Thomas Hobbes Vs. Immanuel Kant
PART 1: Thomas Hobbes
“Everyone is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies (Hobbes, 120).” Thomas Hobbes, who is a considered a rational egoist, makes this point in his book Leviathan. Hobbes believes that the means of person’s actions can only be amounted to how it ultimately affects that person. Our moral duties that we perform in the end, all stem from self-interest, rather than being justified as morally right or wrong. Hobbes states that our desires pit us against one another, and the only way to protect our self-interests is to create a common power that protects the people who consent to it. Hobbes begins by describing society as being in a “state of nature”, or a constant power struggle. All resources are limited, so when people want the same means to an end they are in competition with one another. People are all equally equipped, with a skill set so to speak, that aids them in their endeavor to defeat others with the same purpose. This continuing competition between people is only offset by our passion to sustain peace, maintain life, and acquire commodities necessary for survival, which ultimately supports Hobbes’ theory that people only act out of self-interest. This condition of peaces or liberty from endless turmoil is only met when there is a common power that people agree to follow. Without common power, everyone acting out of self-interest creates a world he describes as, “no place for industry…no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short (Hobbes, 118).” To support this idea, Hobbes employs the use of contracts, and natural laws. In his first Natural Law he states to “seek peace and follow it (Hobbes, 120)”, meaning life is all about self-preservation, and we must do what is necessary to retain it. This leads to his second law that states, a person must defend themselves by any means and by doing so we act out of self-interest. Thus, to remove society from this state of nature people must consent to covenants governed by Leviathan, which facilitates the performance of the contracts. For this to work properly each person must give up some rights to an authority. So if one person breaks a contract; lets say people agreed not to steal from one another, the Leviathan has the power to discipline the person by endangering their way of life, or even by death. And therefore not keeping a covenant is harmful to our self-interest because “ we are forbidden to do anything destructive to our life, and consequently this is a law of nature (Hobbes, 124).” Hobbes believes that man act based on self-interest motivated by two ideas. Fear, which, “makes natural man want to escape state of nature and reason, shows him how to escape (Hobbes, 122).” Using these two ideas if a person does not act out of self-interest to preserve themselves through a contract, or follow a covenant we form with others ultimately everyone that is governed by that third party will not want you to be apart of the society they have formed. This will result in a person being placed back into a state of nature. 25
PART 2: Immanuel Kant
When Thomas Hobbes states that “our moral duties must provide each of us with excellent reasons to obey them, and that these reasons must ultimately stem from self-interest (Hobbes, 115).” He fails to account that our actions posses moral worth solely when they are motivated by the good will. Immanuel Kant argues that our moral acts are only done apart from our gains in the end. Its to say if everyone acted out of self-interest, committing murder because of the fear of being toppled from the top would be morally right. “A human being however is not a thing and hence not something that can be used merely as a means, but in all his actions...
Cited: Shafer-Landau, Russ. "Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes." The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 115-25. Print.
Shafer-Landau, Russ. The Ethical Life: “Immanuel Kant, The Good Will and the Categorical Imperative.” Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. 115-25. Print.
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