How does one’s understanding of human nature inform one’s account of law? Discuss with reference to at least one of Hobbes, Kant, and Rawls.
This essay title invites the analysis of two different questions. The first being whether the understanding of human nature influences one’s understanding of the need for law or not. The second question on whether the understanding of human nature affects formulation of the legal system. I believe one’s account of human nature would significantly influence one’s account of the need for law, and I would use Hobbes and Kant’s legal theory in demonstrating that. Hobbes’ conception of human nature is primarily self-preservation; where Kant’s is freedom equality or freedom harmonizing, and this essay will demonstrate that these two accounts are the underlying concepts, which map out Hobbes’ and Kant’s entire account for law. On the other hand, through deeper analysis, one’s understanding of human nature is unlikely to change the structure of the legal system. This essay is not concerned with which theory is better or more realistic to the real world, but just illustrating how the understanding of human nature would affect one’s account of law. The first part of the essay will describe and show how the understanding of human nature would account for the need for legal order, and the second half will demonstrate it has minimal effect on the structure of the legal system.
Hobbes’ account of a human being can be summarized by his Fundamental Law of Nature, “that every man ought to endeavour peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps and advantages of Warre”1, and his description of state of nature, which is “every man against every man…”2. Clearly showing that self-preservation is the main concept of Hobbes’ account of a person. And therefore the main reason for entering the civil state is also for self-preservation, as a rational man will come to the realization that in order to preserve one’s peace and common defense is to give up one’s freedom, submitting it to a commonwealth power.
Kant on the other hand, describes human being with this statement, “No one can compel me to be happy in accordance with his conception of the welfare of others, for each may seek his happiness in whatever way he sees fit, so long as he does not infringe upon the freedom of others to purse a similar end which can be reconciled with the freedom of everyone else…”3 From this statement, it is clear that the notion of equality and freedom of choice is the main concept here for Kant’s account of human nature. Hence also the main reason for entering into a civil state is to establish rules allowing us to know the limits of one’s freedom and rights, so we are able to exercise them without violating or interfering with another’s freedom, which can only be done by submitting our unilateral will to a common power, the omnilateral will.
Therefore, the reason for people to enter into a civil state is highly influenced by one’s conception of human nature. Kant’s account of a person is rational, seeks to operate within his freedom and not to violate other people’s freedom, but unsure what are the boundaries, hence the reason to enter civil condition is to create a common power to set out the boundaries of one’s freedom. For Hobbes, his account of human nature is to self-preserve, and due to his fundamental law of nature has a right to do so, the main reason to enter civil state is that it provides a peace and common defense.
The reason why Hobbes and Kant think law, and hence coercive order is needed is different, and also stems from the different accounts of human nature. For Hobbes, he believes freedom is the reason we need law. This is due to his understanding of the human nature, which is self-preservation, leading to the consistent temptation to break the law, and obtain whatever they desire. Therefore law and coercive power is required...
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