All elements of our state of nature, at least according to Hobbes. On the opposite side of the spectrum resides Aquinas, arguing for a more benevolent view of man. Either way, they were both legendary philosophers; they just happened to have two very different views on mankind. Nonetheless, the debates they raise all rely on a very explicit quandary: what are men inclined to: good or evil?
First of all, it is imperative to note that Hobbes does not have a summum bonum – a greater good. The idea of a greater good generally shapes the outlook of any person on life and the purpose of it. Therefore, prior to divulging into the inner thoughts of Hobbes, it can already be discerned that he views mankind negatively. If there is no greater good then facilitating your fellow man is futile.
Hobbes delivers innumerable examples of this reasoning in Leviathan. He states that, “where [there is] no law, [there is] no injustice” (Hobbes, “Leviathan”). By this reasoning, Hobbes develops his “State of Nature” theory. Simply stated, the theory suggests a hypothetical society where there are no laws or government. This world is, unsurprisingly, corrupt and evil.
However, there is salvation from this inert state of destruction: the Social Contract. Hobbes proposes that the only reason man does not digress into this state and accepts a social contract is a fear of death, the desires of a “commodious living,” and a “hope of industry to obtain them” (the desires aforementioned) (“Leviathan”).
Some people believed that Hobbes ideas were insane, so he called them out. He wrote, “Let him therefore consider with himselfe, when taking a journey, he armes himselfe… he locks his chests; and this when he knows there bee Lawes… what opinion he has of his fellow subjects …Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions, as I do by my words” (Hobbes, “Leviathan”).
In other words, if we take precautions against our fellow man, even though there are laws that serve as deterrents, we too believe in Hobbes’ pessimistic view of man’s habit. However, Hobbes is not alone in his reasoning. Hobbes’ theories transcended generations, even inspiring one of our founding fathers James Madison.
In Federalist #51, he states, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary” (Madison, “Federalist 51”). In layman’s terms, Madison believed that men were not angels, that man is fallible.
Overall, it is indisputable that Hobbes’ possessed a despondent perspective on humanity.
On the other hand, Aquinas had a brighter view of mankind. He wrote that, “Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances” (Aquinas 165). Interestingly enough, Aquinas also believed in a special exemption for virtuous people from law.
He prescribes, “Wherefore in this sense the good are not subject to the law, but only the wicked” (Aquinas 175). I heartily dissent from Aquinas’ position on this matter.
The main flaw in his argument lies in the fact that who is to determine the definition of a “good” man? Is “good” a measure of ethical quality or utility?
Nonetheless, it is limpid that Aquinas believes in the good of mankind.
In conclusion, the musings of both Hobbes and Aquinas have validity. Regardless, I believe that mankind is not inherently good or evil. Throughout history, humanity has committed amazing acts of benevolence and horrendous acts of evil. To describe human nature as explicitly good or evil is a misnomer, for humanity is too diverse to be limited to either or.
Aquinas, Thomas. (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 16 February 2017. <http://www.sophia-
Hobbes, Thomas. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 February 2017. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3207/3207-
Madison, James. “The Federalist No. 51.” The Federalist #51. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 February 2017.