Human Nature: Hobbes, Rousseau and Marx

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In this essay I will explore the subject of Human Nature and how Thomas Hobbes,Jean Jacques Rousseau and Karl Marx shaped their ideas on the direction that society should take. I will begin with Hobbes and explore his work the Leviathan (1651) where he argues the self centred nature of man and how he introduces a civil state with an absolute monarchy or a Levithan. I will contrasts these beliefs to Rousseau whose work The Social Contract (1762) explored the opposite of Hobbes’s Leviathan. Rousseau believed that human beings were capable of something greater than simply surviving and behaving in a self-interested manner. Last but not the least I will ralk about the German philosopher Karl Marx (1818-1883), a sociologist, economist, journalist, historian and revolutionary socialist who argued that human nature is determined by the nature of the economic system. Human nature is defined as the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans.

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Thomas Hobbes believes that men equally share the right to take what is needed for survival and thus are able to harm their neighbours and take what is needed for protection. The will for man to survive creates a war of all against all. Appetite and Aversion are the two driving forces of man and Hobbes states that this means there is no obligation for man to respect each other and that there is no morality in the traditional sense of goodness and justice. Man desires the same thing and power is relational and a zero-sum resource. This leads him to say that others may probably be expected to come prepared with forces united to dispossessed, and derive him, not only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life, or liberty, Human beings were equal – not in physical strength or intelligence – because they had the capacity to level the playing field to achieve their aims. So if someone was stronger than you in the state of nature and possessed something you wanted, you could use a weapon to kill them or group together with others to kill them.

Hobbes assumes the bad nature of man and without government or a Leviathan, a state of absolute power, the life of man, would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short (Ch XIII, p.186). For Hobbes, the only way to prevent the free-for-all killing in the state of nature was to create a sovereign (or civil state) and live under laws. In this civil state, all people sacrificed some of their liberty to end the violence of the state of nature. And while they lost part of their freedom they gained security through law and the strength of the state or government to suppress violent behaviour, which was worth the sacrifice for many. Hobbes took civil society a step further by arguing that the sovereign should be absolute in its power a ‘Leviathan’ that had the power to destroy all opposition to it from individuals, and ensure that people obeyed the laws of the sovereign – which introduced inequality by being more powerful than all individuals – and stopped acting violently towards each other.

“” Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. Rousseau believed that human beings were capable of something greater than simply surviving and behaving in a self-interested manner. He states that humans are born free and able to shape their lives and personality as they choose, but society constricts individuals and corrupts them making them evil. Poverty and negative life experiences are some of the external factors that corrupts the good man into one who must use other means to survive as being good did not work for them.

Rousseau therefore argues that absolute sovereignty is the slavery of an entire people,Illegitimate, absurd and meaningless, rather he proposes a social contract with an agreement among all the people to submit to their general will (50)- a deal between each individual and the place he belongs; a contract with oneself. Being part of the civil state requires people to, surrender their natural freedom , give up freedom to do whatever they want, act according to duties and exercise reason. This refers to the chaining up of man compared to the freedom he has in rousseau’s perception of state of nature where he is free and peaceful. However Rousseau is adamant that with this type of of civil law, people gain two types of freedom in return. Civil freedom, Persona and property protected by the general will, and Moral freedom; the ability to choose and live by self-imposed laws. His idea of man’s good human nature is seen in hi prescriptions for the direction that society should take compared to Hobbes as he disagrees with the absolute sovereign and for man to give up all his freedom to find security as if man is born peaceful then there is no need to give up all of man’s freedom.

The last theorist Karl Marx considered humans to be socio-historical beings. That is their nature changes according to the social social environment that they occupy. This is why he saw people forming social relationships and identities in relation to the historical economic relationship that they held, for example, a peasant’s nature would have more in common with other peasants than say the nature of an aristocrat or merchant. Workers nature’s would be different to say the professional classes and the bourgeoisie or upper classes. The only fundamental unchanging natural attribute that can be gleaned from Marx’s writings is that human beings are a social animal.

He stated there was a strictly hierarchical society based on birth, people of noble blood had one set of characteristics born to lead and commoners lowly blood born to obey. Competition, individualism ambition were unnatural and would lead to a sticky end. Laws made sure that that trades were controlled by guilds which meant that goods had to be made in the same way and sold at the same price. Market laws prevented traders from undercutting each other.

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