Monthly Archives: October 2015

Of Challenges, Hobbes, and History

At the end of her lecture, Professor Hendricks challenged us to think about thinking of the sovereign as not-so-monsturous. This morning, Professor Crawford pointed out several times that Hobbes represents a far more modern way of thinking than Plato. He also had a lot to say about the paradoxical relationship between Hobbes and the liberal tradition.

Going into Hobbes, I at first dreaded it like I had with Plato. Plato’s views on authority and governance, though interesting, was hard to decipher and grasp as a real physical concept. Mainly the struggle was with his Kallipolis, Plato’s Ideal City that existed in his brain and described in The Republic.

Hobbes surprised me. Not only did I enjoy much of what Hobbes had to say, but I also found myself nodding along as I read through Leviathan.

I liked Professor Hendricks’ challenge because whether you agree or not, I think there are benefits to Hobbes’ Leviathan. That is to say, if the sovereign is one that is just and good, wouldn’t the people lead a just and good life as well? Wouldn’t reforms be made in a much better and efficient way?

Let’s take, for example,  Peron’s rule of Argentina.

He ran for presidency in 1946 and won, but in 1945 he’d pretty much secured that seat when he was released from military holding after only 8 days due to public pressure. This very closely relates to how Hobbes describes how the ruler is the representative of the people; and how, like Professor Hendricks had suggested, that the Machine (people) and the Monster (sovereign) works together.

Peron, like many other leaders in Latin America, began his presidency by dissolving other opposing governing parties, making Argentina a single party state. Not only this, he also held personal power over his own party.

Despite the singular control Peron had on the people of Argentina, the reforms he made benefitted the people (albeit only for a short period of time before the economy turned on them). Women were allowed to vote, hospitals and orphanages were built for the underprivileged, and working tools such as sewing machines were given away so that the average people could earn a living from home. All these reforms were made fairly quickly, and– like Professor Crawford mentioned in today’s lecture– allowed the people to live a good life, something that us as humans naturally want, according to Hobbes.

Peron’s rulership was described as “fascism with sugar”, a striking resemblance of the paradoxical relationship between liberty and authoritarian leadership. Peron was an authoritarian– a single party state ruler that decided what the people “shalt or shalt not do”, but he was also a liberalist in the sense that he provided equality and a good life to the people. He was not overly oppressive to his people; his most repressive law was perhaps the censorship of media.

Professor Hendricks’ challenge, in the scope of historical examples, is one that can be approached more easily if one could look at the benefits such a sovereign state can create for the people.

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Does everyone really fear death?

Fear of death is commonly seen as the underlying reason for a secure and civil society to exist. Hobbes’ argues in Leviathan the need for a sovereign ruler is caused primarily by the fear of death. Likewise, he also interprets the fear of death as a natural human aversion that everyone shares. However, there is evidence that suggest that our natural inclination to avoid and fear dying is not omnipresent. Suicide, willingly giving up one’s life for a cause, and even courage can all be considered a lack of fear of death. So what exactly is the fear of death, and is it truly shared by everyone? I will focus in this post primarily on the most common cause of death, aging.

 

For the most part, death of human individuals, and of most living things is caused by aging. Every person is aware that as time goes on, they will eventually die. Understandably, the elderly are the closest to death out of anybody. Yet do they fear death? Most older people tend to worry less and less about dying as time goes by. Accepting death, while a struggle to most, is not much unlike accepting the other things we don’t have control over, namely nature. The death of others, the law of gravity, and even our birth are all things everyone comes to accept, as there are no alternatives. It seems then, that when other factors that cause death are held constant, that very few people actually fear death.

 

Fear of death is also a driving factor in our own self-fulfillment. It can be argued that a fear death is merely fear of an unfulfilling life. Most people fear that on the brink of death they would look back on their bad choices and regrets with contempt. From this perspective, everyone’s decisions must be rooted in a fear of death. Furthermore, fear of death can also be considered the desire to live. Life, by all means, is better than death. This would imply that everyone wishes for immortality, yet this is not the case of everybody. Many wish they could experience the pleasures of life for eternity, yet many argue that the burdens of life would eventually outweigh the burdens of death.

 

In conclusion, two groups can be drawn. On one hand, there are many that do not fear death but still desire to live. These people generally accept death at the end of their lifespan as inevitable. On the other hand, there are those that fear the fatal aspect of old age and seek constant fulfillment. Ultimately, the fear of death is not necessarily shared by everyone. Should Hobbes’ fear of death be shared by everybody, it should instead be called the “desire to not die”.

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Hobbes, my pacifist friend

Hobbes argues in book 15, that the natural state of man is chaos and war, and that “every man aught to endeavor peace, as far as he hope of obtaining it”. He writes that we should follow the first and fundamental law of nature; “to seek peace, and follow it”. Not only does this warm the cockles of my pacifist heart, but it gained more respect for Hobbes in my eyes. Though he may be boring, some underlying ideas that he has are quite good. Ideas such as the “social contract” in which everyone basically says they will trust each other and protect their community from war, as well as his “second law of nature” where everyone essentially all agree to give up their things to “be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.” Though Hobbes does not focus his work on pacifist ideology, I can appreciate his ideas and would like to think that if he lived in this day and age, he could agree with me that the world should focus on promoting peace, instead of having a fascination with violence, hyped-up masculinity, and lack of compassion for fellow human beings.

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Hobbes’ musings on the mind

Despite being over 350 years old, many of Hobbes’ theories still ring true. While his ideas are arguably no more progressive than those expressed in Plato’s Republic, they are more grounded in reality and reflective of how politics and society actually work. His argument that all men are essentially the same with slight variations in terms of physical and mental capacity (with nobody being “untouchable”) is one that I found particularly interesting. It is something that we can often lose sight of even today and something about the way Hobbes communicated this idea resonated strongly with me.

Hobbes says that our ability at things such as art and science (mental abilities) and strength and size (physical ones) can vary from person to person but almost every other facet of the human experience is the same for us all. We grow and get older at the same rate and we are all vulnerable and have to ability to deal out harm. Similarly, we all gain experience as we age – along the lines of what the Ancient Greeks called “prudence”. Common sense, wisdom etc. are things that we are all “getting better at”.

Some might say that people have differing levels of capacity to be good at things such as this, to which Hobbes eloquently responds: “For such is the nature of man, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other men’s at a distance.” In other words, nobody thinks that their mind is simply inferior to others.

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The Historical Cycle of How People Predict

Hobbes defines predictions as conjectures based on the experiences in the past. In that day and age that theology was prevailing, this point of view was unusual. He argues that only realities exist in nature without any foreshadowing. It is not difficult to understand that why some people are able to make predictions. The reason would be that they have experienced more and know more about these fields, and may consider them more precisely. Therefore, predictions are not omens, but foresights.

What humans can imagine are limited, and what cannot be imagined are boundless. Some people have an accurate plan of their life, but they are not likely to follow it to achieve the goal in the end owing to many unexpected events. Oppositely, some people who do not make decisions depending on experience may get to the correct destination. As for those evidences that people regard as omens, have just happened before people get a chance to recall: “Oh, that was an omen.” When they find out that those predictions do not go as they expect, they change what they had ever believed to new regularities which works at that moment. The procedures of developments of history are a cycle of questioning and correcting. This cycle in human civilization never stops, and happens similarly in science and systems of country.

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Is Fear the Source of All Evil?

According to Hobbes, the state of nature for mankind is a state of constant warfare, where everyone fights against each other in order to survive. Therefore, it is necessary to set up a society where everybody agrees to a contract that limits their freedom but gives them protection. Hobbes’ view on mankind is a very low one, but we must admit that we do have qualities that make us that way. However, I believe that at any rate, basic human nature is good, and not in any way relating to the savage beast described by Hobbes. What makes us savage creatures that live in constant warfare is the human instinct called fear.

A toddler who has never seen a lion or a tiger would have no fear of it. We know this because of stories about babies who are raised by such animals. The idea of fear is not in our nature, it slowly comes into our minds as we age and learn about the dangers of this world. We are taught to not speak to strangers and not open doors for strangers, lest that they be bad and harm us. These teachings create suspicion in our minds. Since we are told all the time that other people could potentially harm us, we come to see people as potential enemies, and we treat them with suspicion. We do not openly express our fear, but we also don’t open ourselves completely to others either. This is what created the state of warfare that Hobbes described. Because of the hostility all people were taught to see in one another, there is no way for anybody to be sure that he/she is safe, unless of course he actively “removes” what he/she deems threatening, and by doing so he/she becomes threatening to others.

There is a way which we can overcome this fear which has been implanted in our minds; it is through interaction and familiarity. If we assume that people are basically good, once we are no longer plague by the fear that others might harm us, we will be able to see more clearly the true nature of mankind. Only then can we trust others and make friends. Interactions are the best ways to clear up our fear. Interactions allow us to understand the thoughts of one another, by listening to another person’s words as well as sharing your own; we are creating a bond between us and them. This is the key towards empathy, which is thinking from someone else’s perspective. Once we have empathy, we would realize that others are living in the same fear as we are. With this realization, we could disperse our fears towards that person and show him/her that there is no need to have fear. When both sides drop their fear, friendship, and in some cases love will develop, this is the redeeming quality of mankind that disproves Hobbes’ view. When people are with their friends, they are not in a state of warfare; instead they are in a state of cooperation. No one is working for their appetites only; they are working for the good of the whole. Security and safety is guaranteed just as in a society. However, since a group of friends is not a society; it means that society is not the only way for people to live in security.

However, at large, the group of friends will still be in war with other, similar groups, which means that the human population at large is still in a state of war. This seems to point out that society is still necessary. But in fact, even if societies are established, this state of warfare is still not eliminated, for each society would still be at war with one another as they fear each other’s power. This means that true peace will never be established on a large scale, as long as the idea of fear in being taught to us (and it must be taught for our self protection). The best we can establish are small, partial peace between groups of friends, in tribes, and in a society.

So, is fear the source of all our evil?

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The Logic of War and Peace

While discussing Hobbes’ argument for the natural state of all human beings, there seemed to be, to me, a small contradiction. Hobbes says that people are inherently evil and out to destroy each other. We have a fundamental desire for war. However, he also declares that it would be impossible for us to live in our natural state, because it would be too violent and chaotic, so our need for peace would trigger the institution of a sovereign ruler. So if our instinct is to establish a form of government, isn’t our instinct peaceful? He cannot say that humans’ intrinsic state is violent if we also naturally choose peace. This contradiction came as a surprise to me from Hobbes. The rest of his writing is so coherent and the steps always follow each other rationally. But the ambiguity in one of his central arguments really took me out of the logic of Leviathan.

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An Artistic Analysis of the Frontispiece of Leviathan

Leviathan_by_Thomas_Hobbes

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes.jpg. Digital image. Wikipedia. N.p., 26 Feb. 2006. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.

Published in 1651, the political writings of Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, was accompanied by the frontispiece by Abraham Bosse. The bottom half of the piece displays contrasting symbols of the balanced sovereign powers, the emblems on the left depict the monarch and on the right represent the church. In the centre is the Sovereign King that is composed of citizens who are looking towards the head. The art piece was inspired by the anamorphic art form which originates from the Renaissance. The 1600s was the Baroque era, elaborate, realistic and precise art work was deemed as beautiful. Baroque art is filled with dramatic shading and naturalistic landscapes, the frontispiece of Leviathan meets the requirements within the details, opposed to the image as a whole. There is an abundance of shading and preciseness but the piece displays each Baroque aspect with many images. The overwhelming complexity and intricacy does not represent the Baroque era.

The Sovereign King at the centre is not a realistic impression of the ideal king, due to the abstractness of the body The shading of the Sovereign King has caused the three dimensional effect to prove inconsistent, along with the proportionality of the hands to the head. To better depict the Sovereign King to symbolize protection of the state, with the ideals of secularism and ecclesiastical, the hands must be larger for they are present in the foreground. The landscape in front of the king is of skewed proportions and the city that is present, appears to be removed from the background. Thus creating an inaccurate scale between the countryside and city.

The symbols that represent the two sovereign powers embody the essence of Baroque the most for they are realistic and dramatically shaded. The iconic images of the crown and religion are accurately created, separately, they are of Baroque standards. Although the elements of the era are present, the frontispiece as a whole is not a perfect example of Baroque art.

 

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Hobbes on Korean Drama

Yes, this is a very strange topic.

The past few days I have been binge watching a Korean drama with my roommates. Never before have I felt this many emotions in an hour special. The drama is a romantic comedy between Oh Ha Ni, a childish and clumsy 19 year old girl and Baek Seung Jo, a rude and cold 19 year old boy who is a high school prodigy as well as Oh Ha Ni’s love interest. During a 2.0 scale earthquake, Oh Ha Ni’s house crumbles to the ground and has to relocate to a family friend’s home. There she coincidentally encounters her crush Baek Seung Jo as he is the son of their family friend. Let the chaos ensue. One of the interesting aspects of Oh Ha Ni’s character revolves around her daydreaming and I want to highlight a correlation to Hobbes’ statements on imagination and memory.
By the end of episode 11, Oh Ha Ni sits on a bench admiring nature. She quickly dozes off and daydreams of Baek Seung Jo coming to her side, confessing his love and kissing her on the lips. She awakes and realizes it was just a daydream, but odd enough explains that she feels a familiar sensation on her lips. The camera then slowly pans to the right where we see Baek Seung Jo’s little brother hiding behind a tree in shock. Here is the question, did Baek Seung Jo actually kiss Oh Ha Ni during her slumber or was it just her imagination? (It is vital here to note that Oh Ha Ni and Baek Seung Jo have locked lips in a previous episode so she has experience regarding the sensation)
According to Hobbes’ Leviathan, imagination is equivalent to memory. Imagination is the “decaying sense” of the sensations we experience day to day (88). Imagination is an abstraction to the images we retain once our eyes our closed. This account of sensation also defines memory. The “memory of many things, is called experience” (89). If imagination is memory and memory is experience then imagination is experience. Due to this transitive property, imagination is “only of those things which have been formerly perceived” (89).
If we take the scene with Oh Ha Ni for example, her acknowledgement of the familiarity on her lips would mean that the imagined kiss is based on the experience she has had before. To imagine such an instance is the same as regarding a memory because the senses that perceive the kiss have been imitated. By Hobbes’ theory, I can confidently say that Oh Ha Ni was actually kissed by Baek Seung Jo. Even though she was imagining it, the sensation in her dream was simply a retained image of what truly happened. This would also explain the shocked look on the little brother’s face since he would have seen his older brother kiss Oh Ha Ni.

This concludes my segment. I can without a doubt say that this might be one of the strangest correlation I have ever drawn.

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^ Oh Ha Ni contemplating

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Psychological Egoism

Today, it is a widely accepted theory that humans are largely motivated by self-interest, or things that are perceived to work in our favour. This theory of psychological egoism is largely attributed to Thomas Hobbes and Jeremy Bentham, but Bentham was born more than a hundred years after Hobbes, which generally speaking makes Hobbes the originator of this theory.

We can see this idea reflected in Hobbes’ Leviathan, but there isn’t really a specific argument for these views, it seems as if Hobbes just assumed that this was the nature of things. “For no man giveth but with intention of good to himself, because gift is voluntary, and of all voluntary acts the object is to every man his own good; of which, if men see they shall be frustrated, there will be no beginning of benevolence or trust; nor, consequently, of mutual help” (pg.95, l.15.16). He says that, but he never really expands on why that is.

Because of the lack of proof, this theory is not accepted by everyone, and many people believe in psychological altruism, the theory where humans have ultimately altruistic motives. If one holds this belief, then the egoist premise of Hobbes’ society falls apart. However, like psychological egoism, psychological altruism does not carry any concrete proof either.

In the end, it’s up to the reader to decide whether to believe in psychological egoism or altruism, and this greatly changes how one views Leviathan.

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