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Hobbes' Social Contract Theory

 
 
Arjen
 
Reply Fri 2 May, 2008 10:52 am
When discussiing Hobbes' social contract theory in class about a week ago I noticed something to which my teacher replied he had no reply. I am creating this topic to discuss what I think is happening because I would like some honest feedback instead of a teachers who is reluctant to respond to questions due to reports that will be made on his conduct.

Hobbes' social contract theory (here-after called HSCT) basis itself on rationcination. Hobbes presumes people in a "state of nature" will only act in a way which is most benificial to themselves. A quick calculation reveals that the most "profit" per transaction is made when one takes the other parties share of the transaction and withholding the own parties share of the transaction. In HSCT this "state of nature" is therefore thought to be a "war of all against all" (Bellum omnium contra omnes). In BSCT this is the reason for forming a social cotract with eachother: people need to be protected from eachother. To do this a "body" of men is created, with as a head the sovereign; together called "Leviathan".

In HSCT the state of nature is broken by a social contract full of laws and by "appointing" a sovereign. The contrast in Hobbes' mind is the absence of a "rulebase" versus the presence of a "rulebase". "Rulebase" in this sense has the meaning of a set of values (some actively enforced and some not actively enforced) which is commonly present (and can sometimes fluctuate in some ways).

A deeper analysis of HSCT reveals something else entirely in my opinion. I think Hobbes starts his reasoning from a situation where a "rulebase" already existed. He starts by saying that ratiocination brings about that people will act in that certain way by which they will stand to gain most. Therefore at that moment a certain evaluation is made: the situation is weighed against a "rulebase". The "rulebase" in question is one in which "value" is defined.

From the fact that a "rulebase" was already present I must at first draw the conclusion that the "rulesbase" Hobbes speaks of is derived from the presumption of the first. He proves the coming-to-be of a rulbase by presuming a rulebase. That is a circulatory argument.

From the fact that a "rulebase" was already present I must secondly draw the conclusion that the "rulesbase" Hobbes speaks of is added to the "rulebase" which existed prior to HSCT. We must ask ourselves why this second "rulebase" did not evolve naturally and if indeed some "rules" of the grand total did not evolve naturally how they do come into existance. Perhaps in this the necessity of enforcement lies. For only with en-force-ment one can -force- into existance unnatural things. If it would be a natural consequence of thing it would need no enforcement after all.

My key argument in this is the circle Hobbes is reasoning in. Because he does not recognise the already present "rulebase" he assumes the "rulebase" in his Leviathan the only one and thereby justified. When realising that in reality a rulebase must have been present for the second rulebase to come into existence we must considder the difference in rulebase. The original I would like to call social contract and the second I would like to call oppression or laws. Seeing as it needs en-force-ment I do not think it justified by default.
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Pythagorean
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 May, 2008 02:13 pm
@Arjen,
Quote:


A deeper analysis of HSCT reveals something else entirely in my opinion. I think Hobbes starts his reasoning from a situation where a "rulebase" already existed. He starts by saying that ratiocination brings about that people will act in that certain way by which they will stand to gain most. Therefore at that moment a certain evaluation is made: the situation is weighed against a "rulebase". The "rulebase" in question is one in which "value" is defined.


I would say the absence of a "rulebase" is the same as the state of nature where men are driven by their passions to act in ways that ultimately frustrate their future well being. The state of nature is not a "rulebase" but the raw material out of which the political philosopher works to bring into being the modern nation-state with its idea of a social contract. So I'm not sure where the locus of this circulatity is found, it appears to me to be a 'development,' a process which fashions a modern state out of raw passion.

Quote:


From the fact that a "rulebase" was already present I must secondly draw the conclusion that the "rulesbase" Hobbes speaks of is added to the "rulebase" which existed prior to HSCT. We must ask ourselves why this second "rulebase" did not evolve naturally and if indeed some "rules" of the grand total did not evolve naturally how they do come into existance. Perhaps in this the necessity of enforcement lies. For only with en-force-ment one can -force- into existance unnatural things. If it would be a natural consequence of thing it would need no enforcement after all.


If I understand it correctly Hobbes is attempting to fashion men's passions into a working order by giving them exactly what they desire. The fundamental premise of his social contract theory is that human beings should not be driven by the higher values of religion and honour but rather the more easily attainable ones of material self-sufficiency. He achieves this by offering men the possibility to satisfy their mortal appetites in the here and now; he replaces, as they say, the city of god with the city of man i.e. the modern nation-state.

But there are of course two differing state of nature theories: one is Rousseau's and the other belongs principally to Hobbes and Locke. Rousseaus sees man as completed in the state of nature while Hobbes sees him as materially frustrated and in dire need of food and security. And so Hobbes would use the lower impulses, those of hunger and practical gain in order to fashion a workable society. There is no romance in Hobbes but there is selfishness.

Anyway, there is a clear difference between the condition of man at war with man over scarce resources in the state of nature on the one hand, and man cooperating with man in order to cultivate nature for the satisfaction of selfish desire in the social contract, on the other.

Not sure if this all helps, but it is obviously an extremely important subject. Smile

--Pyth
Aristoddler
 
  1  
Reply Fri 2 May, 2008 02:57 pm
@Arjen,
Quote:
When discussiing Hobbes' social contract theory in class about a week ago I noticed something to which my teacher replied he had no reply. I am creating this topic to discuss what I think is happening because I would like some honest feedback instead of a teachers who is reluctant to respond to questions due to reports that will be made on his conduct.
What exactly was the question you presented to him?
0 Replies
 
Arjen
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 May, 2008 03:04 am
@Pythagorean,
@ Aristoddler:
I asked my teacher whether or not Hobbes was using a circulatory argument in his opinion, outlining the thoughts I have outlined above combined with some evidence concerning the Leviathans and their bellum omnium contra omnes; which I have left out here because it seems very superfluous.

@ Pythagorean:
First off: thanks for at least making a serious argument. I know all the official theories though so I am going to reply to some things in a fairly short way to get back to the point as soon as possible; namely the question if Hobbes uses a circulatory argument. I know I can be ground breaking without any consideration for the feelings of other philosophers so please do not feel discouraged in any way.

Pythagorean wrote:
I would say the absence of a "rulebase" is the same as the state of nature where men are driven by their passions to act in ways that ultimately frustrate their future well being. The state of nature is not a "rulebase" but the raw material out of which the political philosopher works to bring into being the modern nation-state with its idea of a social contract. So I'm not sure where the locus of this circulatity is found, it appears to me to be a 'development,' a process which fashions a modern state out of raw passion.

I know that this is the way Hobbes is officially explained. I do not agree with it and think it is non-sense. I have a few good reasons for this:
1) Hobbes' state of nature is supposed to be a state in which no rules exist while in his own reasonings a value-based system does exist.
2) A social contract sets itself apart from laws by not being enforced.
3) I agree that Hobbes is describing a process; a development. The development he describes is the one leading from a social contract to a state of laws however. It is a justification of the enforcement of laws from a social contract where freedom exists (<-- unnuanced opinion,gneh).

Quote:

If I understand it correctly Hobbes is attempting to fashion men's passions into a working order by giving them exactly what they desire. The fundamental premise of his social contract theory is that human beings should not be driven by the higher values of religion and honour but rather the more easily attainable ones of material self-sufficiency. He achieves this by offering men the possibility to satisfy their mortal appetites in the here and now; he replaces, as they say, the city of god with the city of man i.e. the modern nation-state.

I understand and appreciate your point. It was a point often used in ancient Greece (primarily by Aristotle). I hope that besides utalitarianistic ethics you also know deontology; or perhaps Kant's categorical imperative. From these it is clear that when giving people "goals", or when people use "goals" a certain corruption takes place. When acting on the basis of "goals" one tends to disregard people who stand in its way or are otherwise deemed not "good". In this way Hobbes tries to validate the enforment of laws. He claims it is "good" and that people who feel differently should be forced to cooperate. Where the higher reasoning in this takes place I do not know. I do know, however, that the nation-state Hobbes describes is formed by luring people from a social contract into willing slavery by offering a certain "goal". (<-- again nicely unnuaced)

Quote:

But there are of course two differing state of nature theories: one is Rousseau's and the other belongs principally to Hobbes and Locke. Rousseaus sees man as completed in the state of nature while Hobbes sees him as materially frustrated and in dire need of food and security. And so Hobbes would use the lower impulses, those of hunger and practical gain in order to fashion a workable society. There is no romance in Hobbes but there is selfishness.

I know Rousseau's theories as well as Hobbes'. I think that they are both speaking of the same thing, but in different terms.
1) Rousseau's "State of Origin" is mentioned by Hobbes; but not addressed.
2) Rousseau's "social contract" is called "State of Nature" by Hobbes.
3) Rousseau's "state"
is called "social contract" by Hobbes.

My argument for the above assesment is that in a "state of origin" (I am using Rousseau's name consciously) no "rulebase" exists and therefore no bellum omnium contra omnes can exist; there being nothing of value to fight over. I realise that a time before value is a hard thing to imagine in actuality because, as you said, people value life. However to value life one needs to value "self" and therefore possess second order logic. By use of this second order logic the "rulebase" in question has been formed. That constitues the absence of this state of origin.

p.s. The formation of this 2nd order logic is an entirely different discussion (albeit a ery interesting one) and suggests outward forces. If we were to debate it we might like a new topic.

Quote:

Anyway, there is a clear difference between the condition of man at war with man over scarce resources in the state of nature on the one hand, and man cooperating with man in order to cultivate nature for the satisfaction of selfish desire in the social contract, on the other.

There indeed is a clear difference between the condition of man at war with man over abundant resources on one hand and man cooperating with eachother to extort some others for selfish reasons. I hope you also see the distinction that I am trying to make and that Hobbes (thinking him a "good" man) did not make.

Quote:

Not sure if this all helps, but it is obviously an extremely important subject. Smile

--Pyth

I agree wholeheartedly. I would like to stress that this topic to me is not about what is being taught in schools. To me it is about what is real. What is it that Hobbes said, what is it that actually took place and where can we, in actuality, place Hobbes thoughts. My argumentation finds its proof in the fact that certain "rulebases" must have existed for Hobbes to be able to motivate the corruption of man through the selfish "goal" (a.k.a candy on a rope of a child molester). To me this proves that we should place Hobbes' reasoning in a different place altogether.
Pythagorean
 
  1  
Reply Sun 4 May, 2008 01:55 am
@Arjen,
Arjen, I'm having some difficulty understanding. Perhaps we could clear things up by starting with what I see as the first step towards comprehending Hobbes' political philosophy. That being: what is it that Hobbes begins with concerning the applications to politics? What is the original condition of man that Hobbes sees?

As I understand it Hobbes original position is straight forward in that he begins with what men would act like, what they would in fact, be like, without any civil arrangements whatsoever. This condition is called "the state of nature". And it is in this condition that men exist in a "war of all against all."

And I can not find where he states that a "value" system exists within his prepolitical state of nature. Especially since he explicitly states that here in this state is a war of all against all; there is here merely the desires of men to gain unlimited power for themselves. The only value system that Hobbes seems to be arguing against is the Aristotelian appraisal of human virtues.

So if you could please clarify the presence of these values within Hobbes' state of nature, would be helpful for me to begin to understand. Thanks.Smile

-
Arjen
 
  1  
Reply Sun 4 May, 2008 06:18 am
@Pythagorean,
Pyth, I don't understand why a reciting of Hobbes' idea of a state of nature will do either of us any good. I know how he defines and and I am pretty sure you do too. The thing is that I am of the opinion that Hobbes' is not doing what he explains he is doing. He sneaks in a prior social contract without anyone noticing it. From this social contract he moves towards a justification of a lawsystem.

Anyway, perhaps this may be a clarification:

HSCT supposes a "state of nature" in which man only "exists". The only drive is to exist and, at moment, feed on the plentifull bounties of nature. Value does not exist here. Value only comes to exist by an evaluation made when dealing with others. One can only form a value system by comparing what one has by what another has. Dealing must have taken place for one to create a value system and when dealing have taken place and values have been established a social contract has been formed between the people who had dealings with eachother. The absence of such values and therefore the clear and pure existance is the state of nature.

In effect this means that natural drives such as looking for food when hungry are present, but the drive to better onself is absent. The difference being that between first order logic and second order logic (also known as self-awareness or psychosis); the difference between "existing" and forming definitions of oneself, thereby forming a value system based on opinions instead of what is actually taking place.

Seeing as Hobbes implies values in his "state of nature" we can clearly see the there are already social interactions and the first social contracts have already been formed. His "state of nature" is based on the assumption that "the drive to better oneself" is a drive which has been with us from birth. But the value "better" cannot have been with us from birth and so must have been "adopted" at some point (after becoming "self-aware"), thus showing the "adopted" social contract. It is only from this point on that a war of all against all can exist.

So this state of nature understood in the way Hobbes explains it can only exist because of a social contract; and not be the absence of it. Thereby it is also proven that the "laws" Hobbes speaks of can only be created by the existence of "rules" (the kind in a social contract) and is therefore a circulatory argument with the mark of "goal" added to justify a judicial system which embraces "oppression" in the form of enforcement of the law.

I hope this will clarify what I mean.
Pythagorean
 
  1  
Reply Sun 4 May, 2008 01:32 pm
@Arjen,
Yes, Arjen. What you're saying is much clearer to me now. Thank you for your patience with me. Smile

Now, if I may ask a further question: am I to understand that this social contract that you speak of that exists already within the state of nature is not to be attributed to Hobbes, but is something that you yourself are offering as an original insight? Am I correct on this? And what you are advancing is the position that there already exists a social contract within Hobbes prepolitical state of nature construct? And that this social contract is prior to Hobbes' social contract so that Hobbes is, according to you, placing one social contract on top of another preexisting one rendering his argument circular?

And you say, furthermore that the "value" of a drive to "better oneself" exists within Hobbes' state of nature already, before Hobbes officially lays out his social contract (which results in the Leviathan as ruled by the sovereign). You say the value "better" is something that men have adopted already and therefore already forms a social contract.

To this critique (which I only rehash in my own words in order to be sure of my own understanding) I would offer the following:

I believe that the concept of "better" as you have given and that men, according to Hobbes, have in the state of nature is purely an analysis, by Hobbes, of the basic drives and blind passions of men in the state of nature. I think it is part of the drive for power that Hobbes speaks of and which is unconditional; a drive for power which must be given over ultimately to the sovereign in order to procure the safety that the Leviathan offers. I do not see that this "value" of human betterment that you proffer is tantamount to a social contract. Therefore I cannot conclude that Hobbes' argument, in this regard, is circular.

In order to make manifest your idea that this value already exists within the state of nature before Hobbes' official declaration of social contract, I think it is best for us to hash out the original state of nature concept as addumbrated by Thomas Hobbes. This, in order for you to be able to convincingly interpolate the existence of your pre-social contract social contract.

What I'm saying is that I don't find your argument regarding the concept of betterment as a value in the state of nature to be convincing as far as me being able to definitively draw the conclusion that a social contract is already in place before the fact. Of course, Arjen, I could be dead wrong and am willing to listen and hopefully learn.Smile

It is not my intention to be merely negative here, it is just that I simply am not convinced of your argument (yet!).

For example, perhaps you could explain exactly why the value "better" as in "the drive to better oneself" is not already present within man at birth? How is the value "better" not a pre-social value? What makes it such a value so as to constitute a social contract in your eyes?

Thanks, Arjen.

--
0 Replies
 
Arjen
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 May, 2008 01:13 pm
@Arjen,
--Intermezzo--
I would like to ask if this si going to boil down to the question if "the law" of survival of the fittest exists in actuality. If it does perhaps we should open a topic on that first. What do you say Pyth?
--/Intermezzo--
Pythagorean
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 May, 2008 10:28 pm
@Arjen,
Arjen wrote:
--Intermezzo--
I would like to ask if this si going to boil down to the question if "the law" of survival of the fittest exists in actuality. If it does perhaps we should open a topic on that first. What do you say Pyth?
--/Intermezzo--


Interesting idea..

(I might point out that any "law of survival" cannot be man-made.)

/still willing to give your accusations against Hobbes the fair hearing they deserve>

Smile
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 May, 2008 09:29 pm
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean wrote:
Arjen, I'm having some difficulty understanding. Perhaps we could clear things up by starting with what I see as the first step towards comprehending Hobbes' political philosophy. That being: what is it that Hobbes begins with concerning the applications to politics? What is the original condition of man that Hobbes sees?

As I understand it Hobbes original position is straight forward in that he begins with what men would act like, what they would in fact, be like, without any civil arrangements whatsoever. This condition is called "the state of nature". And it is in this condition that men exist in a "war of all against all."

And I can not find where he states that a "value" system exists within his prepolitical state of nature. Especially since he explicitly states that here in this state is a war of all against all; there is here merely the desires of men to gain unlimited power for themselves. The only value system that Hobbes seems to be arguing against is the Aristotelian appraisal of human virtues.

So if you could please clarify the presence of these values within Hobbes' state of nature, would be helpful for me to begin to understand. Thanks.Smile

-

It seems strang to see people without knowledge of primitives as the civilized Greeks, and Hobbs thinking that people in a more natural state where without law. What primitives are is without a convention for dealing with civilized people. They are, as far as I can tell from readings in Anthropology, never without law. People take a great step when they form larger societies and confederacies, and it because the need for peace means that people cannot go directly after their goal of honor. If their honor is offended or injured, for the sake of peace they must appeal to the larger society for justice. The social contract, of which there is some real evidence is a bargain made for all the essentials of civilized life, peace, honor, and justice. People give up being their own cop, and make a formality of law, but the law should be essentially the same if it is to work. If you look at humanity you see that our needs have always been the same, and that primitives, having little of technology, lived in highly regimented communities. We have changed our forms of relationship. We have not changed mankind, or our most basic needs. I just bought Locks' Of Civil Government on a recent trip to Chicago. I am afraid when I read it I will find he believed that people are created and not hatched. To believe people are hatched, born, concieved, raised and socialized means people are never without restraint, and never without society. People have never been so lonely that they did not need to curb their behavior to reach a common goal. The conception of the individual, free or feral is an illusion. We have always had law. I have always had law. You have always had law.
0 Replies
 
Fido
 
  1  
Reply Tue 6 May, 2008 09:35 pm
@Pythagorean,
Pythagorean wrote:
Interesting idea..

(I might point out that any "law of survival" cannot be man-made.)

/still willing to give your accusations against Hobbes the fair hearing they deserve>

Smile

Every law is a formulation of behavior. If you note a certain repetition of behavior you only need to state it to state a law. Laws for humanity, if they are good, are just, and are just because they serve obvious and undeniable needs human beings have had and will have forever. People who make laws to serve their vanity or protect their privilage are flogging their dog before the whole world.
0 Replies
 
StephA
 
  1  
Reply Mon 4 May, 2009 08:39 am
@Arjen,
I have a question about Hobbe's Social Contract Theory. What can we say is his decision procedure; as in how does he say we are suppose to make ethical decisions. And Why should we agree with him??
Steph
0 Replies
 
 

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