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The hobbesian state of nature: A prisoner's dilemma?

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  1. Introduction
  2. The formation of commonwealths
  3. The discrete entities of the world
  4. Arguments for an empiricist epistemology and ontology
  5. Physical and psychological stress
  6. Hobbes's War of All against All
  7. The crux of Gregory Kavka's criticism
  8. Conclusion
  9. Works cited

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. [...]

[...] While the Prisoner's Dilemma does apply fairly well to the situations of war that Hobbes describes, his creation of an either / or scenario (?arrangements that will collapse back to a state of / ?absolute government?) rests on an overextension of the Dilemma's assumptions about rationality into the real world. In other words, in order for Hobbes's strong statement about any potential allegiances crumbling in the absence of a supreme power to be true, it must actually be the case that humans consistently make the rational judgments that lead to the previously-mentioned ?domino effect? problem. [...]

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