Hobbes and the Intercession of Essay

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The second part of this book introduces the more central aspect of his argument's epistemological motive, with the prescription for proper leadership extending from a view that is ethically, intellectually and socially instructed. We can easily detect here the strands of ideology which would be invested into Hobbes view many centuries hence. This is to say that at the crux of his argument, Plato writes that "until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils." (Plato, Book V) in subsequent explanation, he determines that a virtuous ruler will ultimately find the right to rule his people as a consequence of his worthiness to lead the greater whole toward a light of truth.

This is a view which is echoed but cast with greater optimism -- or might we say naivete -- in Hobbes' construction of leadership. Namely, where Plato denotes that the world will receive great benefit from the ascendancy of the thinker to the place of the throne, Hobbes argues that he has descended to the throne must logically conform to the characteristics which Plato presumed necessary for the persistence of good. This removes the Hobbesian thinker from the dubious preoccupation of having to define that which should be seen as good or evil, instead creating something of an internally circular logic producing the idea that leadership comes from a place of qualification. Plato does not hold this consistently like Hobbes does, however.

This idealism is countered by a more cynical regard for the base propensities of the public. As the great thinker indicates of the civilized settlements of his time, "not one of them is worthy of the philosophic nature, and hence that nature is warped and estranged." (Plato, Book VI) Through Socrates, Plato laments that there does not exist a state in which the appropriate values for suitable governance are fostered in the selection of leadership. He crafts an argument that revolves on the pretense of critical disregard for the current state of city power structures, pointing to an absence of such probing discourse in the composition of laws and the discretion of authority. Still, there are two ways of interpreting this sentiment, just as there are with Hobbes. While it may at first be attractive to view this as an impugning judgment against unrestrained central power -- perhaps a refreshing departure from the authoritarian implications of the Hobbesian view -- instead it comes to reveal itself as a sentiment connecting the flaws in individual man's moral behavior to the rightness of unchecked central leadership.

In describing that which might be considered the ideal range of characteristics for a truth-seeking philosopher, the avatar of Socrates also appears to endorse the qualities befitting a proper ruler as well. Outlining the qualities of faith, perception, reason and understanding that are said to make up the soul of a philosopher, Plato essentially describes a requisite capacity for moral turpitude and an interest in the pursuit of a closer proximity to truth in a suitable leader. This is a perfect construction upon which to suspect that Hobbes based his encompassing perspective that one who had achieved this post must necessarily be of such as mettle.

In his discussion on this topic, Plato makes the case that the cause for bad leadership is the public itself, which in its ignorance rejects the exotic impulses of the philosopher for the artless authority of the king. Maybe it is so then that Hobbes withdraws from the value of democratic interest altogether, adopting Plato's ideals as a weapon against the veracity of popular will or the opportunity for resistance to leadership.

And as we proceed to the famous allegory of the cave in Book VII of the Republic, it becomes apparent what Socrates means when he focuses his disdainful argument on the desires of the masses. In spite of the socialist proclivities which appear to underscore his ideological thrust in the above discussion, it is evident here that Plato's work centers on a somewhat realistic conception of the collective as being largely incapable of pursuing truth. More to the point, he describes a populace that is incognizant that there even perpetuates some greater truth than that which is directly visible to the naked perception. The construct for his argument here concerns the conveyance of truth between philosopher and public, with the light of this new and bright reality demanding gradual orientation and concerted acceptance. For this to occur, Socrates indicates, bringing the discussion full circle, philosophically inclined leadership is essential and public restraint inevitable.

All of this stated at a precedent and a warranting for Hobbes' opinions, there is another aspect of his argument which sets him apart from such thinkers as Plato and his character in Socrates. Particularly, the implication of the social contract denoted in the Leviathan promotes something of a natural order in the Hobbesian view which is demonstrably different from those aspects of philosophical discourse which employ start moralism as a way to justify social controls. This is not so in the case of Hobbes, though a cursory glance might seem to imply this.

As Hobbes views social order as a route to the institutionalization of moral imperatives as well, he is not inclined to characterize man as evil in nature. Due to the liberty which such thinkers as Plato take in establishing absolute moral principles -- particularly in light of Hobbes' relative composure with regards to the semantical foundation of his argument -- it seems more practical to adopt the Hobbesian perspective that man is at a constant state of chaos with the exploitation of socially-forged moral imperatives often serving to intensify that end and, by contrast, with the powerful mores of society as a whole often serving to restrain the radical and amoral behaviors of men. There is a tendency on the part of both Plato and Hobbes to attribute an inherent greed to man's nature, characterizing him as a creature driven for the gain of power, victory in competition and a wealth of physical comforts. And indeed, both view social order as a means to checking these impulses with a structure that may inhibit the manifestation of malice amongst men on the basis of such desires and the attempt to quench them. But for reasons which are well-pronounced in his argument, Hobbes balks at the notion of applying the labels of 'good' or 'evil' to these inborn predispositions of man. Indeed, he depicts leadership as a path to conforming our practices of morality, eschewing the idea that man's supposed 'nature' is directly responsible for any manner of behavior. He tacitly reduces the idea of free will to a mere aberration of a functional society, underscored most particularly by the firm and defined hand of a rationally appointed leader amongst men. Therefore, of such a strong-seated ruler, Hobbes indicates that "by this authority, given him by every particular man in the commonwealth, he hath the use of so much power and strength conferred on him, that by terror thereof, he is enabled to form the wills of them all, to peace at home, and mutual aid against their enemies abroad." (Hobbes, XIV)

Where later thinkers such as Locke would view this is a means through which to incline the people to assimilate conscious acts of good in order to subvert the chaotic appeal to emotions, Hobbes instead recognizes that the execution of the will of one state will inevitably contribute to the subjugation of the will of another. This is particularly evident in Hobbes argument regarding man's inborn nature. Hobbes describes man as prone to certain qualities, absent of moral connotation, contending that "in the nature of man we find three principal causes of quarrel. First, competition: secondly, diffidence: thirdly, glory. The first maketh men invade for gain: the second, for safety: and the third for reputation."(Hobbes, XIII) These principles, he elaborates, are the precipice for man being at a constant state of war. Thus, the nature of man is to be at war, with his offense or defense, whether represented independently or by the will of the state, existing as behaviors of necessity and, therefore, ineligible for moral categorization. Hobbes perceives that no notion of good or evil, just or unjust, can be applied to affairs so constant and given over to the benefit of one and the detriment of another in a single stroke. It is in this line of thinking that Hobbes defines a justification for the focus on material validation, promoting the notion that the will to acquire that which is materially in possession of somebody else is to be seen amorally as the function of…[continue]

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