[hist-analytic] McPherson's Hobbes
Baynesr at comcast.net
Baynesr at comcast.net
Thu Feb 11 16:27:39 EST 2010
First, I would mention that I will be commenting on recent posts; but
I've been extremely taken with attempting to come to some resolution
on Hobbes's view of the state of nature and a couple of other things.
For example, almost all the commentators take him to be an atheist.
Is suspect he was, but the textual evidence is not very strong. The
same can be said of his "state of nature." Most everyone characterizes
it as a state of murderous animals (well, pretty much); but I wasn't
convinced. Then I get hold of a book by MacPherson, now pretty
much forgotten, I guess. Here are a couple of comments on his
contribution. What is behind some of these remarks of mine concern
his take on freedom and nature in relation to the "initial position."
MacPherson In his book The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism:
Hobbes to Locke, (Oxford, 1962) C. B. MacPherson presents a different
picture than is ordinarily supposed regarding what, according to Hobbes,
the state of nature is. His account would render Hobbes’s conception closer
to Locke’s in that the state of nature does not exclude the existence of
society. MacPhereson says,
His [Hobbes’s] state of nature is a statement of the behaviour to which men as
they now are, men who live in civilized societies and have the desires of
civilized men, would be led if all law and contract enforcement…were removed.
[MacPherson (1962) p. 22]
What we should notice here is that, logically, this is to specify a state of nature
counterfactually as what would (counterfactually) obtain in the absence of contract.
This approach affords us an opportunity of seeing a number of issues in a very
different light than would otherwise be possible. Throughout our investigation
behind much of what is to be said is the status of sociobiological aspects of the
state of nature. Do we regard the state of nature as an animal state and then
attempt to deduce the details of the state of nature by invoking biological concepts,
perhaps social Darwinism? It may turn out that society, as well as the behavior
associated with “beasts,” represent merely a continuum of sociobiological phenomena.
This is a distinct possibility. But even so, if we accept MacPherson’s proposal, then
we are barred from applying sociobiological principles to the contractors in the
initial position at the same level as we would apply them to, say, the social insects.
Rousseau appears to put man in a state of nature close to the animal world in a
number of respects. One is the role of pity in both worlds; but the point to note is
that if MacPherson’s is the best proposal for understanding Hobbes, then
sociobiology, and social Darwinism, would be difficult to establish as governing
events represented by social contract theory.
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