Hobbes--not very Confident about Man

Hobbes--not very Confident about Man

The Natural Law makes its first appearance in chapter 13.  Hobbes’ scientific approach, then, has led him to a consideration of man as a species.  But could it be more than that?  At this point of the book, we do not get the sense that Hobbes believes there is anything high man should strive for to complete, or perfect, his nature.  Quite simply, man is equal to man.

This is much the same consideration as key = key, or desk = desk.  It does not preclude differences between such things, as in all things have a particular talent(s) but are still yet one thing.  One human may be great at basketball, and another not so much, but they are still equal.  However, in Hobbes, he does not use the law of nature to prescribe certain virtues we should strive for.  His assertion of equality is where it ends.  For Hobbes, man is extremely narcissistic.  This low view of man is why Alexander Hamilton said of Hobbes that he put forth an impious doctrine.

Humans come into conflict with one another over desires for something.  Hobbes lists three things:

  1. competition
  2. diffidence
  3. glory

What do men most fear?  Death.  So, we see in society that desire for gain, and the fear of death are the characteristics of our natural condition.  This makes people war with each other, and it makes for a nasty life.  It is this that makes man, nay, impels him, into civil society.

Chapter 14

Remember that man has, by nature, equality with every other person.  In chapter 14, we see how this plays out–man has the right to defend himself and protect his life.  The doctrine of equality is also a doctrine of self-preservation (this means we also do not have the right to take our own life).

A word about Liberty:  it is defined negatively.  It is defined as any libertarian might define–the absence of coercion.  This lowers the idea or concept of equality.  For if there is no equality there can be no liberty, as the American Founders would say.  The Founders would say that the law of nature, from where we derive equality, would prescribe certain behaviors and actions on all men.  That would be the prop to liberty, not the mere absence of coercion.  And Hobbes’ understanding of preservation goes beyond anything we have seen so far to include the right to other people’s bodies and things if the aggressor thinks it will preserve his or her body more securely.  This makes for a violent existence.

Chapter 17

There is a lot of material between 14 and 17–on alienable and inalienable rights, on contracts and covenants, etc.  The thing that impels us into society is security and fear.  Fear we will die in the state of nature and hence we need security from some power.  The hostile view of the state of nature leads Hobbes in a certain direction.  We will pick it up from here next.