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Hobbes’ Political Philosophy Essay

Hobbes argues that the state of nature is a state of perpetual war of all against all and consequently, the life of man in the state of nature “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (xiii, 9). In this paper I will explain Hobbes’ arguments that support his claim to the state of nature. I will also assess these arguments and state that they are not valid and, therefore, not sound. I will then talk about the most controversial premise, relative scarcity of goods, and how Hobbes would respond to the objections of this premise.

I will then talk about his response to this objection being unsuccessful. Finally, I will assess whether it will be possible to leave the state of nature given the factors Hobbes describes that create the state of nature. I will show that Hobbes’ argument on how men will leave the state of nature is a valid and sound argument. According to Hobbes this war of “all against all” comes from three key points. First, Hobbes states that there is a rough equality among men. Hobbes means by equality of men, that one man is not strong or intelligent enough that he can overpower two men.

Secondly, because of this equality between men, if there is competition for the same goods, men will begin to distrust each other. Lastly, Hobbes states that because of this mistrust there is a cascade effect. The anticipation of one man being attacked causes them to attack the other because they consider it a better option to attack, rather than wait and be attacked. According to Hobbes this leads to a war of all against all. This is an invalid argument and therefore unsound. I will show that this argument is invalid by showing that because of the equality of men there is a fear among men.

The premise dealing with the equality of men makes this argument invalid because if all men were considered equal, then men would be in constant fear of one another. This is due to the lack of ability to overpower each other. They would be unwilling to attack each other because there is no assurance that they would win because of this. The most controversial premise is the one dealing with the competition between goods. The scarcity of goods does not necessarily have to lead to a competition amongst the goods.

An example of this is the Native Americans. They could be considered to have lived in the state of nature, but they did not live in a state of a war of all against all as described by Hobbes. Some tribes had goods that other tribes did not have and vice versa. The tribes realized this and traded their own goods with each other. Hobbes might respond to this objection by saying that this is an invalid argument because it is relying on the premise that everyone is going to keep to their covenants in the state of nature.

If people behave rationally and act on their own self-interest it would make sense that people would break their covenants after the other party has completed their side. They would break them because they would have more to gain This response would not be adequate because Hobbes also states in Leviathan, that if one side completes their part of the covenant then the other side should keep their part, even in the state of nature. If one were to not keep their covenant, then they may not be trusted to keep covenants by another group because of their previous breaking of covenants.

Hobbes’ description of the state of nature as a state of a constant war of all against all is that it is not a literal state of every man against every man but more like a war of several small groups of family and friends against other groups of the same. The key factors that generate the state of war are equality of men, scarcity of goods, competition for goods, mistrust because of competition, mistrust generates anticipation of an attack, and therefore they arm and attack.

Hobbes’ argument assumes that people behave rationally and act on their best self interest. If they act in their best self-interest in the state of nature it will cause them both to arm and attack each other rather than to disarm and have peace. They will do this because it is in their best self-interest. If one of them were to disarm and the other were to arm then the one who arms would have victory over the other who disarmed, who will have defeat. Rationally they would both arm and attack each other causing a war of all against all.

In order to escape the state of nature men must first realized that it would be better if they compact together under a sovereign. They must then decided on a common sovereign and allow that sovereign to rule over all, despite whom each individual chose. I will show that Hobbes’ argument that gets men out of the state of nature is valid and sound. I will show this by taking the premise that men act on their own self-interest, and explain how it will lead to an escape of the state of nature.

If men have the option, either to remain independent or compact together with someone else under a sovereign, and if men think rationally, then it would be in their best self-interest to live under the common interest and the protection of the sovereign. It is in their best self-interest because if they remained independent then they would be at a disadvantage because the others would have the backing of everyone who has compacted with the sovereign.

Additionally, if there is a dispute between who is to be sovereign, even if it is not the one that they would prefer, if they behave rationally, they would decide to compact under the rule of that sovereign. It is in their self-interest to live under a sovereign even if they did not want them as sovereign, instead of reverting back to the state of nature. Assuming Hobbes is correct in stating that the state of nature is a war of all against all, it is shown that even with the mistrust between people, it will still be rational to compact under a sovereign to escape the state of nature.


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