Thursday, May 14, 2009

Was Hobbes an idiot?

Thomas Hobbes, in Chapter 13 of Leviathan, writes:
It may seem strange to some man that has not well weighed these things that Nature should thus dissociate and render men apt to invade and destroy one another: and he may therefore, not trusting to this inference, made from the passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by experience. Let him therefore consider with himself: when taking a journey, he arms himself and seeks to go well accompanied; when going to sleep, he locks his doors; when even in his house he locks his chests; and this when he knows there be laws and public officers, armed, to revenge all injuries shall be done him; what opinion he has of his fellow subjects, when he rides armed; of his fellow citizens, when he locks his doors; and of his children, and servants, when he locks his chests. Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions as I do by my words? But neither of us accuse man's nature in it. The desires, and other passions of man, are in themselves no sin. No more are the actions that proceed from those passions till they know a law that forbids them; which till laws be made they cannot know, nor can any law be made till they have agreed upon the person that shall make it.
In other words, he's suggesting that I, because I feel that men are apt to cooperate, rather than destroy each other, consider why I would lock my doors at night, or travel with weapons when I travel. Yes, I do those things. He suggests my behavior is an accusation that I make against mankind. This is one of the things that makes me think him an idiot. Really, it's like saying that if I bring a jacket to the beach, I'm accusing the ocean of making it cold. Or, less anthropomorphically, that I'm expecting it to be cold. He appears to have no concept of insurance. Hence my conclusion. He's an idiot. Certainly there are a few men who are apt to destroy each other, but to suggest that protecting oneself from those few is an admission that deep down, we know everyone is out to get us... It's ridiculous!

And Leviathan is a foundational work in the creation of the state. What the hell?

Here is the conversation that inspired me to take a closer look at this buffoon.