2BA Group B: Hobbes, Rationality and Consistency

From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Hobbes_(portrait).jpg

The discussion for next Monday demands that you read chapters 13, 14,15 and 17 of the Leviathan. If you have not yet bought the readings pack, the book can be downloaded without breech of copyright here: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/f_hobbes.html

The reading may not be easy, and demands close attention. However, there are a few things left hanging unexplored by Hobbes which we may well discuss in class:

Is he saying that mankind is not rational….that we are driven by unconscious desires to compete or that we have only basic instincts …or is he saying we are somehow rational…..?

Can you find in the text whether he explictly says mankind is rational or not?

Does his discussion of the problem of GLORY not suggest something other than rational competitition-we are not fighting over our survival or material wealth but over our subjective sociological standing? But might there be non-fighting ways to improve one’s social standing–for example by co-operation?

If we are in fact irrational beasts, driven by GLORY, how does he presume that the pervading force of the Leviathan will deter us?

Rationally, we ought to know the Leviathan king will send his army to ‘police us’. But if we’re drunk and wild we may well riot and be dammed anyway. This doesn’t seem like a recipe for order but for continually calling out the Leviathan’s troops to surpress what would be irrational mobs.

Conversely, if we are even somehow rational, then why can we not bargain with eachother to get the things we want-does it have to be literally a war of all against all? Could we not be persuaded to keep order with each other by bribery, or trade, or just by custom?

He cites the example of distrust to suggest its rational for people to ‘strike first’ against another person. However, surely the victim can anticipate this, and the prospective attacker can guess that the victim so anticipates? If we are rational enough to compete like this could we not be rational enough to realise it is very costly and risky….and it might be much more rational to do the opposite-assume goodwill and co-operate. Only if someone cheats do you retalliate afterwards?

Hobbes suggests that men are more or less equal as regards to their capabilities (which was quite a radical statement for his time). If people are more or less equal as regards their mental and phsyical abilities why does he assume that competition between people will be so intense…..surely it would be much greater if there were a class of people with obviously less intelliegence or who were physically weaker in some way?

In Chapter 14 Hobbes has a long passage about why logically we need to renouce our rights to self-defence in order to cancel out the threat of attack (these rights are then transferred to the state/Leviathan) But is this really logical? Could not my right to have a shot gun deter the armed robber….resulting in a peaceful standoff? Or is Hobbes saying this is a recipe of escalation-the robber will get a better and nastier weapon to defeat mine, and so? He then moves on to discuss contract and perhaps the most accessible  bit is ‘the force of words is too weak to hold men to the peformance of their covenants’. There are many examples where this is true in life, however, ‘the force of words’ or giving my word can be powerful. People live and die by their reputation and sociologically who will contract again with a person known to be untrustworthy? Might there not be ways for the two parties to build into the contract, methods to avoid cheating? He dismisses all this sociological restraint and says instead that only fear (of physical violence) will work.

Is Hobbes correct that (a) threats of violence are necessary to enforce co-operation/contracts and order? And that (b) threats of violence between individuals will not work and this right for defence will have to be renounced and handed over to the state-so that the state has a monopoly on violence?

This is not totally abstract stuff: Americans have a huge debate about the right to carry and use personal weapons today. Which begs the question, what would Hobbes say about that?

He comes to his conclusion in favour of a Leviathan and sets it out most starkly at the end of Chapter 17, on page 9. “the only way’….note he says ‘the only way’….is it logically the only way based on what he has said previously?

Logically, what would prevent the sovereign Leviathan from suffering from a bad dose of GLORY, such that he might start stealing our property by say excessive taxes, backed by an army….much like a robber?

Is Hobbes being consistent here?


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