Competition and Conflict: Central to Hobbes' Modern Existence Yet Incongruous to Greek Thought

Topics: Sociology, Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan Pages: 6 (2196 words) Published: December 9, 2006
One of the fundamental themes governing Hobbes' description of modern life in the Leviathan, is the dynamism between competition and conflict as a central feature of modern existence. Human life, though, hasn't always been an endless battle between individuals for better schools, better marks, better jobs, better salaries or better titles. In fact, as I shall explain in this paper, it is within the modern rejection of the ancient worldview that we find the origins of competition and conflict. From its birth in Greek teleology and through the Middle Ages (with the help of the Catholic Church), the idea has persisted that people have a specific purpose, or telos, delegated to them by nature. One's role in society was predetermined by birth; a noble was born to nobles, a commoner to commoners. It was not until the Lutheran Reformation and the religious wars that followed, in the second half of the 16th century, that people began separating from the ancient doctrines perpetuated by the Catholic Church. The ideological vacuum left by the Church gave way to a more contemporary mechanistic approach, subjecting laws of nature to mathematical paradigms. It was this new scientific approach, then, that Thomas Hobbes used to contextualize his definitions of modernity and mankind. In the Leviathan, Hobbes mechanistically dismantles human behavior and concludes mankind to be equal in its drive for physical comfort. For Hobbes, then, we are all equal and free, driven by our appetites and aversions, pursuing what we like and avoiding what we hate. An inevitable outcome of discarding the teleological worldview for the scientific one was the loss of an inherited social identity. While in pre-modern societies, an individual's social role was predetermined by birth, in modern societies, individuals are condemned to perpetual competition, in order to obtain, and maintain, an identity. Although Greek teleology and modern scientific worldviews can be compared in numerous aspects, I shall concentrate only on the ones necessary for addressing the role of competition and conflict in both. To establish a substantial basis for comparison, I will examine concepts such as equality, freedom, and personal security, and the role each plays in shaping first, the ancient worldview, and then the modern perspective. Moreover, such a comparison will, in turn, help explain the susceptibility of the modern paradigm to competition and conflict. The Teleological/Ancient Worldview

Before beginning an analysis of the ancient worldview, it is important to first understand the Teleological perspective. Once a teleological foundation has been established, we can examine how certain values prevalent during ancient Greek society were understood within this foundation. In the teleological paradigm, everything has its end purpose; all that exists, exists for a reason. In ancient thought, human conduct, insofar as it is rational, is generally explained with reference to ends pursued or alleged to be pursued. The first aspect through which we can examine the ancient teleological approach is by understanding the concept of equality among men. For the Greeks, humans are hierarchically ordered and differentiated from one another. One differentiation was that between a slave and a master, based primarily on intellectual capacity . Another differentiation was that between a slave and a woman, where the superiority of the latter was again founded in intellect. More divisions were made between the civilized and the barbarians, the rich and the poor. These differences between people led to the conception of different kinds of people; this fact later served to perpetuate the existence of social classes based on hereditary patterns. In the ancient thought, one who was born to slaves, inherited the natural qualities of slaves, and was therefore befitted for slavery himself. The same was applied to the aristocracy. It was this climate, then, that undermined competition....

Bibliography: 1. Aristotle. Politics. Trans. Benjamin, Jowett. New York: Dover Publications, INC. 2000
2. Plato. The Republic. Trans. Benjamin, Jowett. New York: Dover Publications INC. 2000
3. Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Edit. C.B.Macpherson. England: Penguin Books. 1985
4. Washington State University Website:
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