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Philosophical Vision of Human Nature Essay

Updated August 8, 2022

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Philosophical Vision of Human Nature Essay essay

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Hobbes holds a mechanistic view of the body. To him, human beings do not have a soul that is responsible for thoughts, actions, and emotions. The body and mind are equal with no one part dominating against the other. The human makeup is a machine created by matter in motion. Necessary behaviors such as drinking, eating, talking, and walking are a result of mechanics within us. All other actions, emotions, and thoughts are a result of our matter reacting with the laws of nature that are present in other forms of matter.

Human beings are mechanically programmed to make decisions in accordance with what is in their best interests and allow them to avoid pain, seek out pleasure, and stay alive. Therefore, the judgments that humans make are not objective. They are individualized expressions of appetite and aversion that are prone to bias based on their own self-serving mechanistic principles. Every emotion that humans experience is a direct result of their configuration of appetite and aversion. Hobbes writes that, “But whatsoever is the object of any man’s Appetite or Desire; that is it, which he for his part calleth Good: And the object of his Hate, and Aversion, evil; And of his contempt, Vile, and Inconsiderable. (p. 25). “

In direct contrast, Plato says that the soul is more important than the body. His composition is largely based around the tripartite view of the soul, which contains the knowledge of the forms, or the concepts of morality. Each soul has three sections; governing, spirited, and appetitive. One who makes the correct, and wise, decisions is one who allows their spirit and logic to combat the appetitive part of the soul. Your soul obtains knowledge throughout life. The success of that collection is determined by how well your soul functions throughout life. Unlike Hobbes, who believes that one’s wants and desires are predetermined by the mechanistic material form one possesses. However, the two are similar in the sense that they both believe the condition of the body, or soul, is directly related to human nature and the impact it has the formation of the state.

While similar, Hobbes and Plato have two distinct beliefs regarding morality. Morals are not subjective according to Hobbes. All morality is self-interested, including parenthood. One can easily argue that this statement is incorrect. Joining the military can be used to partially disprove Hobbes’ self-interest above all else mentality. Every day, young adults join the military and risk their own lives to benefit other citizens. They are focused on the common good first. The benefits to themselves are an afterthought or come second to increasing safety for everyone else in the world. However, the military example disproves part of Hobbes’ theory, while proving that his belief of human judgment being notoriously unreliable is correct. “And last of all, men, vehemently in love with their own new opinions, (though never so absurd,) and obstinately bent to maintain them, gave those their opinions also that reverenced name of Conscience, as if they would have it seem unlawful, to change or speak against them; and so pretend to know they are true, when they know at most but that they think so (p. 31).”

The cost benefit analysis of joining the military, becoming a parent, etc. aligns with Hobbes’ belief that all human opinion is subjective based on our appetites and aversions. To one, joining the military is an honorary profession that is for the good of the people. For others, joining the military allows them to increase the power they have on others throughout time. The struggle for power is at the forefront of Hobbes’ view on human nature. In this state of nature, Hobbes says that humans have a fear and danger of violent death. They are programmed to want as much power and good as they can obtain. In this self-serving world, there are no natural laws that place limits on what humans can do to satisfy their appetites. If two men want the same apple because of the scarce resources, then there are no laws that prevent them from going to war with each other and killing over it. Therefore, humans are free to harm and kill whatever and whomever they like to achieve the power that they desire.

In Hobbes’ view, the natural inclination humans have to satisfy their appetite can lead to the override of reason. This leads to distrust, instability, and war as a result of humans constantly being afraid of one another. As Hobbes eloquently says, “…and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. (p. 119)” The conclusion he comes to is that when there is an absence of a political watch body, people are inclined to be self serving, no matter the cost. This statue of nature is equivalent to the state of war. The presence of a sovereign who oversees the laws of the land encourages those to obey who is in power. Conclusions about morality, including what is good and evil, cannot be drawn until the sovereign issues regulations.

After all, human nature in Hobbes’ world is not divine. It is a system of regulations that compliment one’s self interests. The regulations the sovereign places on society are reasoned principles, not divine laws that originate from a higher power. The law of nature must be turned into common law that benefits many by forming a social contract that is mutually beneficial to everyone who agrees. In his mind, an oppressive ruler who places limits on what people can and cannot do is far better than going to war over an apple and dying.

By creating a society with laws, humans are able to benefit from the safe environment that they create. Hobbes repeatedly says that the worst part of human nature is their self-preserving inclination to want to stay alive. The sovereign creates laws in a social contract that outlaw harm and murder. Hobbes believes that even the strongest man can be murdered in his sleep. “Nature hath made men so equal, in the faculties of body, and mind; as that though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind then another; yet when all is reckoned together, the difference between man, and man, is not so considerable, as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit, to which another may not pretend, as well as he. For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himself (p. 55).”

Therefore, humans are able to satisfy their appetites and desire for power in a way that does not allow them to do undo harm to another and for another to do undo harm to them while still ensuring that everyone within society is equal.

Plato, on the other hand believes in an optimistic view of humankind. According to him, the nature of humanity is directly tied to justice. Humanity is at its best when society is just. This can be accomplished through a balanced tripartite soul within the individual and a collective justice within the city itself. A happy and just society leads to a happy and just person. Unlike Hobbes, Plato’s world does not have a sovereign who rules with reasoned principle instead of divine right. To accomplish Plato’s ideal utopia, the king must be a wise philosopher whose soul is in perfect harmony so mental conflict does not arise and society must be divided into three separate classes.

The three classes, auxiliaries, producers, and guardians are given to a person at birth, which is told as a noble lie in Plato’s world. Mothers do not give birth to their children here. Instead, children are lied to and told they originate from mother earth and are forged by different metals, which dictates the class they are sorted into. The producers are farmers and artisans who makeup the lowest class. Auxiliaries are today’s version of a police force that enforces the laws and wishes of the guardian. They rule with infinite courage and bravery. Auxillaries are those who believe in what the guardians are doing for the society and would go to war for those beliefs.

Finally, the guardians are the wisest of our peers who rule over us who rule with infinite wisdom because they have been brought up with a substantial amount of education. They are those whose tripartite soul is in perfect alignment. The class groups are representative of human nature as a whole. The guardians represent the intellect, auxiliaries are the spirit, and the producers are the appetite. If the balance of these three groups is perfect, and the needs are provided for, then the balance and needs within each human will also reflect perfect harmony.

Plato says, “…the wisdom it has a whole is due to the smallest grouping and section within it and to the knowledge possessed by this group, which is the authoritative and ruling section of the community (pg. 135)”

The philosopher king is not selected on a whim or by god himself. He undergoes many years of education to learn to love and appreciate the forms such as concepts of morality like justice, equality, and liberty. The philosophers are trained from a young age to tell truths and are only told stories of honorable and just deeds. All of their needs are provided for them; including food, shelter, and the distraction of a family. By providing for their basic needs, Plato believed that we can prevent the human inclination of tyranny and will not be tempted to enslave the rest of the population for their own benefit. By providing for their basic needs, Plato eliminates the natural human distractions that modern politicians are concerned with such as food, shelter, property, money, families, etc. Those concerns prevent the modern politician from ruling with only the cities best interests at heart because their tripartite soul is not in harmony when they are letting their appetite rule over their logic and spirit. Humans are attracted to justice and will be unlikely to obey a political figure that is not just.

Plato argues that members of society will obey the philosopher king because they are chosen from class of guardians because they will are educated, older, wise, and wholly unwilling to do anything other than what is advantageous to the city. Society is encouraged to follow the rules because unlimited desire leads to conflicts. Instead of implementing a social contract to combat this, Plato says that they body benefits when the soul is in good condition. One is just when each of the three parts of the soul performs its function. The rational part of the soul is satisfied when desires are channeled through reasoning. Finding wisdom, courage, and moderation satisfies the spirited portion. Last, feeding the bodily appetites such as food and sex satisfies the appetitive part of the soul. By implementing Plato’s version of a state, all necessary basic human needs will be provided for.

The necessities like food and shelter, in Plato’s mind, are distinct parts of human nature that must be provided for in order for society to function properly. The right order of the soul and the basic needs of humanity being met leads to happiness and justice in both public and private lives. As Plato says, “However, in founding the city we are not looking to the exceptional happiness of any one group among us but, as far as possible, that of the city as a whole (p. 98)”.

In conclusion, both Hobbes and Plato agree that being moral, and just, is in your own self-interest. However, they diverge on whether or not humans by nature are inherently good or bad and the impact that has on society and the creation of the state. Hobbes’ world is one built around the notion that people are selfish. Society, or the state, must provide a way via a social contract that allows men to satisfy their appetite and desires that are part of their mechanistic system from the beginning. They follow this contract, and obey the enforcers, because it is a mutually beneficial arrangement that allows them to live with minimal fear of being killed by someone else who is seeking power.

Plato believes in ruling in an educated world where people follow the laws of the philosopher king because they respect his wisdom. If one’s tripartite soul is in perfect and just alignment, then it will have a positive influence on society.

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