In his 1651 work Leviathan, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes argues in favor of a societal structure in which individuals must waive a portion of their natural rights to an ?artificial man? in order to avoid battling with each other. Most famously, Hobbes declared that this condition of war was the ?default scenario? that ought to be expected among humans in a government-less ?state of nature,? based on scientific principles of motion and matter which hold true in the workings of the human mind. As if through inertia, humans continue to desire additional resources (both tangible and symbolic) after they have fulfilled their basic needs, making it only a matter of time until multiple lines of human desire converge upon the same finite resource and some of the lines are fatally severed. However, through a unique grasp of symbolic language and gestures, humans have the capacity to create social contracts which rescue their creators from the physical and psychological terrors of struggling to survive in the state of nature.
[...] This point in itself does not guarantee that extra-governmental allegiances have a promising future, but it does seem to weaken the Hobbesian assumption that they are doomed to fail, as people might find it worthwhile and sustainable to forge bonds of reciprocal altruism, at least in matters of life-and- death. Thus, Kavka believes that Hobbes was a bit heavy-handed in dismissing the possibilities of “in-between” security arrangements in order to strengthen his argument for the appeal of a protected life under an absolute sovereign as opposed to a necessarily stressful and dangerous life in any other state of social interaction. [...]
[...] The second section will introduce a modern evaluation of Hobbes's argument about the state of nature as a war of all against all with respect to the Prisoner's Dilemma, drawing from a piece by Gregory S. Kavka. Hobbes strives for his political philosophy to be grounded in strict empiricism, so that the formation of commonwealths under the rule of sovereigns is understood as a cause-effect relationship proceeding from agreed-upon premises. This formation of a central government is desirable in the sense that it facilitates the acquisition of what humans have operationally defined as desirable (experiences of pleasure associated with various activities), as opposed to being desirable in terms of the a priori conceptions of the Good offered by various philosophers. [...]
[...] This law is not presented as an absolute moral imperative, but more as a logical truth that can discovered by anyone with proper reasoning abilities: the positive consequences of cooperating under a government can be predicted to outweigh those associated with individual struggle in the state of nature. In the sense that protecting life to ensure further pleasant experiences is the most compelling available in this framework, the most compelling rule for behavior is that which supports peace, as this is the most rational arrangement for long-term and widespread desire-fulfillment throughout the populace. [...]
[...] To a human observer, especially with our tendency to anthropomorphize, this organism might be judged as a “superfluous pleasure seeker” when it is actually performing the minimum amount of violence needed to survive. For example, sharks are often viewed as bloodthirsty monsters indiscriminately devouring their oceanic neighbors (and wayward surfers), when it is likely that their level of violence is only scaled up due to their equally high caloric requirements. This metaphor does not imply that all creatures only engage in the minimal amount of strife needed to survive, because plenty of humans clearly do commit violence for non-vital pleasures; rather, it illustrates how even the most “pacifistic” creatures can appear to be “bloodthirsty killers” simply by attempting to ensure their own survival amongst aggressive neighbors. [...]
[...] However, Kavka feels that Hobbes glosses over several major disadvantages to the anticipatory method in order to strengthen his position that the state of nature is characterized by all parties plotting preemptive strikes against all other parties (Kavka, 298). In his opinion, fear of losing credibility and hence future opportunities for beneficial cooperation can suffice to motivate rational self-interested parties in the state of nature to keep their agreements with one another” (Kavka, 299). To make this claim, he invokes the Prisoner's Dilemma game to show how it both represents the problems facing individuals in a Hobbesian state of nature and highlights an apparent shortcoming in the logic of Hobbes's argument. [...]
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