Imagining Interest in Political Thought: Origins of Economic Rationality

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Its point rather is to help discover and explicate the requirements of our moral concepts of justice and enable us to draw the consequences of considered moral convictions of justice that we all presumably share. Whether we in turn consciously accept or agree to these consequences and the principles and duties they implicate once brought to our awareness is irrelevant to their justification. The point rather of conjecturing the outcome of a hypothetical agreement is that, assuming that the premises underlying the original position correctly represent our most deeply held considered moral convictions and concepts of justice, then we are committed to endorsing the resulting principles and duties whether or not we actually accept or agree to them.

Not to do so implies a failure to accept and live up to the consequences of our own moral convictions about justice. He assumes that if the parties to the social contract are fairly situated and take all relevant information into account, then the principles they would agree to are also fair. The fairness of the original agreement situation transfers to the principles everyone agrees to; furthermore, whatever laws or institutions are required by the principles of justice are also fair.

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There are different ways to define a fair agreement situation depending on the purpose of the agreement and the description of the parties to it. What is a fair agreement situation among free and equal persons when the purpose of the agreement is fundamental principles of justice for the basic structure of society? What sort of facts should the parties to such a fundamental social contract know, and what sort of facts are irrelevant or even prejudicial to a fair agreement?

Given this knowledge, Locke assumes that, while starting from a position of equal political right, the great majority of free and equal persons in a state of nature — including all women and racial minorities, and all other men who do not meet a rigid property qualification — could and most likely would rationally agree to alienate their natural rights of equal political jurisdiction in order to gain the benefits of political society.

Thus Locke envisions as legitimate a constitutional monarchy that is in effect a gender-and-racially biased class state, a state wherein a small class of amply propertied white males exercise political rights to vote, hold office, exercise political and social influence, and enjoy other important benefits and responsibilities to the exclusion of everyone else see Rawls, LHPP, — The problem with this arrangement, of course, is that gender and racial classifications, social class, wealth and lack thereof, are, like absence of religious belief, not good reasons for depriving people of their equal political rights or opportunities to occupy social and political positions.

Knowledge of these and other facts are not morally relevant for deciding who should qualify to vote, hold office, and actively participate in governing and administering society. The remedy for such biases of judgment is to redefine the initial situation. Rather than a state of nature Rawls situates the parties to his social contract so that they do not have access to factual knowledge that can distort their judgments and result in unfair principles.

Among the essential features of the original position is that no one knows his or her place in society, class position or social status, nor does any one know his or her race or gender, fortune in the distribution of natural assets and abilities, level of intelligence, strength, education, and the like. This veil of ignorance deprives the parties of all knowledge of particular facts about themselves, about one another, and even about their society and its history.

The parties are not however completely ignorant of facts. They know all kinds of general facts about persons and societies, including knowledge of relatively uncontroversial scientific laws and generalizations accepted within the natural and social sciences — economics, psychology, political science, biology and other natural sciences including applications of Darwinian evolutionary theory that are generally accepted by scientists, however controversial they may be among religious fundamentalists.

Imagining Interest Political Thought Origins by Stephen Engelmann

They know then about the general tendencies of human behavior and psychological development, about neuropsychology and biological evolution, and about how economic markets work, including neo-classical price theory of supply and demand. Rawls thinks that since the parties are required to come to an agreement on objective principles that supply universal standards of justice applying across all societies, knowledge of particular and historical facts about any person or society is morally irrelevant and potentially prejudicial to their decision.

The parties in the original position do not know any particular facts about themselves or society; they all have the same general information made available to them. A thick veil of ignorance thus is designed to represent the equality of persons purely as moral persons, and not in any other contingent capacity or social role.

In this regard the veil interprets the Kantian idea of equality as equal respect for moral persons cf. CP Among the most frequent is that choice in the original position is indeterminate Sen, , 11—12, 56— Among other reasons for this, it is said that the parties are deprived of so much information about themselves that they are psychologically incapable of making a choice, or they are incapable of making a rational choice.

For how can we make any rational choice without knowing our primary ends, or fundamental values and commitments? MacIntyre, ; Sandel One answer is that we do not need to know everything about ourselves, including our primary purposes, to make rational decisions about the background social conditions needed to pursue those primary purposes. To the objection that choice behind the veil of ignorance is psychologically impossible, Rawls says that it is important not to get too caught up in the theoretical fiction of the original position, as if it were some historical event among real people who are being asked to do something impossible.

They represent an ideal of free and equal reasonable and rational moral persons that Rawls assumes is implicit in our reasoning about justice. Many different kinds of reasons and facts are not morally relevant to that kind of decision e. As a mathematician, scientist, or musician exercise their expertise by ignoring their knowledge of particular facts about themselves, presumably we can do so too in reasoning about principles of justice.

For justice consists, allegedly, of the measures that effectively promote good consequences. Without knowledge what is ultimately good however that is to be defined the parties cannot discover the principles of justice that best promote it. Impartiality is achieved by depriving the impartial observer or rational chooser of any knowledge of its own identity.

For Rawls, a primary reason for a thick veil of ignorance is to enable an unbiased assessment of the justice of existing social and political institutions and of existing desires, preferences and conceptions of the good. The principles agreed to would then not be sufficiently detached from the very desires, circumstances, and institutions these principles are to critically assess. To take an obvious counterexample, there is little if any justice in laws approved from a utilitarian impartial perspective when these laws take into account racially prejudiced preferences which are cultivated by grossly unequal, racially discriminatory and segregated social conditions.

He means the OP is a situation where rational choice of the parties is made subject to reasonable or moral constraints. In what sense are the parties and their choice and agreement rational? Philosophers have different understandings of practical rationality. Rawls seeks to incorporate a relatively uncontroversial account of rationality into the original position, one that he thinks most any account of practical rationality would endorse as at least necessary for rational decision. They are resourceful, take effective means to their ends, and seek to make their preferences consistent.

They also take the course of action that is more likely to achieve their ends other things being equal. And they choose courses of action that satisfy more rather than fewer of their purposes. More generally, for Rawls rational persons upon reflection can formulate a conception of their good , or of their primary values and purposes and the best way of life for themselves to live given their purposes.

This conception incorporates their primary aims, ambitions, and commitments to others, and is informed by the conscientious moral, religious, and philosophical convictions that give meaning for them to their lives. For Rawls, rational persons regard life as a whole, and do not give preference to any particular period of it. Rather in drawing up their rational plans, they are equally concerned with their future good at each part of their lives.

In this regard, rational persons are prudent —they care for their future good, and while they may discount the importance of future purposes based on probability assessments, they do not discount the achievement of their future purposes simply because they are in the future TJ, sect. These primary aims, convictions, ambitions, and commitments are among the primary motivations of the parties in the original position.

The parties want to provide favorable conditions for the pursuit of the various elements of the rational plan of life that defines a good life for them. This is ultimately what the parties are trying to accomplish in their choice of principles of justice. In this sense they are rational.

This does not mean that they are generally self-interested or selfish persons, indifferent to the welfare of others. Most people are concerned, not just with their own happiness or welfare, but with that of others as well, and have all kinds of commitments to others, including other-regarding and beneficent purposes, that are part of their conceptions of the good. But in the original position itself the parties are not altruistically motivated to benefit each other, in their capacity as contracting parties.

They try to do as best as they can for themselves and for those persons and causes that they care for. Their situation is comparable, Rawls says, to that of trustees acting to promote the interests of the beneficiaries they represent. Trustees cannot sacrifice the well-being of the beneficiaries they represent to benefit other trustees or individuals. If they did, they would be derelict in their duties. For example, how much benevolence should they have towards one another?

Surely not impartial benevolence towards everyone, for then we might as well dispense with the social contract and rely on an impartial spectator point of view. But if not equal concern for all parties, then how much? Mutual disinterest of the parties also means they are not moved by envy or rancor towards each other or others generally. This implies that the parties do not strive to be wealthier or better off than others for its own sake, and thus do not sacrifice advantages to prevent others from having more than they do.

For this reason they strive to guarantee themselves a share of primary social goods sufficient to enable them to pursue their unknown conception of the good. Rawls distinguishes between the requirements of rationality and reasonableness; both are part of practical reasoning about what we ought to do JF 6—7; 81—2. Both rationality and reasonableness are independent aspects of practical reason for Rawls. They are independent in that Rawls, unlike Hobbes, does not regard justice and the reasonable as simply the principles of prudence that are beneficial for a person to comply with in order to successfully pursue his or her purposes in social contexts.

Unlike Hobbes, Rawls does not claim that an immoral person is irrational, or that morality is necessarily required by rationality. However, a rational person who violates reasonable demands of justice is unreasonable in that he or she infringes upon moral requirements of practical reasoning. Being reasonable, even if not required by rationality, is still an independent aspect of practical reason. Essential to being reasonable is having a sense of justice. The sense of justice is a normally effective desire to comply with duties and obligations required by justice; it includes a willingness to cooperate with others on terms that are fair and that reasonable persons can accept and endorse.

He rejects the idea that people are motivated only by self-interest in all that they do; he also rejects the Hobbesian assumption that a willingness to do justice must be grounded in self-interest. An amoralist, Rawls believes, is largely a philosophical construct; the amoralists who actually exist Rawls sees as sociopaths.

Original Position (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Here is it is important to see that Rawls is still not attributing specifically moral motives—a desire to be reasonable and do what is right and just for their own sake—to the parties in the original position. Otherwise they will not be in a position to cooperate with others and benefit from social life. A person who is without a sense of justice is wholly unreasonable and as a result is normally eschewed by others, for he or she is not trustworthy or reliable or even safe to interact with.

Here again, it is important to distinguish the purely rational motivation of the parties or their trustees in the original position from that of free and equal citizens in a well-ordered society, who are normally morally motivated by their sense of justice to do what is right and just for its own sake. Three factors then play a role in motivating the parties in the original position: 1 First, they aim to advance their determinate conception of the good, or rational plan of life, even though they do not know what that conception is.

The primary goods are the all-purpose social means that are necessary to the exercise and development of the moral powers and to pursue a wide variety of conceptions of the good. Rawls describes them initially in Theory as goods that any rational person should want, whatever his or her rational plan of life. The primary social goods are: rights and liberties; powers and diverse opportunities; income and wealth; and the social bases of self-respect.

Members of various professions and trades have institutional powers and prerogatives that are characteristic of their position and which are necessary if they are to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities. These features depend upon history and culture. Primary among these social bases of self respect in a democratic society, Rawls will contend, are equal recognition of persons as citizens, and hence the institutional conditions needed for equal citizenship, including equality of basic rights and liberties with equal political rights; fair equality of opportunities; and personal independence guaranteed by adequate material means for achieving it.

The parties to the original position are motivated to achieve a fully adequate share of primary goods so they can achieve their higher-order interests in pursuing their rational plans of life and exercising their moral powers. This too is part of being rational. Because they are not envious, their concern is with the absolute level of primary goods, not their share relative to other persons.

To sum up, the parties in the original position are formally rational in that they are assumed to have and to effectively pursue a rational plan of life with a schedule of coherent purposes and commitments that give their lives meaning. As part of their rational plans, they have a substantive interest in the development and exercise of their capacities to be rational and to be reasonable. The important point here is that the Aristotelian principle is taken into account by the parties in their decision on principles of justice.

They want to choose principles that maintain their self-respect and enable them to freely develop their human capacities and pursue a wide range of activities, as well as engage their capacities for a sense of justice. The veil of ignorance is the primary condition that constrains the rational choice of the parties in the original position. There are several other conditions imposed on their agreement. Following Hume, Rawls distinguishes two general kinds: the objective and subjective circumstances of justice.

The former include physical facts about human beings, such as their rough similarity in mental and physical faculties, and vulnerability to the united force of others. People then would willingly sacrifice their interests for the greater advantage of other. They would not be concerned about their personal rights or possessions, and property would be unnecessary Hume [, —]. But we are more concerned with our own aims and interests—which include our interests in the interests of those nearer and dearer to us—than we are with the interests of strangers with whom we have few if any interactions.

This implies a potential conflict of human interests.

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But, as history shows, our benevolent interests in others and in religious and philosophical doctrines are as often the cause of conflict as is self-interest. The subjective circumstances of justice also include limitations on human knowledge, thought, and judgment, as well as emotional influences and great diversity of experiences. These lead to biases and inevitable disagreements in factual and other judgments, as well as to differences in religious, philosophical, and moral convictions. They imply, significantly, that regardless how impartial and altruistic people are, they still will disagree in their factual judgments and in religious, philosophical and moral doctrines.

Disagreements in these matters are inevitable even among rational and reasonable people. The more a conception of justice satisfies these formal constraints of right, the more reason the parties have to choose that conception. The formal constraints of right are: generality, universality in application, ordering of conflicting claims, publicity, and finality.

The ordering condition says that a conception of justice should aspire to completeness: it should be able to resolve conflicting claims and order their priority. Ordering implies a systematicity requirement: principles of justice should provide a determinate resolution to problems of justice that arise under them; and in so far as a conception of justice is not able to order conflicting claims and resolve problems of justice, that is a reason against choosing it in the original position. Rawls would have to concede that justice as fairness does not possess the same degree of systematicity as hedonistic utilitarianism.

Often in such conflicts we have to weigh competing considerations and come to a decision about where the greater balance of reasons lies, much like intuitionist views. The lack of an ordering principle does not mean the balance of reasons in such conflicts regarding basic liberties is indeterminate but rather that reasonable individuals will often disagree, and that final decisions will have to be made through the appropriate democratic, judicial, or other procedures. The publicity condition says that the parties are to assume that the principles of justice they choose will be publicly known to members of society and recognized by them as the bases for their social cooperation.

This implies that people will not be uninformed or have false beliefs about the bases of their social and political relations. The publicity of principles of justice is ultimately for Rawls a condition of respect for persons as free and equal moral persons. Rawls believes that individuals in a democratic society should know the bases of their social and political relations and not have to be deceived about them in order to cooperate and live together on fair terms.

The idea of publicity is further developed in Political Liberalism through the ideas of public justification and the role of public reason in political deliberation. Related to publicity is that principles should be universal in application. It also means that everyone can understand the principles of justice and use them in their deliberations. Universality in application then imposes a limit on how complex principles of justice can be—they must be understandable to common moral sense, and not so complicated that only experts can apply them in deliberations.

For among other things, these principles are to guide democratic citizens in their judgments and shared deliberations about just laws and policies. Both publicity and universality in application as Rawls defines it are controversial conditions. For morality often requires much that is contrary to their personal interests. So long as they understand their individual duties, it may be better if they do not understand the principles and reasons behind them. The reason Rawls sees publicity and universality as necessary relates to the conception of the person implicit in justice as fairness.

If we conceive of persons as free and equal moral persons capable of rational and moral autonomy, then they should not be under any illusions about the bases of their social relations, but should be able to understand, accept, and apply these principles in their deliberations about justice. These are important conditions for the freedom and autonomy moral and political of democratic citizens. Its principles should be such that when they are embodied in the basic structure of society, people tend to acquire the corresponding sense of justice and develop a desire to act in accordance with its principles.

The stability of a just society does not mean that it must be unchanging. It means rather that in the face of inevitable change members of a society should be able to maintain their allegiance to principles of justice and the institutions they support. When disruptions to society do occur via economic crises, war, natural catastrophes, etc. The role of the stability requirement for Rawls is twofold: first, to test whether potential principles of justice are compatible with human natural propensities, or our moral psychology and general facts about social and economic institutions; and second, to determine whether principles are conducive to realizing the human good.

To be stable principles of justice should be realizable in a feasible and enduring social world. They need to be practicably possible given the limitations of the human condition. Moreover, this feasible social world must be one that can endure over time, not by just any means, but by gaining the willing support of people who live in it. For example, suppose principles of justice were to impose a duty to practice impartial benevolence towards all people, and thus a duty to show no greater concern for the welfare of ourselves and loved ones than we do towards millions if not billions of others.

This principle demands too much of human nature and would not be sustainable or even feasible—people simply would reject its onerous demands. Recall here the higher-order interests of the parties in development and exercise of their capacities for justice. Rawls regards our moral capacities for justice as an integral part of our nature as sociable beings. He believes that one role of a conception of justice is to accommodate human capacities for sociability, the capacities for justice that enable us to be cooperative social beings. So not only should a conception of justice advance human interests, but it should also answer to our moral psychology by enabling us to knowingly and willingly exercise our moral capacities and sensibilities, which are among the moral powers to be reasonable.

This relates to the second ground for the stability condition, which can only be mentioned here: it is that principles of justice should be compatible with, and even conducive to, the human good. It speaks strongly in favor of a conception of justice that it is compatible with and promotes the human good.

Moreover, Rawls assumes that a conception of justice should enable citizens to adequately exercise and fully develop their moral powers. It must then engage their sense of justice; ideally, they should not regard justice as a burden but should come to experience that acting on and from principles of justice is worth doing for its own sake.

For Rawls, it speaks strongly in favor of a conception of justice that acting for the sake of its principles is experienced as an activity that is good in itself. For then justice and exercise of the sense of justice are for those persons intrinsic goods and a precondition for their living a good life. The original position is not a bargaining situation where the parties make proposals and counterproposals and negotiate over different principles of justice. They are presented with a list of conceptions of justice taken from the tradition of western political philosophy.

In a series of pairwise comparisons, they consider all the conceptions of justice made available to them and ultimately agree unanimously to accept the conception that survives this winnowing process.

Original Position

They are assigned the task of agreeing on principles for designing the basic structure of a self-contained society under the circumstances of justice. In making their decision, the parties are motivated only by their own rational interests. Plato, as later Rousseau, believes that once political society is properly ordered, it can contribute to the restoration of morals. Hence, there are in Plato such elements of the idealistic or liberal world view as the belief in education and progress, and a hope for a better future. The quality of human life can be improved if people learn to be rational and understand that their real interests lie in harmonious cooperation with one another, and not in war or partisan strife.

However, unlike Rousseau, Plato does not see the best social and political order in a democratic republic. Opinions overcome truth in everyday life. If philosophers are those who can distinguish between true and false beliefs, who love knowledge and are motivated by the common good, and finally if they are not only master-theoreticians, but also the master-practitioners who can heal the ills of their society, then they, and not democratically elected representatives, must be chosen as leaders and educators of the political community and guide it to proper ends.

They are required to counteract the destabilizing effects of false beliefs on society. Are philosophers incorruptible? In the ideal city there are provisions to minimize possible corruption, even among the good-loving philosophers. They can neither enjoy private property nor family life. Although they are the rulers, they receive only a modest remuneration from the state, dine in common dining halls, and have wives and children in common.

These provisions are necessary, Plato believes, because if the philosopher-rulers were to acquire private land, luxurious homes, and money themselves, they would soon become hostile masters of other citizens rather than their leaders and allies a-b. The ideal city becomes a bad one, described as timocracy , precisely when the philosophers neglect music and physical exercise, and begin to gather wealth b. Initially chosen from among the brightest, most stable, and most courageous children, they go through a sophisticated and prolonged educational training which begins with gymnastics, music and mathematics, and ends with dialectic, military service and practical city management.

They have superior theoretical knowledge, including the knowledge of the just, noble, good and advantageous, but are not inferior to others in practical matters as well d, e. Being in the final stage of their education illuminated by the idea of the good, they are those who can see beyond changing empirical phenomena and reflect on such timeless values as justice, beauty, truth, and moderation b, b. Goodness is not merely a theoretical idea for them, but the ultimate state of their mind.

If the life of the philosopher-rulers is not of private property, family or wealth, nor even of honor, and if the intellectual life itself seems so attractive, why should they then agree to rule? Philosophical life, based on contemplative leisure and the pleasure of learning, is indeed better and happier than that of ruling the state d. Plato assumes that a city in which the rulers do not govern out of desire for private gain, but are least motivated by personal ambition, is governed in the way which is the finest and freest from civil strife d. Philosophers will rule not only because they will be best prepared for this, but also because if they do not, the city will no longer be well governed and may fall prey to economic decline, factionalism, and civil war.

They will approach ruling not as something really enjoyable, but as something necessary c-d. Objections against the government of philosopher-rulers can be made. Firstly, because of the restrictions concerning family and private property, Plato is often accused of totalitarianism. Especially in the Laws he makes clear that freedom is one of the main values of society d. Other values for which Plato stands include justice, friendship, wisdom, courage, and moderation, and not factionalism or terror that can be associated with a totalitarian state. The restrictions which he proposes are placed on the governors, rather than on the governed.

Secondly, one can argue that there may obviously be a danger in the self-professed claim to rule of the philosophers. Individuals may imagine themselves to be best qualified to govern a country, but in fact they may lose contact with political realities and not be good leaders at all. If philosopher-rulers did not have real knowledge of their city, they would be deprived of the essential credential that is required to make their rule legitimate, namely, that they alone know how best to govern.

As in a few other places in the dialogue, Plato throws his political innovation open to doubt. Their political authority is not only rational but also substantially moral, based on the consent of the governed. They regard justice as the most important and most essential thing e. A political order based on fairness leads to friendship and cooperation among different parts of the city. For Plato, as for Solon, government exists for the benefit of all citizens and all social classes, and must mediate between potentially conflicting interests.

Such a mediating force is exercised in the ideal city of the Republic by the philosopher-rulers. In the ideal city all persons and social groups are given equal opportunities to be happy, that is, to pursue happiness, but not at the expense of others.

Their particular individual, group or class happiness is limited by the need of the happiness for all. The happiness of the whole city is not for Plato the happiness of an abstract unity called the polis, or the happiness of the greatest number, but rather the happiness of all citizens derived from a peaceful, harmonious, and cooperative union of different social classes.

The philosopher-rulers enjoy respect and contemplative leisure, but not wealth or honors; the guardian class, the second class in the city, military honors, but not leisure or wealth; and the producer class, family life, wealth, and freedom of enterprise, but not honors or rule. Then, the producers supply the city with goods; the guardians, defend it; and the philosophers, attuned to virtue and illuminated by goodness, rule it impartially for the common benefit of all citizens. The three different social classes engage in mutually beneficial enterprise, by which the interests of all are best served.

Social and economic differences, i. In the Platonic vision of the Republic , all social classes get to perform what they are best fit to do and are unified into a single community by mutual interests. In this sense, although each are different, they are all friends. In the Laws a similar statement is made again c , and it is interpreted as the right of the strong, the winner in a political battle a.

The answer to the question of what is right and what is wrong can entirely determine our way of life, as individuals and communities. They, the wise and virtuous, free from faction and guided by the idea of the common good, should rule for the common benefit of the whole community, so that the city will not be internally divided by strife, but one in friendship Republic , a-b.

Then, in the Laws , the reign of the best individuals is replaced by the reign of the finest laws instituted by a judicious legislator c-d. The skeptic may believe that every adult is capable of exercising the power of self-direction, and should be given the opportunity to do so. He will be prepared to pay the costs of eventual mistakes and to endure an occasional civil unrest or even a limited war rather than be directed by anyone who may claim superior wisdom. In the short dialogue Alcibiades I , little studied today and thought by some scholars as not genuine, though held in great esteem by the Platonists of antiquity, Socrates speaks with Alcibiades.

The subject of their conversation is politics. Frequently referred to by Thucydides in the History of the Peloponnesian War , Alcibiades, the future leader of Athens, highly intelligent and ambitious, largely responsible for the Athenian invasion of Sicily, is at the time of conversation barely twenty years old. The young, handsome, and well-born Alcibiades of the dialogue is about to begin his political career and to address the Assembly for the first time a-b. He plans to advise the Athenians on the subject of peace and war, or some other important affair d.

His ambitions are indeed extraordinary. He does not want just to display his worth before the people of Athens and become their leader, but to rule over Europe and Asia as well c. His dreams resemble that of the future Alexander the Great. His claim to rule is that he is the best. His world-view is based on unexamined opinions.

He appears to be the worst type of ignorant person who pretends that he knows something but does not. Such ignorance in politics is the cause of mistakes and evils a. What is implied in the dialogue is that noble birth, beautiful looks, and even intelligence and power, without knowledge, do not give the title to rule. Ignorance, the condition of Alcibiades, is also the condition of the great majority of the people b-c. Nevertheless, Socrates promises to guide Alcibiades, so that he becomes excellent and renowned among the Greeks b-c.

He or she is perfect in virtue. The best government can be founded only on beautiful and well-ordered souls. In a few dialogues, such as Phaedo , the Republic , Phaedrus , Timaeus , and the Laws , Plato introduces his doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Expert political knowledge for him should include not only knowledge of things out there, but also knowledge of oneself.

This is because whoever is ignorant of himself will also be ignorant of others and of political things, and, therefore, will never be an expert politician e. Those who are ignorant will go wrong, moving from one misery to another a. For them history will be a tough teacher, but as long they do not recognize themselves and practice virtue, they will learn nothing. It is also impossible without an ongoing philosophical reflection on whom we truly are. Therefore, democracy would not be a good form of government for him unless, as it is proposed in the Laws , the element of freedom is mixed with the element of wisdom, which includes ultimate knowledge of the self.

Unmixed and unchecked democracy, marked by the general permissiveness that spurs vices, makes people impious, and lets them forget about their true self, is only be the second worst in the rank of flawed regimes after tyranny headed by a vicious individual. This does not mean that Plato would support a theocratic government based on shallow religiosity and religious hypocrisy. There is no evidence for this. Freedom of speech, forming opinions and expressing them, which may be denied in theocracy, is a true value for Plato, along with wisdom.

It is the basic requirement for philosophy. In shallow religiosity, like in atheism , there is ignorance and no knowledge of the self either. The most consequential aspect of Hobbes's account of human nature centers on his ideas about human motivation, and this topic is therefore at the heart of many debates about how to understand Hobbes's philosophy. Many interpreters have presented the Hobbesian agent as a self-interested, rationally calculating actor those ideas have been important in modern political philosophy and economic thought, especially in terms of rational choice theories.

It is true that some of the problems that face people like this - rational egoists, as philosophers call them - are similar to the problems Hobbes wants to solve in his political philosophy. And it is also very common for first-time readers of Hobbes to get the impression that he believes we're all basically selfish. There are good reasons why earlier interpreters and new readers tend to think the Hobbesian agent is ultimately self-interested.

Hobbes likes to make bold and even shocking claims to get his point across. What could be clearer? There are two problems with thinking that this is Hobbes's considered view, however. First, quite simply, it represents a false view of human nature. People do all sorts of altruistic things that go against their interests. They also do all sorts of needlessly cruel things that go against self-interest think of the self-defeating lengths that revenge can run to. So it would be uncharitable to interpret Hobbes this way, if we can find a more plausible account in his work. Second, in any case Hobbes often relies on a more sophisticated view of human nature.

He describes or even relies on motives that go beyond or against self-interest, such as pity, a sense of honor or courage, and so on. And he frequently emphasizes that we find it difficult to judge or appreciate just what our interests are anyhow. The upshot is that Hobbes does not think that we are basically or reliably selfish; and he does not think we are fundamentally or reliably rational in our ideas about what is in our interests.


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He is rarely surprised to find human beings doing things that go against self-interest: we will cut off our noses to spite our faces, we will torture others for their eternal salvation, we will charge to our deaths for love of country. Too often, he thinks, we are too much concerned with what others think of us, or inflamed by religious doctrine, or carried away by others' inflammatory words. But we shall see that this would over-simplify the conclusions that Hobbes draws from his account of human nature.

This is Hobbes's picture of human nature. We are needy and vulnerable. We are easily led astray in our attempts to know the world around us. Our capacity to reason is as fragile as our capacity to know; it relies upon language and is prone to error and undue influence. When we act, we may do so selfishly or impulsively or in ignorance, on the basis of faulty reasoning or bad theology or others' emotive speech. Unsurprisingly, Hobbes thinks little happiness can be expected of our lives together. The best we can hope for is peaceful life under an authoritarian-sounding sovereign.

The worst, on Hobbes's account, is what he calls the "natural condition of mankind," a state of violence, insecurity and constant threat. In outline, Hobbes's argument is that the alternative to government is a situation no one could reasonably wish for, and that any attempt to make government accountable to the people must undermine it, so threatening the situation of non-government that we must all wish to avoid.

Our only reasonable option, therefore, is a "sovereign" authority that is totally unaccountable to its subjects. Let us deal with the "natural condition" of non-government, also called the "state of nature," first of all. The state of nature is "natural" in one specific sense only. What is Hobbes's reasoning here? He claims that the only authority that naturally exists among human beings is that of a mother over her child, because the child is so very much weaker than the mother and indebted to her for its survival.

Among adult human beings this is invariably not the case. Hobbes concedes an obvious objection, admitting that some of us are much stronger than others. And although he's very sarcastic about the idea that some are wiser than others, he doesn't have much difficulty with the idea that some are fools and others are dangerously cunning. Even the strongest must sleep; even the weakest might persuade others to help him kill another. Leviathan , xiii. He is strongly opposing arguments that established monarchs have a natural or God-given right to rule over us. Thus, as long as human beings have not successfully arranged some form of government, they live in Hobbes's state of nature.

But the real point for Hobbes is that a state of nature could just as well occur in seventeenth century England, should the King's authority be successfully undermined. It could occur tomorrow in every modern society, for example, if the police and army suddenly refused to do their jobs on behalf of government. Unless some effective authority stepped into the King's place or the place of army and police and government , Hobbes argues the result is doomed to be deeply awful, nothing less than a state of war.

Why should peaceful cooperation be impossible without an overarching authority? Hobbes provides a series of powerful arguments that suggest it is extremely unlikely that human beings will live in security and peaceful cooperation without government. Anarchism , the thesis that we should live without government, of course disputes these arguments.

His most basic argument is threefold. This is a more difficult argument than it might seem. Two points, though. Moreover, many of these people will be prepared to use violence to attain their ends - especially if there's no government or police to stop them. In this Hobbes is surely correct. If our lives seem to be at stake, after all, we're unlikely to have many scruples about stealing a loaf of bread; if we perceive someone as a deadly threat, we may well want to attack first, while his guard is down; if we think that there are lots of potential attackers out there, it's going to make perfect sense to get a reputation as someone who shouldn't be messed with.

Underlying this most basic argument is an important consideration about insecurity. As we shall see Hobbes places great weight on contracts thus some interpreters see Hobbes as heralding a market society dominated by contractual exchanges. In particular, he often speaks of "covenants," by which he means a contract where one party performs his part of the bargain later than the other.

In the state of nature such agreements aren't going to work. Only the weakest will have good reason to perform the second part of a covenant, and then only if the stronger party is standing over them. Yet a huge amount of human cooperation relies on trust, that others will return their part of the bargain over time. A similar point can be made about property, most of which we can't carry about with us and watch over. This means we must rely on others respecting our possessions over extended periods of time.

If we can't do this, then many of the achievements of human society that involve putting hard work into land farming, building or material objects the crafts, or modern industrial production, still unknown in Hobbes's time will be near impossible. One can reasonably object to such points: Surely there are basic duties to reciprocate fairly and to behave in a trustworthy manner? Even if there's no government providing a framework of law, judgment and punishment, don't most people have a reasonable sense of what is right and wrong, which will prevent the sort of contract-breaking and generalized insecurity that Hobbes is concerned with?

Indeed, shouldn't our basic sense of morality prevent much of the greed, pre-emptive attack and reputation-seeking that Hobbes stressed in the first place? This is the crunch point of Hobbes's argument, and it is here if anywhere that one can accuse Hobbes of "pessimism. The first concerns our duties in the state of nature that is, the so-called "right of nature".

The second follows from this, and is less often noticed: it concerns the danger posed by our different and variable judgments of what is right and wrong. On Hobbes's view the right of nature is quite simple to define. Naturally speaking - that is, outside of civil society — we have a right to do whatever we think will ensure our self-preservation. The worst that can happen to us is violent death at the hands of others. If we have any rights at all, if as we might put it nature has given us any rights whatsoever, then the first is surely this: the right to prevent violent death befalling us.

But Hobbes says more than this, and it is this point that makes his argument so powerful. And this is where Hobbes's picture of humankind becomes important. Hobbes has given us good reasons to think that human beings rarely judge wisely. Yet in the state of nature no one is in a position to successfully define what is good judgment. Others might judge the matter differently, of course.

Almost certainly you'll have quite a different view of things perhaps you were just stretching your arms, not raising a musket to shoot me. Because we're all insecure, because trust is more-or-less absent, there's little chance of our sorting out misunderstandings peacefully, nor can we rely on some trusted third party to decide whose judgment is right.

We all have to be judges in our own causes, and the stakes are very high indeed: life or death. For this reason Hobbes makes very bold claims that sound totally amoral. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have no place [in the state of nature].

Hobbes is dramatizing his point, but the core is defensible. New readers of Hobbes often suppose that the state of nature would be a much nicer place, if only he were to picture human beings with some basic moral ideas. There are different ways of interpreting Hobbes's view of the absence of moral constraints in the state of nature. Some think that Hobbes is imagining human beings who have no idea of social interaction and therefore no ideas about right and wrong. Others suppose that Hobbes has a much more complex picture of human motivation, so that there is no reason to think moral ideas are absent in the state of nature.

In particular, it's historically reasonable to think that Hobbes invariably has civil war in mind, when he describes our "natural condition. The problem here isn't a lack of moral ideas - far from it — rather that moral ideas and judgments differ enormously. This means for example that two people who are fighting tooth and nail over a cow or a gun can both think they're perfectly entitled to the object and both think they're perfectly right to kill the other - a point Hobbes makes explicitly and often.

But what sort of "ought" is this? There are two basic ways of interpreting Hobbes here. It might be a counsel of prudence: avoid the state of nature, if you're concerned to avoid violent death. In this case Hobbes's advice only applies to us i if we agree that violent death is what we should fear most and should therefore avoid; and ii if we agree with Hobbes that only an unaccountable sovereign stands between human beings and the state of nature.

This line of thought fits well with an egoistic reading of Hobbes, but we'll see that it faces serious problems.

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The other way of interpreting Hobbes is not without problems either. This takes Hobbes to be saying that we ought, morally speaking, to avoid the state of nature. We have a duty to do what we can to avoid this situation arising, and a duty to end it, if at all possible. Hobbes often makes his view clear, that we have such moral obligations. Like them, he thinks that human reason can discern some eternal principles to govern our conduct. These principles are independent of though also complementary to whatever moral instruction we might get from God or religion.

In other words, they are laws given by nature rather than revealed by God. But Hobbes makes radical changes to the content of these so-called laws of nature. He thus disagrees with those Protestants who thought that religious conscience might sanction disobedience of "immoral" laws, and with Catholics who thought that the commandments of the Pope have primacy over those of national political authorities. Although he sets out nineteen laws of nature, it is the first two that are politically crucial.

A third, that stresses the important of keeping to contracts we have entered into, is important in Hobbes's moral justifications of obedience to the sovereign.

The remaining sixteen can be quite simply encapsulated in the formula, "do as you would be done by. Every man ought to endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it, and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war. Leviathan , xiv. This repeats the points we have already seen about our "right of nature," so long as peace does not appear to be a realistic prospect. The second law of nature is more complicated:.

That a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth as for peace and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things, and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself. What Hobbes tries to tackle here is the transition from the state of nature to civil society. But how he does this is misleading and has generated much confusion and disagreement. The way that Hobbes describes this second law of nature makes it look as if we should all put down our weapons, give up much of our "right of nature," and jointly authorize a sovereign who will tell us what is permitted and punish us if we don't obey.

But the problem is obvious. If the state of nature is anything like as bad as Hobbes has argued, then there's just no way people could ever make an agreement like this or put it into practice. That is: governments have invariably been foisted upon people by force and fraud, not by collective agreement. But Hobbes means to defend every existing government that is powerful enough to secure peace among its subjects - not just a mythical government that's been created by a peaceful contract out of a state of nature.