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Hobbes: A Morose View of Humanity

October 7, 2010

At the base of Hobbes’ philosophy in Leviathan is an enormous and vile assumption that cannot go uncontested. Hobbes argues that the “Summum Bonum, (greatest Good)” (ch.11) does not exist because of man’s ‘State of Nature’.  In this idea of ‘State of Nature’, Hobbes argues that humanity is inherently self-interested and often times eager to use violence in regards to this self-interest.  Hobbes believes that we must escape from this ‘State of Nature’ in order for man to live in peace, which he states is also a natural, inherent desire of humanity. He states that “the way of one competitor, to the attaining of his desire, is to kill, subdue or repel the other”(ch.11). The fact is that humanity is not inherently self-interested, but the polar opposite. Man is inherently SELFLESS. The reason man evolved into intelligent-beings is solely due to cooperation. Professor Martin A. Nowak of Harvard states, “Cooperation is needed for evolution to construct new levels of organization”.

Progress is made when we cooperate (a natural phenomenon), not when we hold value in self-interest (a product). So if we are not naturally self-interested, where does self-interest come from? Self-interest is the manifestation of a poorly functioning society. The more impoverished a society is, the more crime (a product of self-interest) there will be. Poverty is the main reason for self-interest, so it is then not a problem inherent in humanity, but a problem that is the main focus and purpose of a government. Hobbes states that man is interested in “not only to the procuring, but also to the assuring of a contented life”(ch.11). Hobbes leaves ‘being content’ in the hands of the individual while the well-being of the people is an issue that the government should deal with. If the government makes sure it’s people are content, then not only is there no motive for self-interest, but there will be a greater likeliness for GENEROSITY. This is not an attempt to denounce the notion of ‘self’, but to look at the ‘self’ in relation to the needs of others. When you contribute to a community, you reap the benefits of cooperation. We are stronger when we work together than we will ever be if we pursue personal power and interest. Self-interest is not a product of human nature, but the product of an oppressive society. It is then necessary to curb this oppression (which is the function of government) in order to achieve the maximum number of content citizens, who will in turn display philanthropy and generosity to perpetuate the government’s goal of an overall ‘content’ nation, theoretically eliminating self-interest and reaching the “Summum Bonum”.


  1. adamarcher permalink
    October 8, 2010 2:48 PM

    If man is inherantly selfless, then why do children need to be taught to share and act according to social standards? If selflessness is natural then why must it be learned?
    jus wundrein . . .

  2. adamkornbluh permalink
    October 9, 2010 8:33 PM

    I must disagree with your notion that man is inherently selfless. Our most primitive instinct is that of self-preservation. It is true that cooperation is one of human’s greatest assets, but it is facilitated because of the benefit that cooperation has on one self. By banding together, humans are able to accomplish tasks normally unachievable by individual means and reap the benefits. Why did the Allied countries in World War II fight together? It is because they knew that unless they formed a colossal force with which to fight the Axis, each and every one of them would be individually destroyed. Their self-interest of survival was the main motivation for this.

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