HOBBESMEMO-F11 - Philosophy 104/Fall 2011 (R. Jay Wallace)...

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Philosophy 104/Fall 2011 (R. Jay Wallace) Notes on Hobbes’s Ethics 1. Hobbes’s argument starts with individuals, conceived as basically egoistic or self-interested in their primary aims and drives. His goal is to show that it would be rational for such individuals to be moral (to conform to certain principles of justice), under conditions in which there exists an absolute political ruler or sovereign. Morality is thus to be interpreted as a matter of enlightened self-interest, doing what is rational relative to one’s basically egoistic or self-interested goals. 2. To get clear about Hobbes’s argument for this conclusion, begin with his interpretation of the self, of basic human motives and drives. Hobbes’s approach to human psychology is materialistic : he thinks of human beings as fundamentally bodies in motion, which is to say that all that they do can be explained in terms of the motions of matter. One type of motion in the human body Hobbes calls endeavour. This is basically a question of impulsion towards or away from external objects or goals; i.e. appetite or desire, and aversion (chap. 6, para. 1). The nature of the human body is to be perpetually in motion; and this generates a constant stream of new desires, so that to be alive is for Hobbes to be in a state of desiring new things or objects all the time (chap. 6, para. 58). “Felicity” is accordingly defined, not as a state of rest or achieved satisfaction, but as “continual success” in obtaining the things which are desired (chap. 6, para. 58; chap. 11, para. 1). This leads Hobbes to say (famously) that “a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death” is a general inclination of all mankind (chap. 11, para. 2). This doesn’t mean that we have a literal infinitude of desires, nor that we are obsessed with a mad yearning for domination over our fellow humans; but that we generally and incessantly seek the means to satisfy our future desires. Not our only basic tendency, but a universal one. 3. Hobbes argues in chap. 13 that the natural condition of humans, given his understanding of their psychology, is a state of war of all against all. The argument can be reconstructed as follows: [a] Equality of natural endowments and mental powers leads each equally to hope for the attainment of his ends, and the means of such attainment. [b] Scarcity of natural means of attaining our ends, together with this basic equality of hope, leads people to a condition of competition . [c] Competition for scarce resources in turn leads to diffidence , a general condition of distrust and insecurity. [d] But the condition of general diffidence or distrust makes it rational for each to try to attain what she needs, not by productive industry, but by anticipation , that is, using force or wiles to master the persons of others; or a tendency to strike first, before waiting around to be taken advantage of. [e] This general tendency to resort to force first, in securing scarce resources and goods, just is the
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This note was uploaded on 09/19/2011 for the course PHILOSOPHY 104 taught by Professor Wallace during the Fall '11 term at University of California, Berkeley.

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HOBBESMEMO-F11 - Philosophy 104/Fall 2011 (R. Jay Wallace)...

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