Human Nature as Viewed by Thomas Hobbes and David Hume
Thomas Hobbes in Chapter 13 of Leviathan, and David Hume in Section 3 of An Enquiry Concerning the Princples of Morals, give views of human nature. Hobbes’ view captures survivalism as significant in our nature but cannot account for altruism. We cover Hobbes’ theory with a theory of Varied Levels of Survivalism, explaining a larger body of behavior with the foundation Hobbes gives. Hume gives a scenario which does not directly prove fruitful, but he does capture selfless behavior.
We will give Hobbes’ view of human nature as he describes it in Chapter 13 of Leviathan. We will then give an argument for placing a clarifying layer above the Hobbesian view in order to account for acts of altruism.
Hobbes views human nature as the war of each man against each man. For Hobbes, the essence of human nature can be found when we consider how man acts apart from any government or order. Hobbes describes the world as “a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man.” (Hobbes mp. 186) In such a world, there are “no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Hobbes mp. 186) Hobbes believes that laws are what regulate us from acting in the same way now. He evidences that our nature is this way by citing that we continue to lock our doors for fear of theft or harm. Hobbes gives a good argument which is in line with what we know of survivalism, and evidences his claim well. Hobbes claims that man is never happy in having company, unless that company is utterly dominated. He says, “men have no pleasure, (but on the contrary a great deal of grief) in keeping company, where there is no power able to over-awe them all.” (Hobbes mp. 185) Hobbes argues that we are constantly diffident of other men. In order to ensure survival, we must dominate our competitors. We have natural instincts to dominate other men, according to Hobbes, and this is part of what constitutes our human nature.
Hobbes views human nature as very mechanistic, requiring that our actions have direct benefit to us. One may argue against Hobbes that he does not provide explanation for why some people in our current society act altruistically. For example, many people have been known to risk life and limb to save another. Hobbes may respond that those people are foolish aberrations from survivalism. One could also respond that altruistic acts do benefit those who do them, either by bettering one’s reputation, or giving one mental satisfaction. This is not adequate enough to explain why one would donate organs upon death, when one’s reputation is no longer of any use to them. Take another example: while driving one sees an unknown stranger standing in the road and swerves out of the way into a tree. Regardless of the outcome, the driver risks her own life in an effort to...