Throughout Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes makes repeated reference to the primacy of human consciousness in provoking individuals to subject themselves to the rule of a sovereign. Specifically, the ability to conceptualize oneself as a discrete entity with a past and (imaginable) future, combined with a propensity for causal reasoning, places humans in the problematic position of fully perceiving our inevitable mortality. This perception includes both a general recognition that all organisms have finite life spans and a more acute form of terror related to the possibility (and uncontrollability) of suffering a particularly gruesome death at any moment. Hobbes argues that, at the ground level, the state and organized religion exist not only to deliver us from the actual physical conflict of the state of nature, but equally importantly, from the psychological terror that arises in an environment where death is quite salient.
[...] In conclusion, I have now summarized some of the primary shared propositions of Hobbesian political philosophy and the psychological theory of Terror Management. For fans of Hobbes, TMT provides an interesting scientific validation of some of Hobbes's most foundational claims concerning psychological terror. Similarly, followers of TMT will find Leviathan to be a fascinating precursor to an area of social science research that has gathered a great deal of funding and interest following September Beyond these specific fields, I hope that the reader will now accept my claim that the ideas presented in this essay are highly pertinent to anyone currently living in human society who wants a convincing argument for why humans have structured our cultural institutions in such a seemingly-baffling manner. [...]
[...] In a nutshell, both Hobbes and the Terror Management Theorists are saying, “Perhaps the world would be better place if we had no religions or governments, but making this shift would first require that we somehow alter our biologically-rooted tendency to comprehend and fear death.” After someone becomes physically addicted to heroin, they cannot quell their cravings simply by reasoning that they shouldn't need the next dose. Ideally, they would find a way to quit over time (i.e. “evolve of death anxiety), but in the immediate moment, the best realistic option is to acknowledge their addiction and seek out a clean needle. [...]
[...] For example, a common retort to those who consider the police to be unnecessary and violent is, “You'll be singing a different tune when there's a serial killer in your house!” By maintaining a certain level of fear in the population, the sovereign can ensure that their subjects remain loyal and do what is truly best for them in terms of survival (i.e. maintaining their social contract with each other). more insecure you feel, the more secure you will (Ahrensdorf, 583). [...]
[...] In the view of Terror Management Theory, all forms of culture (not solely religion) are symbolic representations of the supernatural, in the sense that they serve to help us transcend our natural condition of death anxiety. In Escape from Evil, Ernest Becker writes, human ideologies are affairs that deal directly with the sacredness of the individual or the group life, whether it seems that way or not, whether they admit it or not, whether the person knows it himself or (Solomon, et al., 103). [...]
[...] Most relevant to the Hobbesian account of the natural seeds of religion, death reminders have been experimentally shown to increase individuals' self-rated levels of religiosity and belief in God. It is important to note that throughout these experiments, control conditions were included that distinguished the effects of death primes from other negative concepts (such as social anxiety, intense physical pain, etc.) In other words, the findings suggest that there truly is something uniquely troubling about facing our own mortality compared to even the most troubling “life problems” (Solomon, et al., 104). [...]
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