Philosophy 433 History of Ethics Darwall Winter 2008
I. The (initial) projectivist interpretation of the Laws of Nature
A. As I interpret him, Hobbes is indeed assuming that everyone desires self-preservation, but his view is that when we desire something we accept an evaluative (or normative) premise.
1.’ Preserving myself is good.
2.’ I can preserve myself only if, say, I keep covenant
3.’ Therefore, I should keep covenant.
B. We will return to the question of the normative status of the laws of nature in a moment. Notice, however, that there is a problem lurking here. Hobbes says that “appetites, and aversions, are raised by foresight of the good and evil consequences.” (6.57) But if projectivism is true, isn’t this backwards? To see the consequences as good, must I not already have the relevant desire? Similarly, a pattern of deliberation, such as 1’,2’,3’, is supposed to explain how a person can acquire a desire to perform some specific action, say, keep some covenant. And it looks as though it does so by getting me to judge 3’ (that I
should keep covenant). But how can I judge that unless I already desire to keep covenant? Practical deliberative reasoning seems to create new desires through accepting practical conclusions, but the idea can’t be that I literally desire to keep covenant because I judge that I should keep it if judging that I should keep covenant (keeping covenant would be good) is itself a consequence of the desire.
Presumably, Hobbes is assuming that when I have the desire I express in 1’ and the belief expressed in 2’, and see the connection between them, then I will have the desire I express in 3’. But what is the status of whatever mechanism that assures this? Note that this amounts to the assumption that human agents are instrumentally rational, viz., that they follow a norm of instrumental rationality: viz., that if A is good, and B is necessary to A, then B is good.
II. The Laws of Nature, Hobbes’s project: I want now to begin to work toward Hobbes’s claim that there are “laws of nature” that
A. codify common-sense morality (he tells us that they can be summarized as “Do not that to another, which thou wouldest not have done to thyself.” (15.35) ),
B. are authoritative norms (“precepts” or “general rules”),
C. are found out by “reason”
D.. are theorems about what conduces to our self-preservation,
E. the science of which, is the “true and only moral philosophy” (15.40)
III. Hobbes on science and reason: To do so we need to begin with Hobbes’s views about reason and science. Recall that Hobbes thinks that to avoid "insignificant speech" it is necessary to begin with definitions (4.12) And recall also that he conceives of reason as "nothing but reckoning, that is adding
and subtracting, of the consequences of general names agreed upon for the marking and signifying of our thoughts." (5.2)
Putting these two together gives us the major elements of Hobbes's philosophy of science. We begin first with precise definitions, and then, through observation, we can generalize about how the things we have named and defined with our definitions are actually connected in our experience. We make, as he says, "assertions . . . by connexion of one of them to another (5.17). And from these assertions we may draw further consequences or conclusions, using our reason. Thus: "he can by words reduce the consequences he [the scientist] finds to general rules, called theorems, or aphorisms; that is, he can reason, or
reckon, not only in number, but in all other things, whereof one may be added unto, or subtracted from another." (5.6)
Thus, "Science is the knowledge of consequences, and dependence of one fact upon another . . ." (5.17)
IV. Moral and political philosophy as science: Hobbes diagrams all of science (9.4), and includes both ethics and "the science of just
and unjust" within it. Note that he takes both of these as following from "the qualities of men in special"; ethics concerns the consequences of the passions of men, and "the science of just and unjust" concerns the consequences from speech, specifically, "in contracting."
Now, finally, we can try to grasp what Hobbes's overall project in Leviathan actually is. We can begin with The Introduction:
"Nature, the art whereby God hath made and governs the world, is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal. . . . Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, man. For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE." Thus, Hobbes aims in his book to provide an account both of human nature (as an elaborate automaton) and of political authority and relations. And the two will have to be related, since the very existence of the state depends on the obligation of contracts, and that obligation will
itself have to be explained as part of ethics.
V. The internal and external circumstances of the “state of nature” The main steps in the argument begin Chapter 11:
A. Internal (psychological) circumstances:
i. Human desire never ceases, therefore "felicity is a continual progress of the desire, from one object to another; the attaining of the former, being still but the way to the latter. The cause whereof is, that the object of men's desire, is not to enjoy once only, and for one instant of time; but to assure for ever, the
way of his future desire." (11.1)
ii. Therefore, "the voluntary actions, and inclinations of all men, tend, not only to the procuring, but also to the assuring of a contented life." (11.1)
iii. Therefore, human beings desire "power after power, that ceaseth only in death." (11.2)
iv. Also, human beings desire glory: “joy arising from imagination of a man’s own power and ability” (6.39)
v. Conjoining this with Hobbes’s projectivism, this gives us that everyone accepts that assuring their continued power is good or to be done. In B. External circumstances: In Chapter 13, Hobbes turns, specifically to drawing some inferences from this premise, when it is conjoined with
other features of the situation facing individuals who lack some common political authority (the state of nature), including features of human passion. These include:
i. Rough equality of physical and mental power (13.1-2)
ii. Common knowledge of A leads to rough equality of hope in attaining the power to assure a contented life. (13.3)
iii. Moderate scarcity leading to competition for power and goods. (13.6)
iv. Competition for reputation and glory (13.6)
VI. War rationally unavoidable in the state of nature. Hobbes concludes that in a state of nature individuals will find a state of war rationally unavoidable. The idea is not that individuals are naturally aggressive and war-like. Rather, given uncertainties about what others are likely to do, and the need to assure one’s own power, then it will be rational for any individual to take an aggressive stance towards others.
A simplified version of this argument is to see it as modeling the state of nature on prisoner’s dilemma, that is, a situation in which, for each person, the optimal individual strategy is aggression, but where this strategy is collectively (mutually) disadvantageous. An obvious problem with this is that in iterated prisoner’s dilemma, when individuals plays affect others’ future plays, then aggression is arguably not the dominant strategy. Greg Kavka argues that we should read Hobbes as having a more complicated argument, one in which individuals take it that there are at least some others who will be aggressive whatever they do. Uncertainty of this sort can make aggression the rational strategy even if it wouldn’t be otherwise.
In any case, I propose to assume that Hobbes is right that the state of nature is a state of war, since I am interested in what Hobbes believes to be the route out of the state of nature, namely, covenant.
VII. Justice, right, obligation, and covenant. At the end of Chapter 13, Hobbes says that the notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place in the state of nature because “where there is no common power, there is no law: where no law, no injustice.” (13.13) Now for Hobbes the existence of both a common power and law depends upon covenant. So when he delimits the “science of just and unjust” in Chapter 9, he tells us that it is the science that draws consequences from “speech . . . in contracting.” What is it about covenant that gives it this special role? Or to put the point in a slightly different way,
how do covenants obligate, in general, and how does a covenant with others to establish a sovereign create the obligation to follow his commands?
If we look at Hobbes’s definitions of ‘covenant’, ‘right’ and ‘obligation’ it emerges pretty quickly that these are interdefinable.
A. Contract is a “mutual transferring of right” (14.9)
B. Covenant is a contract in which one party performs his part, trusting that other will do so when the time comes.
C. Obligation is the state one comes to be in by “granting away” or in some other way transferring a right.
If we take these definitions at face value, it simply follows from the fact that one has covenanted that one is obligated to perform. But can this be the whole of Hobbes’s argument? Of course, Hobbes is free to define terms as he pleases, but these definitions can’t assure that obligations, so defined, have any normative force. They can’t assure that we ought to do what we have convenanted to do. So what does that derive from? To put the point another way, what is the relation between the obligation to keep covenant, so defined, and the third law of nature: “that men perform their covenants made.” (15.1) Next time we shall turn directly to that question, and to Hobbes’s reply to the fool.