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Thomas Hobbes vs. Immanuel Kant Essay

“Everyone 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 (Hobbes, 120). ” Thomas Hobbes, who is a considered a rational egoist, makes this point in his book Leviathan. Hobbes believes that the means of person’s actions can only be amounted to how it ultimately affects that person. Our moral duties that we perform in the end, all stem from self-interest, rather than being justified as morally right or wrong.

Hobbes states that our desires pit us against one another, and the only way to protect our self-interests is to create a common power that protects the people who consent to it. Hobbes begins by describing society as being in a “state of nature”, or a constant power struggle. All resources are limited, so when people want the same means to an end they are in competition with one another.

People are all equally equipped, with a skill set so to speak, that aids them in their endeavor to defeat others with the same purpose. This continuing competition between people is only offset by our passion to sustain peace, maintain life, and acquire commodities necessary for survival, which ultimately supports Hobbes’ theory that people only act out of self-interest. This condition of peaces or liberty from endless turmoil is only met when there is a common power that people agree to follow.

Without common power, everyone acting out of self-interest creates a world he describes as, “no place for industry…no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short (Hobbes, 118). ” To support this idea, Hobbes employs the use of contracts, and natural laws. In his first Natural Law he states to “seek peace and follow it (Hobbes, 120)”, meaning life is all about self-preservation, and we must do what is necessary to retain it.

This leads to his second law that states, a person must defend themselves by any means and by doing so we act out of self-interest. Thus, to remove society from this state of nature people must consent to covenants governed by Leviathan, which facilitates the performance of the contracts. For this to work properly each person must give up some rights to an authority.

So if one person breaks a contract; lets say people agreed not to steal from one another, the Leviathan has the power to discipline the person by endangering their way of life, or even by death. And therefore not keeping a covenant is harmful to our self-interest because “ we are forbidden to do anything destructive to our life, and consequently this is a law of nature (Hobbes, 124). ” Hobbes believes that man act based on self-interest motivated by two ideas. Fear, which, “makes natural man want to escape state of nature and reason, shows him how to escape (Hobbes, 122).

” Using these two ideas if a person does not act out of self-interest to preserve themselves through a contract, or follow a covenant we form with others ultimately everyone that is governed by that third party will not want you to be apart of the society they have formed. This will result in a person being placed back into a state of nature. 25 PART 2: Immanuel Kant When Thomas Hobbes states that “our moral duties must provide each of us with excellent reasons to obey them, and that these reasons must ultimately stem from self-interest (Hobbes, 115).

” He fails to account that our actions posses moral worth solely when they are motivated by the good will. Immanuel Kant argues that our moral acts are only done apart from our gains in the end. Its to say if everyone acted out of self-interest, committing murder because of the fear of being toppled from the top would be morally right. “A human being however is not a thing and hence not something that can be used merely as a means, but in all his actions always be regarded as an end in itself (Kant, 113). ” It is our inclination, not duty, to commit acts based on self-interest or self-preservation.

Therefore using anything at your disposal as a means would have no moral worth. “It is not enough that the action does not conflict with humanity in our person as an ends in itself; it must also harmonize with it”(Kant, 113). People must act not according inclinations or rules, but it involves performing acts that have no gains for us, and that is the only way to preserve humanity. Although Kant agrees with Hobbes that a state of nature does exist without proper authority, he counters, saying it does not exist because everyone is acting out of duty.

Stating self-interest is the motivation for our actions and ultimate end conflicts with the principle of forming a covenant to protect our self-interests. We would still be in a state of nature, due the “fool” who does not obey his covenant. Thusly, making a covenant out of self-interest can lead to people in society breaking this contract or making empty promises, as a result of later gains they may receive by not abiding. Instead, when acting out of duty “I must reflect carefully whether this lie (broken covenant) may later give rise to much greater inconvenience (Kant, 107),” which ultimately can harm our inclination to self-preserve.

Before one can act they must ask the question would they want others to act in that manner? This sets a maxim for each individual to follow, so a covenant is formed that society will not break because it our duty, and acting out of from this principle conforms to good will. The only way for society to not be in a state of nature is for everyone to be socially conscious. No one wants to be in conflict with each other and in a constant power struggle, people acting out of duty, even if calls for actions that have no means or gains to oneself is the only maintain contract.

Acting out of self-interest creates turmoil, and only through good will can people conform to their duties and feel a sense of moral worth through their actions. 20 PART 3: Thomas Hobbes Hobbes over comes Kant’s criticism that people should act out of good will by arguing that people never act purely with altruistic motives. If society as a whole acted based on what actions have moral worth, and had no means to an end, society could never prosper.

People are instinctively always looking to better themselves and Kant can agree, “Persevering one’s life is a duty (Kant, 105)”. As our duty, whether it is morally right or wrong we must do what is necessary. This agrees with Kant’s idea that if everyone’s maxim agrees to self-preserve, it is ultimately a universal law to act out of ones self-interest to do so, in the end contradicting his idea that we must exclusively act out of moral goodness. Kant also states that good will must be good in itself, but does not define what is truly morally good or bad.

If a person is a volunteer firefighter, Kant can say that this person is acting out of self-interest (feel good about helping others), so his actions have no moral worth. By stating this he claims that people in society acting with conformity to their duties rather than from duty alone have no moral value, therefore their actions cannot be just or unjust. This idea in itself is flawed, because people’s actions whether they are of self-interest or good will can be seen as morally right or wrong, because they serve to better the covenant, which they consented to.

Hobbes dismisses Kant’s idea that a covenant formed from self-interest will ultimately be broken by people who seek gains by not following it, or who do not consent to the societal agreements by simply stating, those “fools” will have no part in that society. Acting out of self-interest better preserves a covenant because when we do not follow this principle we are no longer socially accountable. Therefore, through the fear of hurting our fundamental duty to self-preserve by any means possible and reason we consent to maintain our covenant. 23 PART 4: Immanuel Kant.

While Hobbes addresses that acting out of good will leads to a society that cannot prosper, he is wrong because if society as a whole is working together and acting out duties based on good will, there will be no continual struggle for power (motivated by self-interest) allowing the covenant of man to prosper as a whole. This will eliminate the individualism and personal self-motives of man that can hold back society from making gains aimed at the whole. Hobbs misunderstood the nature of the maxim, when he states that it is solely motivated by self-interest.

In regards to the idea that all men should act out of goodwill, this leaves only one viable option for a true maxim. That maxim is the only choice that disregards means to an end. With this in mind no choice for or against our moral self-interest but for the duty of acting on good will. In Hobbs statement he leaves much to be desired in the definition what serves as goodwill. When a covenant is formed from self-interest, members seeking internal justification will slowly pollute and over destroy the covenant as a whole.

The only way to maintain authority among men is to work without regard to personal goals and aspiration and only out of goodwill, which conforms to duty. 18 WORK CITED Shafer-Landau, Russ. “Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes. ” The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 115-25. Print. Shafer-Landau, Russ. The Ethical Life: “Immanuel Kant, The Good Will and the Categorical Imperative. ” Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 115-25. Print. 86.


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