Human Nature and Philosophy

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Human Nature
Human beings are physical objects, according to
Hobbes, sophisticated machines all of whose functions
and activities can be described and explained in
purely mechanistic terms. Even thought itself,
therefore, must be understood as an instance of the
physical operation of the human body. Sensation, for
example, involves a series of mechanical processes
operating within the human nervous system, by means of
which the sensible features of material things produce
ideas in the brains of the human beings who perceive
them. (Leviathan I 1)

Human action is similarly to be explained on Hobbes's
view. Specific desires and appetites arise in the
human body and are experienced as discomforts or pains
which must be overcome. Thus, each of us is motivated
to act in such ways as we believe likely to relieve
our discomfort, to preserve and promote our own
well-being. (Leviathan I 6) Everything we choose to do
is strictly determined by this natural inclination to
relieve the physical pressures that impinge upon our
bodies. Human volition is nothing but the
determination of the will by the strongest present
desire.

Hobbes nevertheless supposed that human agents are
free in the sense that their activities are not under
constraint from anyone else. On this compatibilist
view, we have no reason to complain about the strict
determination of the will so long as we are not
subject to interference from outside ourselves.
(Leviathan II 21)

As Hobbes acknowledged, this account of human nature
emphasizes our animal nature, leaving each of us to
live independently of everyone else, acting only in
his or her own self-interest, without regard for
others. This produces what he called the "state of
war," a way of life that is certain to prove
"solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
(Leviathan I 13) The only escape is by entering into
contracts with each other—mutually beneficial
agreements to surrender our individual interests in
order to achieve the advantages of security that only
a social existence can provide. (Leviathan I 14)

Human Society
Unable to rely indefinitely on their individual powers
in the effort to secure livelihood and contentment,
Hobbes supposed, human beings join together in the
formation of a commonwealth. Thus, the commonwealth as
a whole embodies a network of associated contracts and
provides for the highest form of social organization.
On Hobbes's view, the formation of the commonwealth
creates a new, artificial person (the Leviathan) to
whom all responsibility for social order and public
welfare is entrusted. (Leviathan II 17)

Of course, someone must make decisions on behalf of
this new whole, and that person will be the sovereign.
The commonwealth-creating covenant is not in essence a
relationship between subjects and their sovereign at
all. Rather, what counts is the relationship among
subjects, all of whom agree to divest themselves of
their native powers in order to secure the benefits of
orderly government by obeying the dictates of the
sovereign authority. (Leviathan II 18) That's why the
minority who might prefer a different sovereign
authority have no complaint, on Hobbes's view: even
though they have no respect for this particular
sovereign, they are still bound by their contract with
fellow-subjects to be governed by a single authority.
The sovereign is nothing more than the institutional
embodiment of orderly government.

Since the decisions of the sovereign are entirely
arbitrary, it hardly matters where they come from, so
long as they are understood and obeyed universally.
Thus, Hobbes's account explicitly leaves open the
possibility that the sovereign will itself be a
corporate person—a legislature or an assembly of all
citizens—as well as a single human being. Regarding
these three forms, however, Hobbes himself maintained
that the commonwealth operates most effectively when a
hereditary monarch assumes...
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