Hobbes and Kant Philosophy

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‘Both Hobbes’s & Kant’s theories of the state and its law are unsuitable in contemporary conditions of reasonable pluralism.’ Discuss. (Timed Essay in exam conditions – 1 hour)

According to Rawls we currently live in a condition of reasonable pluralism, which means that there are many different comprehensive doctrines (those which explain the meaning of life, how life should be lived etc) subscribed to within the societies. Rawls argues that this means in order to have a theory of the state and law that fits this model, it must be neutral so all the citizens would agree with it regardless of what doctrine they subscribe to. The quote indicates that Hobbes’s and Kant’s theories of state and law do not do this and are therefore not suitable for these pluralistic conditions. I will consider both Hobbes’s and Kant’s theories in order to assess whether this is the case, but I will also consider the account given by Rawls to see if he manages to develop a theory that is more suited to contemporary conditions.

Hobbes’s theory begins with the foundational assumption that we are all reasonable and rational beings and are empirically free and equal. For Hobbes freedom is a negative freedom as it means freedom from external constraints e.g. the law and equal in the sense that neither would be guaranteed to win in a battle due to equality of strength or cleverness which balances itself out. He suggests that if left to our own devices we would regress into a state of nature due to quarrels regarding competition, diffidence and reputation. The state of nature is a war of all men against all men as everyone has a right to everything. There are many laws of nature, three of the main ones being that we seek peace, we want to enjoy things and that agreements we make are kept. According to Hobbes as rational people we would see that it is reasonable to exit the state of nature and enter a civil condition in order to avoid attack and be able to live without the fear, so to do this and follow the laws of nature we would make agreements with each other to follow the sovereign who would enforce the agreements. For Hobbes laws are the commands of the sovereign.

For Rawls there needs to be a neutral base for political arrangements in order for the state and law to be stable in the future, but it may be argued that Hobbes does not fulfil this requirement as he assumes we are free and equal. However, Hobbes’s freedom and equality are not moral or tied to any particular doctrine, but are instead empirical observations, which do not seem to affect the neutrality of his theory. On the other hand it may be suggested that Hobbes’s laws of nature do affect the neutrality of his theory as Hobbes is assuming that these exist and are somewhat inherent in the world, which all doctrines may not agree with, yet again it may be argued that these are empirical observations made by Hobbes when looking at how the state of nature would develop into the civil condition and why.

Another issue that may be apparent in Hobbes’s theory in relation to suitability for contemporary conditions is that of the almost limitless power of the sovereign. I may be suggested that in modern societies there is generally a democratic system in which people have a say, even if indirect, in what the state and the law is, which does not fit into Hobbes’s theory. Although, Hobbes does suggest that the sovereign can be put into the position of power through acquisition or through the institution (i.e. being elected). It may seem that the idea of gaining power through acquisition is an old fashioned and medieval practice, but the theory could still fit in with the modern societies by looking more towards election. But, a major issue with this is that once the sovereign is in power there are very few limits on what it can do, which again may not seem to fit in with the modern reasonably pluralistic societies; it may not be agreeable by all that the sovereign ought to be powerful...
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