According to Thomas Hobbes’ Ethical Egoism, if we were to imagine ourselves living in a State of Nature, without government, then common standards of good, evil, and justice would be precarious, and always subject to defection by individuals who gave in to the passions for gain, pride, or revenge. As such, the common standard for good and evil would appear to be a social matter that could be secured only by an organized society that is complex enough to have a government formed by a Social Contract. Hobbes’ views have enjoyed a long and lasting influence on the fields of philosophy, sociology, political science, and beyond (and are still commonly encountered within the theories of classically trained economists and political scientists today), but my question for you is simply, do you agree with Hobbes about all of this? In particular, do you find his metaphysical description of human beings living in the State of Nature ultimately convincing? Or might his characterization of human beings, as little more than selfish and competitive individuals concerned primarily with their own self-interest, tend in some way to distort a proper understanding of ourselves or fail to fully capture the actual experience of what it’s really like to be a human being? If the latter should turn out to be true, then one implication of this would seem to be that, Hobbes’ long revered and well respected portrayal of human beings as existing in a State of Nature (or as always just one step away from spiraling back into one, were it not for the saving graces of the Social Contract currently in place), is perhaps nothing more than a deeply-seated myth, passed down through the tradition, that perpetuates the apparent necessity and need for a Social Contract. If all this were true, then what explanation might you give for why such a myth has been able to take hold and persist for so long? And just whose interests might such a myth tacitly be serving in the end?
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