for attacks?
[13:39] herman Bergson: Dont understand your point TD
[13:39] Kiki Walpanheim: I don't believe in anarchism, because without the tyranny from the state, other individuals could do more horrible things
[13:39] Repose Lionheart: lone wolves?
[13:40] Athena John: so you're saying evil is innate without big brother?
[13:40] herman Bergson: It is a bit paradoxal...
[13:40] herman Bergson: for you are a lone wolf within the context of a society
[13:40] TBDiscovery Harbour: If an individual decides to go it alone, but has no outlet because the laws of the nation reach every point of the land, then we are setting outselves up for the creation of monsters.
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: we just had a case here of a group of militia preparing to cause damage to the "state" but attacking police
[13:40] herman Bergson: maybe on an uninhabited island you could succeed in being a lone wolve
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: just arrested
[13:41] Repose Lionheart: why could a person not just decide to go it alone? Why would you need group approval to do it?
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: have been preparing for 2 years
[13:41] Athena John: Gemma, they had a religious edge to them as well
[13:41] herman Bergson: But in our world 'the state' is such an abstraction
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: well that is questionable too
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: lol our government mean
[13:41] TBDiscovery Harbour: Where would you go, Repose? The law extends to all parts of a nation.
[13:41] Athena John: Repose, many people in my country try that. They usually end up in a cabin in the woods dead and forgotten
[13:42] Kiki Walpanheim: well even if the state doesn't do any harm to you, the other individuals could be just as vicious or even more harmful, could be
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: true, TBD
[13:42] herman Bergson: It is a known phenomenon....
[13:42] herman Bergson: in the Middle Ages we called such people hermits
[13:42] Repose Lionheart: yes, Athena
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: i think we have established that even in a small group there is some form of government
[13:42] Athena John: Now we call them Unibombers :)
[13:43] herman Bergson: I guess there always is a small group who is not happy with a given situation
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: leaders
[13:43] TBDiscovery Harbour: In the US, there are organizations that specifically track the movements of small anti-government groups.
[13:43] Kiki Walpanheim: maybe because Hobbes was born in an age or turmoil, which made him feel the threaten of deaths all the time....
[13:43] herman Bergson: Unibommer......just think what we are talking about...
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: every age seems to have that
[13:43] herman Bergson: the behavior of ONE single human being in a society of 300 million people
[13:44] ZANICIA Chau: -which is why they take themselves off in despair, not meaning to be a 'wolf' to anyone
[13:44] ZANICIA Chau: or a leader
[13:44] Kiki Walpanheim: during peach, with no wars, i think ppl still have the traits of aggressiveness and avariciousness, maybe only more subtle, and hidden
[13:44] herman Bergson: Oh yes Kiki...the Civil war had a great impact on him...had to leave his country for that
[13:45] Athena John: Yes, look at the US in the 1980s. the aggressiveness was channeled into business and the squashing of certain types
[13:45] Kiki Walpanheim: i think, that , i like his idea of protecting each individual from others, either by fraud or force, but
[13:46] Kiki Walpanheim: but i dont like the idea of monachy and authoritarianism
[13:46] herman Bergson: Well... I guess we laid the first stone for a new approach in political philosophy...
[13:46] TBDiscovery Harbour: So has there been agreement concerning whether the social contract hinders liberty, and if so, is there a universal level in which members are willing to succumb to?
[13:46] herman Bergson: No Kiki...from now on we gonna discuss the social contract.....a king restricted by law
[13:47] Athena John: One must give a little liberty (the liberty to kill, rob, etc) to live in a society
[13:47] Kiki Walpanheim: well, even if the state doesnt deprive you of liberty, other individuals still can--- i think protection to ensure safety is the ground of liberty
[13:47] TBDiscovery Harbour: Then who decides how much to give?
[13:47] TBDiscovery Harbour: If the state is abstract...
[13:47] herman Bergson: We have to hold back here....
[13:47] Athena John: The State ISN'T abstract- thats the point
[13:47] herman Bergson: The concept of liberty is complex and has many meanings.
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: constraint can free one too for greater productivity -- discipline is a kind of constraint
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: need to balance it all
[13:48] herman Bergson: So lecture we might dig into the concept of liberty
[13:48] Athena John: And for a ruler to be withheld by rule of law, they must subscribe to it. And not all do that. I give you George W Bush as a prime example
[13:48] Kiki Walpanheim: oh...
[13:48] TBDiscovery Harbour: But we're still assuming that our values are the same for all. And that's a bit much.
[13:49] herman Bergson: That is to discuss TD
[13:49] TBDiscovery Harbour: The Bush tirades are a bit old.
[13:49] TBDiscovery Harbour: Very good.
[13:49] ZANICIA Chau: G Bush was just a puppet
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: so is Obama
[13:49] ZANICIA Chau: yes
[13:49] herman Bergson: Well...maybe he signed a contract with another company:)
[13:49] Zinzi Serevi: lol
[13:49] Abraxas Nagy: they all serve wallstreet
[13:49] Zinzi's translator: lol
[13:49] Repose Lionheart: they are all complexly responsible to many
[13:49] ZANICIA Chau: lol
[13:50] herman Bergson: Ok...
[13:50] Athena John: In this context they make sense. Magna Carta was created to restrict monarchy. The us constitution does the same for the presidency... if that individual subscribes AND the people keep him in line
[13:50] herman Bergson: before we continue on our quest into history we'll make a stop at the station: Liberty
[13:51] herman Bergson: and ask ourselves what that may mean.
[13:51] Abraxas Nagy: wow a big station
[13:51] TBDiscovery Harbour: And who is keeping Obama in line? We could argue that for days.
[13:51] herman Bergson: Well TD..that is a bit off the point here
[13:51] Abraxas Nagy: the people that really run things
[13:52] herman Bergson: So, I want to thank you for this great discussion again
[13:52] TBDiscovery Harbour: And Bush attacks are on point? I find that unfair, with all due respect.
[13:52] TBDiscovery Harbour: Every meeting I attend in SL turns into a Bush bashing.
[13:52] herman Bergson: And I'll send you into the bush...class dismissed
[13:52] ZANICIA Chau: lol
[13:52] Abraxas Nagy: haaaahaaaahaaaahaaaahaaa
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: lol
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:52] TBDiscovery Harbour: We're supposed to be adults.
[13:52] ZANICIA Chau: Thankyou proffessor
[13:52] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: ‚รด• Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ‚
[13:52] Athena John: Thank you professor
[13:52] bergfrau Apfelbaum: danke herr professor :-)
[13:52] Justine Rhapsody: Thank you professor
[13:53] Kiki Walpanheim: thank you professor
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: Tuesday maybe a new aspect
[13:53] Abraxas Nagy: having critisism isnt bashing
[13:53] TBDiscovery Harbour: When I can't respond it is.
[13:53] Athena John: Respond all you like. Be prepared for a response back though.
[13:53] herman Bergson: I'd rather stop the Bush babble....isnt relevant here
[13:53] Gemma Cleanslate: we try not to be personal in this class
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:54] Abraxas Nagy: I agree herman
[13:54] Athena John: Sorry- I started it. My apologies to all. I found it relevant
[13:54] Abraxas Nagy: that's ok :D
[13:54] Zinzi Serevi: thanks Herman, take care all of you..:)
[13:54] Zinzi's translator: Herman thanks, take care all of you ..:)
[13:54] Zinzi Serevi: happy eastern
[13:54] Zinzi's translator: happy eastern
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: easy for political philosophy to tip over into politics
[13:54] Athena John: Funny that
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: but not always productive
[13:54] Abraxas Nagy: a lil discussion can be stimulating
[13:55] herman Bergson: Well...Athena I understand...but when we drown in specific examples we go down the drain with our discussion ^_^
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: many times lol
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: you have no idea
[13:55] Abraxas Nagy: ok people see you all next time :D
[13:56] herman Bergson: no more bush talk here..! plz
[13:56] Gemma Cleanslate: see you all tuesday
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: bye
[[13:56] Qwark Allen: ******* Herman *******
[13:56] herman Bergson: Bye
[13:56] Qwark Allen: was interesting like allways
[13:56] herman Bergson: thnx Qwark
[13:56] Qwark Allen: ;-)
[13:57] Kiki Walpanheim: see you
[13:57] bergfrau Apfelbaum: thanks herman; -) - thanks class :-))) I go now thinking
[13:58] herman Bergson: You are welcome Bergie
[13:58] bergfrau Apfelbaum: i know :-))

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