Hobbes and Aristotle: Lectures 12, 13, 14(Prof Smith)
Hobbes was a product of his troubled times in more senses than one, forced to flee England to Paris where he would write his greatest work Leviathan.
Prof Smith introduces Hobbes with the following historical information:
“The modern system of European states was just beginning to emerge. In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia brought an end to more than a century of religious war ignited by the Protestant Reformation. The treaty ratified two doctrines: firstly, individual states would henceforth become the highest level of sovereign authority, putting an end once and for all to the universalist claims of the Holy Roman Empire. Secondly the head of each state would have the right to determine the religion of the state, thus putting an end to the claims of a single universalist church. In 1651 Leviathan was published.
This introduction deserves discussion from the point of view of the Kantian Enlightenment because it was in Kants work that universalism in the form of Cosmoplitanism was restored along with a renewed respect for Religious universalist ethics that aimed to create a brotherhood of all mankind transcending the so-called sovereignty of nation states. Kant pointed clearly and distinctly to the failure of the nation state to achieve a peaceful coexistence of nations. Wars would continue he predicted until international cooperation and law was an acknowledged regulator of interstate activity. Apparently, Napoleon’s troops visited the site of Kant’s grave shortly after he died but as to the reason why we can but speculate. And so wars continued into the 20th century where we witnessed two world wars, the use of weapons of mass destruction twice on civilian populations, and a cold war which with its threat of mass destruction brought the world to the brink of annihilation. Given this look at these events through the Kantian telescope, one can but wonder whether there is a case for embracing a Kantian Cosmopolitanism: a Kantian kingdom of ends transcending any kind of temporary peace that any nation state can promise its citizens. Such a kingdom is, of course, reminiscent of Aristotle´s proposal of a kingdom of friendship among citizens in a unit of political organization much smaller than the state. Aristotle possibly saw this as a model for cooperation between city-states but the model was obviously going to fail once city-states with cultures very different to one’s own were encountered. What grounds could there be for regarding the citizens of such states as siblings which one trusts? One of Aristotle’s pupils, Alexander the Great, attempted to solve the problem of warring city-states with the idea of an Empire of city-states but the idea failed probably because of the absence of a universalist ethics transcending the instrumentalism of a military occupation. Alexanders Project would certainly be more sympathetically appreciated by a Hobbesian political philosopher interested in analyzing the Alexandrian phenomenon into the components of security and power, although Hobbes may have been dumbfounded by an absolute sovereign who insisted on dressing in the same way as the inhabitants of the parts of his Empire he is visiting.
What evidence is there for the Kantian Cosmopolitan view of the world? In a lecture given by Edward Luck we are provided with some very interesting data for the thesis that International Organizations(our “homeless institutions”) have proliferated in the 20th century and further, there is considerable evidence in spite of spectacular failures, that they are doing the moral and legal work they were intended for. Hobbes is often placed firmly in the realist camp of political science which believes that power and security of the individual state will always trump the liberal and constructivist internationalist viewpoints which prioritise morality and idealism. Luck points to the activity of the International Organizations, including the United Nations Security Council, and the facts are overwhelmingly against the realist/materialist thesis that these organizations do not function:
“There has been progress. The number of wars between states is down strikingly since the end of the cold war. The number of wars within states are also down. The number of refugees is significantly down. The number of internally placed are down. Economic trends suggest that growth rates are going up in the developing countries: infant mortality is down and life expectancy is up. The number of people in poverty is significantly down.”
Luck also points to the obvious violations of the Hobbesian sovereignty principle:
“The UN clearly is violating sovereignty yet there are very few complaints about this. Why? Some commentators refer to the sovereignty gap—the gap between what the citizens of a state require and what the state is able to provide for the citizens under its own steam.”
The European Union Peace project which includes the four freedoms of freedom of movement for goods, capital services, labour is another unit of political organization that transcends the sovereignty of the nation-states. It began as a trading union and soon grew into a Kantian peace project. Whatever the fate or destiny of the European project it is at least testimony to the thesis of universalism albeit of a limited European variety. It has also in recent times become fashionable to look upon the European colossus as a Leviathan or artificial artifactual construction of the children of pride yet out of step with the Hobbesian view of the sovereignty of nation-states and the Hobbesian view of human nature.
We are, Hobbes maintained, creatures dominated not by good intentions as Aristotle proposed but rather by two passions that dominate our existence; fear and pride. Smith has this to say on the topic:
“It is not reason but our passions that is the dominant force of our psychology. Two main passions dominate human nature: pride and fear. How then do we tame these passions…Part of the educational function of the Leviathan is to get us to see the dangers of pride and the advantages of peace. Fear, when properly directed leads to peace and to civil society. It is because of fear that we reason. The first and fundamental law of nature is to seek peace and preserve it. In order to achieve it we have an obligation to lay down our arms under the condition that others do so too Hobbes has 19 laws which he claims constitute a framework for the establishment of a society. These laws raise a moral problem as to their moral status. They are not physical laws but rather rules forbidding anyone to do anything that is life- destroying. If, for example, these laws are meant to be moral laws or rules then presumably we have the freedom to either obey or disobey them…These laws are not descriptive, describing how people behave but prescriptive of how people ought to behave.”
The closing words of the above quote focus on the major problem with Hobbes’ theory very clearly. His view of human nature is given in descriptive language, characterizing it in terms of the necessary psychological laws of the passions. Yet at the same time, he seems to be aware that one can only build the optimal society(which presumably does not yet exist) with a set of prescriptions which will then need to have some close logical relation to the psychological descriptions that were presented. With Hobbes, we are hearing an old siren song sung by Thrasymachus and Glaucon in the early books of the Republic: a song about the problem of the logical relation between descriptions and prescriptions. It must be a form of psychological reasoning that in Hobbes’ view will lead to theories of how people will predictably behave when being subjected to the pride and fear. It looks very much as if Hobbesian men will be egoists as David Philips(Houston Univ) claims in his lectures on Ethics. The descriptive theory relating to these men Philips refers to as “Psychological egoism”. Psychological egoism claims that men as a matter of fact and a matter of human nature put their own interests and desires first. Philips also, in this context, refers to the theory of ethical egoism in his discussion of Hobbes. The implication is that ethical egoism is the theory that Hobbes(and Thrasymachus and Glaucon) subscribes to, namely that “Men ought to be selfish”. In all three cases(Hobbes, Thrasymachus, and Glaucon) it appears as if the argument for ethical egoism is psychological egoism. This argument suggests that we can deduce or otherwise derive an ought from an is-statement, or alternatively, reduce an ought- statement to an is -statement. A Kantian or Wittgensteinian investigation into this problem in accordance with either the methods of critical philosophy or the method of grammatical investigations would very quickly reveal the fact that the above arguments in defense of Hobbes are confused.
Putting the above discussion aside for the moment let us ask how Hobbes imagines that his 19 laws will work to lift people out of a state of nature in which there is a war of all against all, preventing men from engaging in the long-term projects that build societies or civilizations. Why would anyone, according to the Hobbesian theory, do anything for anyone else?. Why to take David Philips’ example, would a New York fireman enter a burning tower of offices to save his fellow man? The mechanism which supposedly motivates the fireman to perform a life-threatening action is the social contract. In this contract, Hobbes argues, man has traded away some of his liberty for security to a sovereign power who would employ firemen to risk their lives in burning high rise tower blocks. But the theory does not support this. These individuals have given up their freedom for a security which is egoistic, a theory that entails a selfish guarding of one’s own life. Why under these terms of the contract would anyone risk their lives for other egoists? A Hobbesian theory has no coherent answer to this.
The motivation that Hobbes does give for a man to abandon a state of nature for a more peaceful form of existence is basically consequentialist. The consequences of living in a state of nature, Hobbes argues, are that there is no society building activity:
“ no condition for industry because the fruit thereof is uncertain, no agriculture of the earth, no sea trade, no commodious building, no knowledge of the face of the earth: no account of time: no arts: no letters, no society: and which is worst of all, continual fear of violent death, and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty brutish and short.”(Leviathan, 84)
Hobbes was an empiricist and in that spirit some commentators of asked whether there was ever a time when man lived in a Hobbesian state of nature. Hobbes does not point to any period of history to justify his hypothetical state of nature but merely refers to his present time. He asks us to reflect upon the facts that:
“when taking a journey, he arms himself, and seeks to go well accompanied: when going to sleep he locks his doors: when even in his house he locks his chest: and this when he knows there be laws and public offices.”(Leviathan 84)
Hobbes’s materialism may have been nurtured at the bosom of Cartesian rationalism. Together with Bacon, Hobbes is considered one of the fathers of English Empiricism. Both thinkers shared with Descartes a contempt for Aristotelian thought and both would have been highly suspicious of Cartesian rationally based metaphysics. Both Hobbes and Descartes stand at the gateway to the modern world in their wish to discard the chains of the past. Kenny reports in his History of Western Philosophy that neither were learned men and both possessed modest libraries. Now given the fact that Hobbes regarded Descartes’ philosophy of mind as fanciful metaphysics it may have come as a surprise for him to learn that later commentators of his work have regarded the sovereign of the Leviathan as a metaphysical construction. Hobbes’ sovereign is both the source of the law and subject to the law and the very idea of social contract binding rulers and ruled was also regarded by David Hume as metaphysical.
Smith has this to say about the concept of the Sovereign:
“The Sovereign is not a person but an office, an artificial person brought into being by the social contract. It is the creation of the people and the consent of the governed. Hobbes’ sovereign is more equivalent to a modern executive authority. The state is not the possession of the sovereign, rather the sovereign is authorized to secure for the people the limited ends of peace and security. The power of the sovereign for Hobbes is unlimited and yet it is the creation of the people it represents. Hobbes is neutral to the question of what form the sovereign should take. Among the sovereigns powers are control of the laws concerning property, the rights concerning peace and war(foreign policy), the rules of justice concerning life and death(criminal law), what books and ideas should be made public(censorship)…..the sovereign can never act unjustly.”
What, one wonders, would Aristotle have made of this theory with its absence of the virtues of courage and beneficence. What did Kant think of this reduction of a man’s freedom to the status of a bargaining chip in a commercial business relationship which reduces reason to the calculation of consequences? Perhaps when Kant referred to man’s dignity as being “beyond any price”, these words may have been a response to Hobbes. We know that Locke and Hume were more of an inspiration to Kant than Hobbes. Locke certainly believed in the social contract but not in a Hobbesian state of nature where all are fighting with all. Locke’s state of nature was a pastoral affair with men engaging in long-term projects but requiring a legal system to resolve disputes. These disputes were resolved in an atmosphere of evidence and reason far from the madding crowd where passions are sovereign.
Perhaps we should pause at this point to consider the hiatus both Hobbes and Descartes wished to create between their philosophies and the philosophy of Aristotle. In this context we need to note that Aristotle was not the Philosopher of choice by religious authorities until Aquinas came on the scene and parsed away(from a religious perspective) the less palatable aspects of Aristotle’s hylomorphic theory. Subsequent to this event the madding crowd demanded Reformation of the Church and when the reformation came it came in the spirit of modernism, inspiring a Counter-Reformation which merely served to emphasize the already deepening divide that in its turn created an almost perfect environment for religious warfare. The conflicts lasted until 1648 when a war-weary group of statesmen met in Westphalia to end this modern chain of religious consequences: a chain of consequences reaching back to the universalist intentions of a Holy Roman Empire which in its turn had its militaristic universalist origins in the Roman Empire.
This chain of events should have sufficed for the abandonment of any form of universalist intention altogether but this did not happen in spite of the fact that divisive war creating forces did not disappear with the treaty of Westphalia. On the contrary, divisive forces remained operative in the new nation-state system both between states and within states. Plato and Aristotle had attempted to use a non-consequentialist form of rationality to address the latter question but neither had an answer to the former question of war between states.
The theoretical world mirrored the practical, and the empiricists and the rationalists divided the theoretical world accordingly. This state of affairs would continue for over one hundred years until Kant produced his brilliant critical synthesis of these antithetical positions. In practical terms, Kant restored faith in an ethical universalism that would be a consequence of rationality becoming a universal standard for the human species at least to the extent that wars would no longer be fought and regulatory bodies would be handling international affairs in accordance with laws which would meet both legal and moral criteria. In other words with this synthesis, a solution to the problem of universalism was produced. Man as a species was simply progressing toward a state of existence in which less money would be spent on wars and more on education to begin our long journey of progress toward a goal we may never reach because of the possibility that whatever form of life one imagines improvements can always be conceived: a journey that Kant imagines will be at least one hundred thousand years long. For Kant, this process would be steered by two imperatives and one attitude: the ethical categorical imperative and world-building knowledge imperatives which would include instrumental and technical imperatives and a philosophical view of education.
Both Kant and Aristotle recognize the resultant pluralism of forms of life if people are granted the freedom to live as they wish. Aristotle’s ethics bears other resemblances to the ethics of Kant. Both positions realize the necessity of integrating ethics with theories of human nature and politics. For Aristotle too, man is not always rational but ought to be, and according to him, the chances increase if he lives in a city-state of the right kind. Men may not be universally rational but they can recognize rational processes when they participate in them. Participation in such processes in fact assists in the bringing about of phronesis and Sophia in the populace who are well able to recognize the virtues of self-control, courage, honesty, and beneficence. All realize that the rational man ought to possess these virtues and if they do they will lead flourishing lives(contrary to the observations of Thrasymachus and Glaucon that just men do not lead good lives). According to Aristotle, participation in state building activities will also emphasize the virtues which will include trusting in the judgment and ability of one’s fellow citizens as one does in the relation to ones siblings. The city will be a kind of extended family in which the Eros of sibling affection will be counteracted by the natural sibling rivalry there is between citizens of an optimal constitutional state. Aristotle’s focus is on the potential rationality of the citizen of a state committed not to honour and pride but rather to the phronesis involved in doing and saying the right thing at the right time in the right way. Rationality will, of course, be actualized in these rational processes which of course take place against the background of egoism, fear, and pride. The constitutional state will hopefully also be actualized and it ought to distribute the benefits and burdens of goods services, privilege, and power in the spirit of formal justice where similar people will be treated similarly before the laws and judgments made by the state. That is, the law will also recognize the fact of pluralism and argue against for example paying someone less because they are of non-Grecian origin or because they are a woman.
Hobbes does not engage with many of the above issues unless of course one regards his declaration of materialism to be in itself a self-evident argument against prescriptivism of the above kinds or unless perhaps he regards the deduction of ethical egoism from psychological egoism to be equally self-evident. Psychological egoism is a natural theoretical position for a materialist committed to the causal explanation of perception, behaviour and the passions/emotions, i.e. those aspects of human existence best regarded by what Bentham would later call the two sovereign masters of man: pleasure and pain.
As we have seen, thought and rationality, as described and explained by Descartes, is not easily integrated into the Hobbesian account. Indeed the very search for a non-materialistic first principle of Philosophy by Descartes would have seemed too Aristotelian for Hobbes to even contemplate committing himself to. Indeed one wonders why Descartes himself did not recognize that his Cogito argument might have seemed to an Aristotelian to be an acceptable attempt to characterize the form of the human being. Aristotle’s definition of man as being the rational animal capable of discourse clearly implies thought processes and thought states. Hobbes’ was an early form of scientific materialism and it was not yet evident to anyone that the natural progression(or regression) of such theory would be backward in time toward our animal ancestors and Darwin’s theory of evolution in this respect is a very logical result of a backward-looking materialistically caused search for the origins of man. Teleology, in the eyes of these researchers, is simply illogical. Backward linear causation from an effect to a cause was logically impossible. It was not clear to these researchers that it might have been illogical to divide a holistic process into artificial atomistic parts. Aristotle’s examples of human activity provide the counterargument against the above unnatural atomization of a process. For Aristotle, the builder building a house or the teacher teaching a student was one holistic event not naturally divisible and best explained by 4 different kinds of aitia (cause/explanation). To temporally dissect this whole into the parts of linear causes and effects is to take two of the forms of explanation needed for a complete explanation to be irrelevant to what the builder or teacher is doing. If, for example, the builder is surrounded by a pile of bricks and he is asked what he is doing his reply “building a house” will contain a reference to both the formal and final causes/grounds of the change we are witnessing. The bricks and his motor activities are of course the material and efficient grounds and without them, there would, of course, be no house. The house for Hobbes would be a shelter for fearful and proud beings but if their sovereign desired to take their house this would be perfectly acceptable for Hobbes. The insistence that a house is essentially a shelter from the elements for a man and his family and a location for the activities of thought (rational thinking and rational discourse) would be nothing that follows from Hobbes’ theory.
It is sometimes argued that Aristotle does not pay enough attention to man’s world building activities but this is not fair comment. The form of the house that the builder has built is a part of the Aristotelian theory of forms that is contained in his all-embracing hylomorphic theory in which the generation of new substances or new entities takes place in three ways:
1. Sexual reproduction generates beings with a)nutritional and reproductive capacities(plants) b)with additional perceptual and locomotive powers(animals) and c) powers of discourse and powers of rationality(human beings)
2. Artefactual reproduction generates equipment which requires ideas and understanding of the equipment´s form and purpose
3. Reproduction of ideas is generated in the teaching/learning environment where a non-instrumental study of ideas as cultural forms of equipment takes place.
Our world, according to Aristotle is composed of the above three kinds of forms. Where does the state fit in here? Is it merely an idea? Does it fit into forms 1 and 2 or both? Perhaps it fits into all three categories of forms given Aristotle’s insistence upon the fact that the state is organically generated. Individuals form families and families form villages and villages form city-states in search of self-sufficiency. The city will be a place in which nutrition, growth, reproduction, perception locomotion, rational discourse and rational thinking can all take place naturally and unhindered. The closer the city organizes itself in accordance with the constitutional blueprint provided by Aristotle the more flourishing it will become.
Hobbes objects to all this and is not clear why. For Hobbes the state is some kind of artifact created by the work of man out of the chaos of his passions with the help of an instrumental calculating egoistic reasoning process. There is in Hobbes no eros desiring an understanding of the world we live in, no telos directing the process in accordance with a metaphysical idea of the good.
It was left to Kant to clean up the mess left by the anti-Aristotelians but the anti-Kantians who were either supreme rationalists like Hegel or materialists like Marx managed to swamp the hylomorphism of Kant and prepare the world for the 20th century(what Arendt called “this terrible century”).