Sunday, February 7, 2010

Did Hobbes Change the Meaning of Justice?

Alice C. Linsley

The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) wrote Leviathan, a book which influenced John Locke and the Founding Fathers of the United States. His idea of a social contract between citizens whereby each agrees to surrender rights to the state is considered one of the best ideas of the Enlightenment. Rarely do people consider how Hobbes' contractarian philosophy departs from and has little in common with the wisdom of antiquity. 

In the ancient world, the citizens' well-being depended on the virtue or righteousness of the ruler.  Hobbes argued that the sovereign's power is what makes the citizen's comply with the contract. This being the case, justice is not a possibility until sovereignty has been created. By this argument, we conclude that justice is a product of coercive power and contracts are validated by the ruler's power, not by the ruler's virtue or righteousness.

In the ancient world, the citizens' well-being depended on the virtue or righteousness of the ruler. That is why the ancient Afro-Asiatic rulers tried to deal with their sin by having priests who offered sacrifice for them. They believed that how they lived before the Creator would affect their entire kingdom. In other words, there could be no real justice in the king's realm unless the king were just in his actions. Justice and righteousness are the same word in the Hebrew Bible. Are there any politicians, rulers, or presidents thinking like this today?

Hobbes changed the idea of justice. No longer did it have to do with the virtue or righteousness of the ruler, but it had to do with a contract that citizens worked out among themsleves to give up certain rights to a ruler. Hobbes argued also that the ruler's power makes the citizen's comply with the contract. This being the case, justice is a product of coercive power, and contracts are validated by the ruler's power, not by the ruler's virtue or righteousness.

In developing his contractarian idea Hobbes often quotes Genesis, the first book of the Bible. It is strange that he should do this since Genesis speaks of a fixed binary order in creation. God is the supreme ruler over all and isn't interested in artificial agreements such as the social contract. Hobbes himself recognized that the social contract, as an artificial entity, does not find its basis in the natural order of creation. It does find a basis in the individual's desire for security in the face of human cruelty and brutishness.

Let us consider some of Hobbes' ideas and their implications.

Children’s Consent to Parental Governance
Hobbes wrote: “Dominion is acquired two ways: by generation and by conquest. The right of dominion by generation is that which the parent hath over his children, and is called paternal. And is not so derived from the generation, as if therefore the parent had dominion over his child because he begat him, but from the child’s consent, either express or by other sufficient arguments declared.”

By this argument, we may conclude that the child’s consent to be governed by his parents is essential to the proper exercise of parental authority. By consenting to parental authority the child receives protection, material provision, training, guidance, nurture and perhaps sufficient bounty to make a marriage. In Hobbes’ view, children who are abused by their parents do not owe them consent to governance, as none can be compelled to obey an authority that commands self-injury or endangers without just cause.

We find in Hobbes’ view the beginnings of children’s rights. Later Bentham would adapt this principle in his promotion of animal rights.

On the Supremacy of Fathers
Hobbes wrote that the dominion “over the child should belong to both [mother and father], and he be equally subject to both, which is impossible; for no man can obey two masters… In Commonwealths this controversy is decided by the civil law: and for the most part, but not always, the sentence is in favour of the father, because for the most part Commonwealths have been erected by the fathers.”

By this argument, we may conclude that the child must obey as his first authority the governance that is established for him by civil law. But doesn’t this overthrow the child’s “right” to consent to be governed by the parent? Do we have here an inherent contradiction in Hobbes' thought?

By this argument, we also may conclude that patriarchy is not a natural order but the artifice of male law makers. This is not supported by anthropological research, as no true matriarchy has ever been found to exist. It is no small point that order of creation reflects a fixed reality while artifices, even those endowed with authority, reflect malleable realities.

Justification for Absolute Monarchy
For Hobbes, the ideal government is a monarchy perpetuated by rules of succession that keep control within the royal family. He quotes I Samuel 8:11-17 as an authority for his view of monarch’s power over lands, harvests, flocks, populace, militia and all judicature, “in which is contained as absolute power as one man can possibly transfer to another.”

By this argument, we may conclude that not even a prophet of God has authority to question the ruler’s will. The ruler is the supreme authority on earth, usurping even God’s authority. While Hobbes argues that the power of the ruler is established by God on earth, he does not recognize the equally authoritative offices of the prophet and the priest. This being so, he justifies civil authority as superior to ecclesial authority and develops a comprehensive Erastianism.

The young Charles II, Hobbes's former pupil, granted him a pension of £100. The king’s protection was important to Hobbes, especially when he was accused of heresy. Terrified of being labeled a “heretic”, Hobbes burned some of his papers and set about to examine the law of heresy. He presented the results of his investigation in three short Dialogues added as an Appendix to his Latin translation of Leviathan. In this appendix, Hobbes argued that, since the Restoration had put down the High Court of Commission, there remained no court of heresy and nothing could be heresy except opposing the Nicene Creed, which, he maintained, Leviathan did not do. This definition of heresy served Hobbes well, but it ignores the question of whether Hobbes’ political views contradict the orders of creation.

Hobbes’ fear of societal chaos convinced him of the necessity of absolute regal powers. He wrote, “And though of so unlimited a power, men may fancy many evil consequences, yet the consequences of the want of it, which is perpetual war of every man against his neighbour, are much worse.”

It is Natural for Man to Honor Valid Contracts
In Leviathan, Hobbes develops his third law of nature: that men must honor valid contracts. Were this reality, the only occasion for war and turmoil would be a vaccum of power. Hitler's Third Reich refutes this principle. After concentrating both executive and legislative power in his person, Hitler exercised his coercise power to destroy millions of people and to wage war on two fronts. He regarded coercive power as a necessity in renewing German nationalism.

On Judging Good from Evil
Hobbes wrote, “For the cognizance or judicature of good and evil, being forbidden by the name of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, as a trial of Adam’s obedience, the devil to inflame the ambition of the woman... told her that by tasting it they should be as gods, knowing good and evil. Whereupon having both eaten, they did indeed take upon them God’s office, which is judicature of good and evil, but acquired no new ability to distinguish between them aright.”

Hobbes concludes that humans take God's role as judge upon themselves without having God's ability to judge good from evil. Since this is the case, free will must be determined by material, not metaphysical or theological concerns. He wrote, "The universe is corporeal; all that is real is material, and what is not material is not real." Here he tosses out the final piece of Christian Tradition and prepares the ground for the materialist philosophies of later centuries. He treats freedom as being able to do what one desires and he treats the Creation as matter in motion.  There is nothing except what we can see, taste, touch, hear and smell.  Since we can't perceive of God, heaven or the soul by these senses, they can't be said to exist.

Thomas Hobbes was born prematurely on Good Friday in 1588. It is said that his birth was precipitated by his mother's fear of the invasion of the Spanish Armada. He lived through the most tumultuous and bloody times in English history and this shaped his worldview. Unfortunately, his misconceptions also shaped western political ideas and have moved us with tidal force to the brink of a new totalitarianism.  For if justice is a product of coercive power and contracts are validated only by the ruler's power to enforce them, then we are speaking about a very different kind of justice than that found in the Bible.  The Hebrew word for justice is tsedhaqah or tsedheq; and the Greek word is dikaiosune.  The Hebrew and Greek words are also translated "righteousness."

Related reading:  The Corporeal Universe Needs Metaphysics


ssexton62 said...

I feel that he did in some ways change the meaning of justice. He bases this on the the citizens need for protection. Even though it was not natural to recognize a sovereign's power it was necessary for the security and protection of each citizen. He further builds on this when he discusses the child's relationship with the parents. While he sees security in a sovereign ruler, as long as everyone upholds their end of the bargain, as being the desire, he falls short on the real biblical meaning of justice. I agree that humans do take the role of God as judge upon themselves, we've certainly all seen the problems associated with that. I don't agree that simply because we don't see the supernatural, it can't or shouldn't exist.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The notion that "things unseen" must be discounted in political dialogue is another Enlightenment idea. This developed into empiricism and logical positivism in the 20th century. It is also a premise of atheism.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Leslie asked me to post this comment for her:

"I don't think that Hobbes changed the meaning of justice he just expressed his views on various issues that others either didn't speak about or hadn't thought about like the idea that God doesn't exist because we can't see him. I don't think he changed th meaning of justice by his ideas but he did make others think about his views so they could make up their own minds."

Lottie Boyd said...

I agree that Hobbes didn't necessarily change the meaning of justice but instead looked for a new way of explaining a few things. While his thoughts on an authoritative figure is someone that offers protection and security in return for obedience I don't see that as a change in the definition of justice. I also disagree with Hobbes when he said that since God can't be seen he doesn't exist. I did learn though from Mrs.Linsley post that this idea of Hobbes' was a big part of the Enlightenment thinking and eventually led to atheism.

Sara Sutherland said...

i also agree that Hobbes did not change the meaning of justice. I think his views, however, are interesting. I think his views on parenting is not like parenting at all. It seems to me that he looks parenting as a government. I certainly don't agree with Hobbes idea that said since "God cant be seen he doesn't exist." I learned that this is when atheism was born from Ms. Linsley and I think that this is very interesting that just by a comment of Hobbes that he could make a impact on the people in the 20th century.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Will there be justice in a nation whose ruler lacks virtue but has great power?

Brittany Gregory said...

I to do not believe that Hobbes changed the meaning of justice. The things that he explains were already in order, they had just not been wrote out and discussed before. That is why it brought up so many opinions. People had never really talked about it before or maybe even never thought about it. It gave many people something to think about and brought up a lot of confusion.

I also agree with Sara when she states that his views of parenting are distorted. I to think that he associates not only parenting as government but all things as government.

To Mrs. Linsleys question, I do not think that there will be justice in a nation where the ruler lacks virtue but has great power. How can there be proper justice when a ruler holds no morales and values and doesnt look out for the virtue and well being of others.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Monica asked me to post this comment for her:

"Hobbes did in my opinion change the way people view politics and justice today. People look at how it will effect others. No matter how he influenced the topic he did speak about the topics while others went mute on the subjects. Just by speaking about the topics forced not only the people of his time but of our time as well to look around and see what was justice and what was not being done. In my opinion he did change alot of things including the way and how people looked at important topics."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Chantelle asked me to post this comment for her. Here it is:

"Hobbes was born in a time that royalty were the supreme rulers and they greatly influenced the church that decided who was right and wrong. Many people were falsely tortured or burned at the stake for heresy if they went against the church.

They were not judged by the codes of the righteous but by the codes of the powerful and many were persecuted or killed for not agreeing with the church or what the powerful royal rulers wanted.

Hobbes really believed that people should behave along righteous codes but because of fear of being tortured or executed because of accusations of heresy, he went along with the church and royal views instead of the biblical ones."

Very interesting, Chantelle. Hobbes certainly saw the most horrible face of religious fanaticism in England. He was lucky for the protection of the King.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ryan H. asked me to post this comment for him:

"I believe Hobbes is just interpreting his own meaning of Justice. Throughout decades, individuals have interpreted justice how they feel fit. Judges and juries determine the fate of criminals, but who gives them this power. Not God! The people have elected these individuals to make the best decision for their safety. I for one, have witnessed this on a weekly basis, and I am not pleased. We have set laws and the consequences for breaking these laws. However, I see criminals getting very light sentences, or wealthy individuals getting cut a break. Justice is rarely ever served. Criminals get light penalties and then are back on the streets committing the same crimes if not worse ones. I for one would like to drop these people of in the judge's neighborhoods and let them get a taste instead of taking them to jail! However, that would be unethical! So why do they let them back out in our neighborhoods? We have always had supreme rulers and will for centuries, but their decisions effect us all. Most leaders look for what will benefit them before thinking about the people that it will effect. In the end, they still get paid and don't have to suffer the consequences that the very public that elected them will face. Hobbes put his neck on the line by voicing his opinion. Now we rely on a government that makes the decisions for us off of their own opinion. Do we trust in these decisions? We don't have a choice. Our leaders do provide security and protection, but a what cost. Our government has so many people scared to go out of their house do to threat levels. Who came up with this system? Was Iraq really a threat to the United States, or did we just want to profit from their oil? I know this in itself could be a long debate, but I was their. Many of my fellow Marines we killed, and for what? Is our country any safer than it was when it all started? I chose to serve my country for nine years because I felt that our leaders were capable of making JUST decisions. So many young lives have been lost and we still have the same threat level. "For liberty and JUSTICE for ALL," what ever happened to this? This is what should be taken out of the "Pledge of Allegiance," instead they want to take God out. What have we become?"

Ryan Barnes said...

I think that Hobbes did change the meaning of justice when it comes to the “law of the land.” The foundation he laid and John Locke later built upon resembles our justice system today. The “contracts” they speak of are similar to the laws of today. Without these contracts (laws) our country may resemble a lawless country such as Somalia. Rousseau’s argument that government and its law making abilities are subject to corrupt behavior is relevant as well. You can look at our government today at see that as well. Too many senators’ pockets are being lined with money, and re-election contributions from special interest groups.

Will there be justice in a nation whose ruler lacks virtue but has great power? Absolutely not. Human nature is flawed, we can argue when it becomes flawed, but we all agree that eventually it does become flawed. Flawed human nature is then expected to build a just government. On paper this may look feasible, but in reality there will always be a flawed government due to flawed humans.

Sweeney's said...

I think that Hobbes did change the meaning of justice in some ways. I think that justice is doing what is right by these "contracts" in which laws were established. We have to have laws written for everyone to follow, if not I would hate to see what the world would really be like.

I don't think that he was right in saying that children can't obey two masters. My children obey me and their father. Not just their father. They will listen to both you just need to show them who is in charge and respect them and they will respect you.

"God can't be seen he doesn't exist" is false. Just look did all of this happen without God!


AshleyC said...

Hobbes is a very interesting person to either agree or disagree with. His view on animalistic natures with the intentions of relieving physical pressures is very true. His pessimistic views resulting in his one-sided opinion of government and civilization is very easy to disagree with, even though it seems we have adopted it even today. The theory of children choosing to obey their parental figures is very interesting to me. It is very apparent in today's world how a child can refuse their parents authority. It is accepted and tolerated so easily by society. I understand that. As a mother, I don't like the thought of it because I have nothing but the best interest at heart for my children. Justice can not be found where there is no intention for it. And power is needed to uphold intention. True justice requires virtue and power. Justice for any other reason besides the intention with virtuous fairness is not true justice, but personal gain.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Barbara asked me to post her comment. Here it is:

"Thomas Hobbes' viewpoint toward humanity was focused on animalistic nature. He felt self-interest was a priority while living independently without having regard for others; this led to a "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" way of life. The only remedy would be binding agreements that were mutually beneficial while sacrificing individual interests in order to gain security which only a social cause could offer. Thomas Hobbes' theory was thought to be one of the best ideas of the Enlightenment.

Virtue and righteousness were the "fair" components of justice determined by the ancient peoples. Hobbes' "thinking" was that a sovereign's power reinforced the contracts initiated by the citizens. Thus, justice and contracts were achieved through forced power, not by virtue or righteousness.

It amazes me that Hobbes referred to the first book of Genesis in the Bible with his artificial social contract entity; with God being the supreme "being" and not recognizing artificial agreements in the natural order of creation.

"Children's rights" appear to have blossomed from Thomas Hobbes' ideas and implications. I do agree with Hobbes' logic of parents having control over their children and in turn the children agreeing with their parental authority, as long as the children receive "protection, material provision, training, guidance, nurture and perhaps sufficient bounty to make a marriage." Again, I feel strongly that parents should lose their privilege of "consent to govern" their children if abuse plays a critical role in affecting/destroying a child's life.
I find it very difficult that a child to obey his "first authority the governance" established for him by civil law; but yet Hobbes' writings claims the dominion belongs equally to both his mother and father. This deduction in theory allows patriarchy to not be included in the natural order but the ingenuity of male law makers be involved instead.

Once again, Thomas Hobbes quoted the first book of Samuel in the Bible to justify his opinion that a monarchy with its succession and control are the "ideal" government. Ironically, his reasoning isn't supported by the Bible believing the ruler of the monarchy has more power than God's authority. Hobbes' misconceptions concerning justice included such elements as coercive power and contracts reinforced by a ruler's power, were very much different from the "justice" described in the Bible. 'Righteousness' is the basis for natural creation."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Karen L. asked me to post this comment for her:

"I don't believe that Thomas Hobbes changed the meaning of justice, but instead gave a different perspective from his own point of view.The problem was that Hobbes point of view of justice was too vague. His approach to defining justice was a very mechanical and logical approach.To answer the question will there be justice in a nation whose ruler lacks virtue but has great power, I would have to say no. Without morals how can the power be put to use for the good of his followers. I don't believe that one is affect without the other, to have justice in a government there must be morals."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Craig asked me to post this comment for him:

"I agree that Hobbs did not change the meaning of justice. I believe he was trying to explain ways that justice could be interpreted. I personally feel we must have laws to govern right and wrong doing, but they way our justice is currently set up is by far the most fair. By this I mean that we have a say in what laws are put into use by voting. We also have a say in if the laws should be broken or not, meaning we have a choice to obey the law or break it. By being able to use our own judgment on the outcome of how the laws affect us gives us ownership on wanting to always do better. I f we relied on someone else to protect us then we would not take necessary steps or have the ability to make the right decision to protect ourselves ultimately leading to failure if the sovereign fails to make the right decisions. Also, should one person have that much power? Personally, I don’t think so."

You make a good point, Craig. Hobbes believed that the ideal form of government was a monarchy and he wanted a powerful monarch! Without power the ruler would not be able to enforce the social contract. Americans have never been excited about this idea. We have consistently rejected from monarchy.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Timberly asked me to post this comment for her:

"I am not in agreement with the views and values of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but I think that he does put into perspective the way that the human race is. "Nature never deceives us; it is we who deceive ourselves."

In regards to Mrs. Linsley's question, I don't think it is possible for justice that is righteous to be pursued by someone who lacks virtue. As Rousseau states, we deceive ourselves, and someone who lacks virtue may easily deceive themself, no matter how much power they may hold. Hobbes percieves that humans take God's role as judge on themselves without having God's ability to judge good from evil. Taking into our own hands what is God's job will only stir up wars and create choas. There needs to be rules and regulations in our day and time, although those that have this power needs to also carry the wisdom of the Bible in their hearts to be able to make wise Godly decisions for our society."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Brian asked me to post this comment for him:

"I too feel that Hobbs did not change the meaning of justice. Hobbs basically stated his views on justice based on his viewpoint and his life experiences. So is his interpretation right? To me, probably not. I feel differently when it comes to certain aspects of his interpretation, such as the parental governance. Although I agree that the child should obey both parents, I do not feel that the father’s word should be taken as word in all cases. I do not feel that he is correct in his belief of a ruling family and an absolute monarchy. I agree with Craig, in that our justice is the most fair in that we are given choices in justice. It is up to each of us to have a voice in our laws and views as a nation, then it is up to each of us to adhere to those laws that we have chosen to live by. Justice is based on perception, and by us living in a democratic society, we as a group are able to decide what defines justice and live our lives accordingly."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Mary has asked me to post this comment for her. Here it is:

“A nation whose ruler lacks virtue but has great power is a nation in trouble. The justice of a nation depends on its ruler. A ruler who does not have good morals and values is someone who doesn't have good judgment of right/wrong. With that said, it can make situations worsen if the ruler also has great power along with his/her lack of virtue. Too much power can lead to selfishness as well as abusing the power to their own advantages instead of the advantages of others.“

BT said...

T. Towles:

I feel that Hobbs was basically saying that the "material" things ruled for justice and not what would be considered God's will. I feel he, in fact, thought that good and evil was determined by "free will" (what man wanted) rather than what is written in the books of the Bible. You can also gather that Hobbs was ruled by the monetary pension he was receiving rather than his true beliefs. He burned parts of his writings in fear of being considered a heretic.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Keysha asked me to post this comment for her:

"I just as others do not feel that Hobbes changed the meaning of Justice. I do not agree with Hobbes in his opinion that since God cannot be seen he then does not exist. Just as I learned from Ms. Linsley that he was a big part in Enlightment and the start of Atheism. Just as others in this forum I think it is very enlightening how Hobbes views with atheism changed a lot of people’s opinion. He just expressed his views on issues that others did as well in periods throughout history. His views on Children’s consent to parental Governance I totally do not agree with. Anyone that is a parent would go along with me. Parenting is more than governing. I find it interesting that Hobbes was born in a time of royals and how that influenced his life and placed him where he was at in society.

In responding to Ms. Linsley’s post: Will there be justice in a nation whose ruler lacks virtue but has great power? I do not feel that there will ever be justice in a nation whose ruler lacks virtue but has great power. Look at Hitler for example or Hussein. They both was viewed as great rulers of there time. However only in power they lacked virtue and morals and replaced those components with more power and fear over the nations they ruled. The people of both places suffered greatly and their views were much disoriented among our society today. There will never be any justice when a ruler lacks virtue because when one lacks this quality all is left is power, greed/selfishness. With virtue one has morals and gains respect, kindness. I do not think there is a ruler today that has both equal amount of virtue and power. If so there would not be as much conflict in our world today."

Hannah said...

I don’t think that Hobbes changed the way of justice. He just explained the way that he sees things. The one question that I do have is on the parenting issue. I do not agree with what Hobbes thought. My other question pertains to this quote: “there is nothing except what we can see, taste, tough, hear and smell. Since we can’t perceive of God, heaven or the soul by these senses, they can’t be said to exist.” I do not agree with this statement. We can’t personally see Africa, but we know it exists.