Egoism and the Golden Rule

According to Thomas Hobbes, in the state of nature every human being acts in a way to maximize their satisfaction with disregard to the self-interest of others. The state of nature is a state of war where everyone must fend for his or herself and all are against all. No one has any sort of moral obligation to anything else except to maximize one’s own satisfaction. Although the goal is to maximize satisfaction over time, the constant threat of war or someone plotting against you to get what they want does not allow the full enjoyment of life.

Hobbes concludes that the second law of nature would allow mankind to get more satisfaction over time. Hobbes states that the second law of nature is that all people should seek personal satisfaction by acting towards others as he or she would want that person to act towards his or herself. By doing so, Hobbes believes that the overall satisfaction of life will increase, supporting the idea of ethical egoism, which is the idea that every individual should always do what will make his or her life better over time.

The idea of ethical egoism leads to the same idea of the “golden rule” in Hobbes’ theory. The golden rule states that you should do unto others as you would have them do unto you, while ethical egoism is used to maximize your satisfaction. Hobbes’ theory states that if you do to others as you would have them do to you then you are more likely to have people do those good things for you in return, maximizing your satisfaction and supporting the idea of ethical egoism.

If one were to do bad things to others and not treat them well, then that person is more likely to have bad things done to his or herself, achieving the opposite effect of ethical egoism. Although Hobbes has an in-depth and complicated theory of how ethical egoism and the golden rule are the same, there are also some flaws in his thinking. He states that the golden rule and ethical egoism always come to the same thing; that it is not possible to do something bad to a person and still gain personal satisfaction.

There are examples, however, that can very easily disprove his ideas. In some instances there are times when a person can do something harmful to another individual but still have personal gain. For example, say someone was walking down the street and they see somebody ahead of them reach in their pocket and their wallet falls out onto the sidewalk without the person noticing. In the case of Hobbes’ theory, the right thing to do would be to pick up the wallet and return it to the person who lost it. This would be the idea of the golden rule and ethical egoism.

However, instead of returning the wallet right away, the person who picks it up looks inside and sees 500 dollars. Giving the wallet back would be what anyone would want someone to do if they were in the situation, but instead the person decides to keep it. Instead of returning it and getting nothing in return, the person who found the wallet gains 500 dollars and nothing bad happens to them in return. In this instance, the idea of ethical egoism and the golden rule being the same does not apply. The person who lost the wallet suffers at the expense of the person who gains 500 dollars.

In gaining the money the person feels no guilt whatsoever because the wallet owner will never find out who took the money. Therefore, the person gains personal satisfaction without following the golden rule or the second law of nature. While Hobbes’ theory works out in some instances, it is not always true. A person does not always gain satisfaction by doing good unto others and a person does not always suffer from maximizing satisfaction at the expense of others. A person can very easily gain satisfaction over time even if they do something they would not want someone else to do to them.