Friday, 4 May 2012

Hobbes, Ethical Philosopher

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Thomas Hobbes was the first great figure in modern moral philosophy. Hobbes contention was that the concept of good and evil are related to human desire and aversion. Hobbes’ outlook on the topic of values will be discussed along with my personal views of his philosophy.

Thomas Hobbes was the first thinker to systematically approach ethics from a scientific viewpoint. Hobbes traveled around Europe to meet with scientists and to study different forms of government. He became interested in learning why people allowed themselves to be ruled, and what would be the best form of government for England. Thomas Hobbes was the first great figure in modern moral philosophy. He had a pessimistic view of people; he believed humans were selfish creatures that would do anything to better their positions. Hobbes also thought that people could not be trusted to make decisions on their own, and a country needed an authority figure to provide direction and leadership. Therefore, Hobbes believed in an absolute monarchy, a government that gave all power to a king or queen. He also thought that people should obey their king, even if he is a tyrant. He said that because people were only interested in promoting their own self-interests, democracy would never work. In fact, he thought democracy was very dangerous.

In 1651, Thomas Hobbes wrote his famous work, Leviathan which put into writing his views on democracy and monarchy. In this work, he argued that the notion of mechanistic materialism which was central to the physics of the time applied to ethics as well. He attempted to show that in humanity’s natural condition the rule of self-preservation produces a morality based on self-interest. In that condition, he reasoned, the concepts of right and wrong did not exist, they only began to exist when a civil society was formed.

Governments were created, according to Hobbes, to protect people from their own selfishness and evil. The best government was one that had the great power of a leviathan, or sea monster. Hobbes believed in the rule of a king because he felt a country needed an authority figure to provide direction and leadership. The only way a civil society could control the pursuit of individuals’ self-interest and the conflict that such pursuit inevitably generates is to have everyone adhere to the sovereign. Although Hobbes believed in the Golden Rule, he believed that people could not be trusted to practice it.

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Although society needs a form of government by which they must be governed in order for all people to act accordingly, an absolute monarchy is an extreme form of control. Giving any one party too much control over its people will inevitably lead to corruption. Society must be able to have a voice in the way their country operates. Although many human decisions are motivated by self-interest and greed, the same motives are also used to create a better society for all to live in. Freedom to express one’s opinions leads toward progress in society. By controlling peoples’ actions and beliefs, society would not be where it is today. Countries, such as ours, that have always lived in a democratic government are far more prosperous than countries that impose far more restrictions of their people.

Hobbes masterpiece Leviathan set out his ideas with great clarity. He argued that people want to live in peace and security and to attain this they must organize themselves into communities for protection. Since there will always be some in the community who cannot be trusted, people must set up a government with their authority to make and enforce laws necessary to protect the community.

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