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Thomas Hobbs Theory On Human Nature And Ethics Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 2819 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Many people are content with the way things are. I believe that the majority of today’s civilization is in a neutral state of understanding and don’t really care to know how this state of contentment became. One word can sum up the many reasons that things are the way they are today that word is fear.

Throughout history, there are examples of how certain events can happen that will cause people to become overwhelmed with fear. Part of the reason for this, is these events have shaken the confidence that many will have in their various leaders and political systems. Once this takes place, it means that the social fabric holding society together, will completely deteriorate. When this happens a majority of people will begin to fend for themselves, versus attempting to work within the social frame work. In some cases, a new society will quickly emerge to fill this void because the masses are desperate for some kind of law and order. To achieve this objective, many will often give up their personal freedoms for the benefit of the group. A good example of this form previous times can be seen in Germany after the end of World War I. Where, the majority of the people would lose confidence in their leaders, because of the economic and social upheavals that were occurring. (“Holocaust Encyclopedia “)This is significant, because it shows how the loss of confidence in a political / social system can have devastating consequences down the road. To understand this aspect of human nature and how ethics affects thinking one can examine the ideas of Thomas Hobbes. I will illustrate Thomas Hobbes theory on human nature and ethics by using William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I will also attempt to use firsthand knowledge of the state of nature that still exists in some societies in today’s modern times. Together, these two elements will provide insights as to how Hobbes’ theories can explain human nature and ethics.

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Thomas Hobbes discusses his different ideas on human nature and the role of ethics in a multi-volume work that he wrote called Leviathan. Wherein all he would write a total of four volumes underscoring his views. Volume one (Of Man), volume two (Of Common-wealth), volume three (Of Christian Common-wealth), and volume four (Of the Kingdom of Darkness), of these volumes, volume one is where Hobbes establishes the basic foundation for his theories, as he would use the other volumes to elaborate on specific aspects of his theory. (“Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”)

At the heart of Hobbes political and social philosophy is his social contract theory. This merely means that the people will have an agreement with the government for certain protections, economic well being, and freedom. This balance between the people and the government is what Hobbes refers to as civilization. This state of civilization is made possible by human laws or as Hobbes states “Lex naturalis”. With Hobbes’ social contract theory people are willing give up a certain amount of their freedoms, to receive the above benefits from the government or “Leviathan”. According to Hobbes, this is the basic social foundation that exists in all societies around the globe, (with some kind of balance taking place in one form or another). (“Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”)

Yet, when you look further, it is clear that there will be times that these kinds of social contracts will become no longer valid. Once this is occurs, is when a state of nature exists or as Hobbes states “Jus natural”. This is where everyone would have the right, to do any actions or activities of their choosing. The reason why, is because there are no rules or regulation to guide the actions of everyone. At which point, more people would begin to use these activities as a way to achieve their own objectives and survival. When this takes place, it means that there will be a constant state of war between everyone in society. A survival of the fittest mentality quickly sets in and takes shape. At which point, the overall quality of life will decline, while the rates of what civilization refers to as immortality, increases. To escape this atmosphere of lawlessness, the people will form some kind of social contract with each other. This is when they will create a society and government that will have the authority over everyone. Where, they will establish various rules and regulations, by having the people surrender a certain amount of their natural rights, to achieve order. The overall abuses that could occur at the hands of the government are a small price that is being paid to be a part of civil society. As a result, Hobbes believes that a strong central government can be able to achieve this objective, by effectively controlling and providing the services that the people require. This is significant, because it shows how within all societies there is some form of social contract that will exist on a certain level. The problem occurs when there is break down in society. People will revert to a more animalistic type of survival, creating increased amounts of instability. “It is at this point, that new societies could emerge, to address these changing realities that are taking place”. (“Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”).

In order to determine the relevance of Hobbes theories, we will examine them by comparing his ideas with William Goldings’ book Lord of the Flies. Where, this piece of literature discusses the basic foundation of human nature in comparison with law and order. This will provide the insights, as to how the social contract theory is the basic foundation for societies around the world.

In Lord of the Flies, the story begins in the midst of war with a plane evacuating a group of schoolboys. The plane is shot down over a deserted tropical island. Two of the boys, Ralph and Piggy, discover a conch shell on the beach and Piggy realizes it could be used as a horn to summon the other boys. Once assembled, the boys elect a leader and begin devising a way to be rescued. Ultimately Ralph is chosen as their leader, and Ralph appoints another boy, Jack, to be in charge of the boys who will hunt food for the entire group. Ralph, Jack, and another boy, Simon, set off on an expedition to explore the island. When they return, Ralph decides that they must light a signal fire to attract the attention of passing ships. The boys succeed in igniting some dead wood by focusing sunlight through the lenses of Piggy’s eyeglasses. However, the boys pay more attention to playing than to monitoring the fire, and the flames quickly engulf the forest. A large swath of dead wood burns out of control, and one of the youngest boys in the group disappears, presumably having burned to death. At first, the boys enjoy their life without grown-ups and spend much of their time splashing in the water and playing games. Ralph, however, complains that they should be maintaining the signal fire and building huts for shelter. The hunters fail in their attempt to catch a wild pig, but their leader, Jack, becomes increasingly preoccupied with the act of hunting. When a ship passes by on the horizon one day, Ralph and Piggy notice that the signal fire which had been the hunters’ responsibility to maintain had burned out. Furious, Ralph confronts Jack, but the Jack has just returned with his first kill, and all the hunters seemed to be enchanted while reenacting the chase in a kind of wild dance. Piggy criticizes Jack, and then hits Piggy. Ralph blows the conch shell and reprimands the boys in a speech intended to restore order. At the meeting, it quickly becomes clear that some of the boys have started to become afraid. The littlest boys, known as “littluns,” have been troubled by nightmares from the beginning, and now the boys believe that there is some sort of beast or monster lurking on the island. The older boys try to convince the others at the meeting to think rationally, asking where such a monster could possibly hide during the daytime. One of the littluns suggests that it hides in the sea, a proposition that strikes fear in the entire group. Not long after the meeting, some military planes engage in a battle high above the island. The boys, asleep below, do not notice the flashing lights and explosions in the clouds. A parachutist drifts to earth on the signal-fire mountain, dead. Sam and Eric, the twins responsible for watching the fire at night, are asleep and do not see the parachutist land. When the twins wake up, they see the enormous silhouette of his parachute and hear the strange flapping noises it makes. Thinking the noises that they here are that of the beast, they rush back to the camp in terror and report that the beast has attacked them. The boys organize a hunting expedition to search for the beastie. Jack and Ralph, who are increasingly at odds, travel up the mountain. They see the silhouette of the parachute from a distance and think that it looks like a huge, deformed ape. The group holds a meeting at which Jack and Ralph tell the others of the sighting. Jack says that Ralph is a coward and that he should be removed from office, but the other boys refuse to vote Ralph out of power. Jack angrily runs away down the beach, calling all the hunters to join him. Ralph rallies the remaining boys to build a new signal fire, this time on the beach rather than on the mountain. They obey, but before they have finished the task, most of them have slipped away to join Jack. Jack declares himself the leader of the new tribe of hunters and organizes a hunt and a violent, ritual slaughter of a sow to solemnize the occasion. The hunters then decapitate the sow and place its head on a sharpened stake in the jungle as an offering to the beast. Later, encountering the bloody, fly-covered head, Simon has a terrible vision, during which it seems to him that the head is speaking. The voice, which he imagines as belonging to the Lord of the Flies, says that Simon will never escape him, for he exists within all men. Simon faints. When he wakes up, he goes to the mountain, where he sees the dead parachutist. Understanding then that the beast does not exist externally but rather within each individual boy, Simon travels to the beach to tell the others what he has seen. But the others are in the midst of an elaborate feast even Ralph and Piggy have joined Jack’s feast and when they see Simon’s emerge from the jungle, they fall upon him and kill him with their bare hands. The following morning, Ralph and Piggy discuss what they have done. Jack’s hunters attack them and their few followers and steal Piggy’s glasses in the process. Ralph’s group travels to Jack’s stronghold in an attempt to make Jack see reason, but Jack orders Sam and Eric tied up and fights with Ralph. In the ensuing battle, one boy, Roger, rolls a boulder down the mountain, killing Piggy and shattering the conch shell. Ralph barely manages to escape the ensuing onslaught. Ralph hides for the rest of the night and the following day, while the others hunt him like an animal. Jack has the other boys ignite the forest in order to smoke Ralph out of his hiding place. Ralph stays in the forest, where he discovers and destroys the sow’s head, but eventually, he is forced out onto the beach, where he knows the other boys will soon arrive to kill him. Ralph collapses in exhaustion, but when he looks up, he sees a British naval officer standing over him. The officer’s ship noticed the fire raging in the jungle. The other boys reach the beach and stop in their tracks at the sight of the officer. Amazed at the spectacle of this group of bloodthirsty, savage children, the officer asks Ralph to explain. Ralph is overwhelmed by the knowledge that he is safe but, thinking about what has happened on the island, he begins to weep. The other boys begin to sob as well. The officer turns his back so that the boys may regain their composure.

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The plot and the story of in Lord of the Flies, underscores the different views that Hobbes would have on how societies were structured. In Lord of the Flies, the boys were somewhat traumatized from the plane crash and the backdrop of the war. This would create the basic foundation, for the overall amounts of fear that they would have, when they first arrived on the island. This fear was hidden, as the social contract that existed in the military school would remain in place in the beginning. Over the course of time, the lack of rules and these fears would begin to take on a life of their own. As it would work similar to a cancer, that would eat away at the old social contract theory. Once this began to occur, it meant that no one would take responsibility for maintaining this basic foundation. At which point, the social structure began to unravel, with the lack of rules (state of nature) and fear manifesting the changes that were occurring. Where, the majority would begin to become victims of their own fear, by believing the fact that monster was on the island. It is at this point, that the state of nature would take over and two different sub societies would emerge (one loyal to Ralph and the other loyal to Jack). This rivalry would cause the boys to engage in actions that were prohibited, in the society they came from. As their fears about the monster attacking them, would force them to kill one of their own. When confronted with this reality, the state of nature would continue to evolve in a perverse way, by denying what happened. As the majority of the boys, would seek out Ralph, in an effort to kill him. It is as this point that a total state of nature exists, as the old social contract has been destroyed and a new sub society has been created in its place. This confirms the ideas of Hobbes, by highlighting how a social contract exists on some level within all societies. This is because the various rivalries as well as individual competition; have caused many people to seek out: safety, comfort and protection. When this take place, it means that the actions of individual will begin to change, based upon these new social norms that exist. In Lord of the Flies, this is best illustrated at the end of the book, with Ralph becoming the hunted. As the former social contract that existed at the military school was: no long relevant. Instead, a state of nature took place, with a new social contract theory emerging. Where, Jack’s group will dominate and determine what is best for everyone. This is significant, because it highlights how shifts can occur in all societies. Where, when the people will become fearful and lose faith in the leadership is when, changes will take place. It is at this point, that they will seek out new social contract, as the underlying confusion from the state of nature, will force everyone in this direction.

At the same time, it can cause the ethical views that someone would have about various issues to change, based upon the underlying state of nature. Using the book Lord of the Flies, the changes in ethics occurred with the indiscriminate killings of the other boys. As this state of nature and the lack of rules, would allow this kind of behavior to be acceptable. At which point, the underlying social contract and the ability to enforce the different rules will change. This is important, because it underscores how the ethics of someone, will be influenced based upon the overall state of nature.

Clearly, the book Lord of the Flies highlights how Hobbes’ theories on human nature and ethics are correct. Where, a social contract, that exists in all societies; will form a basic foundation for how various individuals will behave. This will affect the ethics of everyone, as the different rules and regulations will determine the most acceptable behavior. When the people lose confidence in the social contract that exists, a state of nature (lawlessness) will begin to take shape. Over the course of time, this will cause the individual to act differently, as they do not have the social contract restricting their actions. However, a constant state of battle exists within society, as the lack of ethics will cause everyone to constantly clash with each other. To provide some sort of stability, a social contract is created between: the people in society and the government they have. Where, the people are agreeing to lose a certain amount of their natural freedoms, in order to have some kind of stability in their lives. The trade off, is not engaging in various activities allowed in a state of nature. In doing so, the social contract will have an impact upon the ethics and behavior of everyone within society.


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