Thomas Hobbes

Now, there’s a philosopher.  Thomas Hobbes, to put it simply and very basically, is the philosopher whose work strikes me as exceptionally important – and often an expression of things about people and their relationships with each other that is an accurate representation of who and what we are.

Granted, he argued for absolute government.  And to put it simply again, nobody’s perfect.  Setting that aside for the moment, however, I personally think he was generally right about human nature, about our tendencies toward acquisitiveness and defensiveness, and about the creation of human social organization.

I find it peculiar that anyone would think that being a Hobbesian and being a decent or nice person are mutually exclusive things.  Perhaps being a Hobbesian is a result of being — or causes one to be — a little more cautious than others, and a little less trusting than others, but it doesn’t preclude friendship, happiness, or living a good life.  Hobbes himself said that the point in all he was arguing for was to “live delightfully.”  You can’t do that without recognition and acceptance of one’s own limitations, foibles, and imperfections — and those of others.  To expect altruism or primarily other-regarding actions and intentions from others is perhaps to set oneself up for disappointment.

My personal view is that I don’t mind living in a world of Hobbesians. You know where they stand, you know what to expect, and you know where their interests lie.  The interests of one’s self and the interests of others/a community are not antithetical.  It is not inconsistent with being a Hobbesian to perform other-regarding actions and to have the interests of others at heart; but it is perfectly consistent with being a Hobbesian to take into consideration the interests of the self at the same time.  I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Perhaps it is like Hobbes’s description of what it is that goes on with us when we are moved by the pain of others.  He essentially says that when, for example, my friend or family member is in pain that I, too, am in pain.  Some may claim that this is an indication of lack of concern for the other — that if I was not in pain when my friend or family member is in pain that I would not care.  But isn’t this just the point?  What could be more other-regarding, other-caring, and genuinely an expression of affection for another than to experience pain when someone you care about experiences pain, and to experience joy in the notice one takes in another person’s pleasure?  This is not selfishness, this is not the caricatured version of the self-absorbed Hobbesian.  This is the height of moral feeling.


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