Thomas Hobbes Natural Right Theory and the State, Social Contract and Method of Inquiry

In contradiction with the great philosophers Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, Thomas Hobbes doctrine of natural rights is a scientific research based emphasis on the rise of negativity in the theory of the classical natural law. In his doctrine, Hobbes rejects natural law as a means of peace attainment in different political communities. This writing seeks to give a detailed outline of Hobbes’s doctrine of natural law, natural rights and the state. In description of these detailed writings, I shall also make an outline description of Hobbes method of inquiry to his study.

In conclusion to this writing, Hobbes social contract shall be covered in detail to make a closing to this historical phenomenon. In his opening arguments in support of the new phenomenon of modern natural rights, Hobbes insisted that human beings are complex machines influenced by their environmental conditions and prevailing situations. He puts this argument forward as an attack to the classical view of natural law of Aristotle and Aquinas which rather sees man as “a rational and social animal who has a natural inclination to his proper end, happiness which can be attained by the virtues of mind and character”.

Hobbes argues that man have always and will always be competitive and therefore will always strive to attain some form of leadership or political power in all possible ways available to them (Hobbes, 2004). He mentions that humans are selfish anti-social beings who are in pursuit to serve their selfish desires, particularly power. The second argument outlined by Thomas Hobbes in rejection to the classical natural law theory is that human beings are motivated by vanity in a classical natural law state. Thus meaning, in natural law state individuals has a sense of superiority based on their knowledge over others.

He exemplifies this view by the olden ways of living where kings or monarchs ruled on the basis of higher power to gain majority obedience from the people. This according to Hobbes theory of natural rights was undermining of political authority (Kraynak, 1990). He therefore due to this reason opted for a rather fair system of the modern human/natural rights. According to Thomas Hobbes, the weakness in the classical natural law doctrine of Aristotle and Aquinas is that, unlike the modern natural rights doctrine, it is easily exploited.

This was the primary cause of the English civil war in Behemoth in 1642-60. This according to Hobbes was a result of King Charles being overthrown by the parliamentarians who claimed to have had higher knowledge on natural law. Hobbes sums the lesson from the Behemoth war by making a statement that “if higher laws are not equated with intangible goods like virtue, wisdom and salvation then the ills of civilization can be avoided and mankind can enjoy enduring civil peace” (Hobbes, 2004). Thus Hobbes proposed his new doctrine of natural rights to building a better state.

In his newly found doctrine of natural rights, Hobbes emphasizes that unlike the classical natural law doctrine, modern rights are not an illusion put forward by the classical theorists of natural law. “Natural law is the greatest good by virtues of the perfections of mind and character” (Hobbes, 2004). This notion put forward by the classical theorists of natural law is a dangerous and falsified statement according to Hobbes. He associated this with the then overthrowing of King Charles.

He therefore defines modern natural rights doctrine as the only solution to civilization to avoid the dangers that result with natural law doctrine. In his closing arguments, Hobbes proposed a new definition of natural rights which gained vast acceptance worldwide. He emphasizes the natural equality of all mankind in his new definition of natural rights. Hobbes therefore defines natural law as “right or liberty to preserve oneself”, this according to Hobbes endures the fundamental right of self-preservation. In compilation to these facts about natural rights and the sovereign state, Hobbes used various methods.

Hobbes adopted various methods in the field of geometry, physics and mathematics. This he stated as a way to legitimize his doctrine through geometric and scientific proof (Tuck, 1996). The reason behind Thomas Hobbes’ science of politics was to resolve political conflicts which had led his countrymen to war in the era of King Charles (Behemoth Civil war of 1642). His belief was that if politicians came to an agreement in political matters, then peace will be attained.

Hobbes’ primary aim to his science of politics was to end the political confusions and the misfortunes that came with the classical natural law doctrine of Aristotle and Aquinas to establish an enduring state of peace. Unlike other scholars of hi time, Hobbes believed that knowledge is not attained by being submissive to authority, but rather employing an objective method. He believed that such a method avoided conflicts which came about from political speculation and subjective interpretation. Hobbes however never explained his method/s of inquiry to his political research. According to philosophy scholars, Hobbes used a method that they called a Resolutive-Composite method.

What this method of inquiry used by Hobbes entails that; for one to understand a given subject, they should first conduct an intellectual step by step process of resolving it into different parts. By doing so, this enables the subjects to be fully examined and make specific conclusions in the subjects without omitting relating information, thus Hobbes adopted this method to his political science study. After the resolution process, the subjects will then be re-composed into a whole again. Hobbes believed in doing so (resolving and recomposing a subject), one is able to discover its essential qualities (Kraynak, 1990).

In his science of politics and study of natural law and the sovereign, he used the method of resolution and re-composition of his study objects. In relation to this, Hobbes first started by resolving his state to its different parts, (that is human beings). He further resolved the human beings into different parts (the motions and the natural body), then resolved this in their different parts (abstract figures). After this resolution, Hobbes re-composed his subjects step by step until he finally came to an examination of political bodies and the natural law doctrine.

To demonstrate his philosophical proofs of his science of politics, Hobbes focused on the field of Geometry and physics to understanding human motion and their natural body. He composed a number of geometric figures and then drew conclusions about them. Thomas Hobbes achieved these by using geometric definitions such as space, time, and bodies in motion which he linked to the physical world of politics and human sensation. He thus proposed his doctrine of natural rights based on his scientific proofs through geometry and physical science (physics).

In addition to his findings in philosophy and political science, Hobbes gives an insight on his ideal social contract of the sovereign. Hobbes’ ideal social contract entails that it is by far most rational to give up part of individual’s liberty in order to gain security of self-preservation. According to Thomas Hobbes, there are political bodies in a state that governs and ensures the security of these liberties. Such political bodies may include the constitution of the sovereign and its other statutes in relation to the protection of individual liberties i. e. courts of law (Tuck, 1996).

He defines social contract as a mutual agreement between participating bodies to mutually transfer their natural rights. What this means is that; individuals in the state come to an agreement to abide by the set rules of political bodies as a means of peace attainment. He emphasizes that without these social rules, life would be “solitary, nasty, brutish and short”. This notion therefore leads to an instance of limited natural rights. Hobbes notes that at times we are/can be born to find a readymade contract for us to agree on, therefore individuals do not have absolute powers to act outside the limitations of such contracts.

Such contract may include the constitution of the state. Hobbes’s social contract has its outmost emphasis on natural equality, scarcity, equality of human power and limited altruism. He says this contract does not however concern the sovereign but rather its subjects (the people). In accordance to Hobbes, there will be injustice if these subjects fail to abide by their contract. That is to say, if one person violates the rights of the other within the sovereign then that will be injustice to the other subject.

In a different view on the issue of natural equality, Hobbes states that inequality is the reason behind the English civil war. He makes an emphasis to say that man must recognize each other as equal so as to avoid a state of war which is a result of inequality. In addition, Hobbes identifies scarcity as another factor that influences man to go to war with each other. According to Hobbes, when there is limited supply of essential needs such as shelter, food and clothing this can trigger conflicts and competition to access such needs, which will eventually break into a war.

When a social contract is drawn to how these needs will be accessed equally between the state’s subjects, then civil wars will be avoided in the sovereign. Hobbes states that if every subject in the sovereign is made aware of these essential needs and the legitimate ways of acquiring them, then there will be no injustice. Another complex factor that Hobbes notes is the issue of equality of human power. According to Hobbes, only a few acquire power in the notion of representing the majority i. e. political leaders.

He says that, however in the long run this power cannot be sustained as some become more advantageous to others i. e. political leaders have more advantage as leaders, than the majority of the people. This then according to Hobbes creates a situation where everyone is at war against everyone else for the same scarce resource. Lastly, Thomas Hobbes mentions the need for motivational state with the primary goal of increasing another person’s welfare (altruism). In a rather opposite view, Thomas Hobbes states limited altruism as one factor among others that also affects the well-being of the sovereign.

He believes that for this to work in a state, we can only rely on the goodness and compassion of strangers since by nature human beings will rarely have compassion towards each other. This mainly results from the limited nature of how altruistic human beings are. In the absence of a social order, all these factors will create major problems. To prevent that from happening, Hobbes denotes that it is only possible if an individual seeks to avoid the state of nature of the classical theorists Aristotle and Aquinas and the “war of all against all”.

This can only be achieved if all individuals come to a mutual agreement to withhold the rights of one another; this according to Hobbes will breed a fertile ground for cooperation both in the social and economic manner. Conclusion Hobbes rejects the natural law doctrine of philosophers Aristotle a Thomas Aquinas as a measure to avoid civil wars/conflicts. He rather sees it fit to adopt a more favorable means of governance as he proposed (modern natural rights) in his doctrine of natural rights.

In his inquiries to his doctrine, he used a method most scholars called resolutive-composite form, this was due to how he studied his subjects of research. He presented his findings in a scientific manner making reference to geometry and physics. In his social contract he noted scarcity, natural equality, human power and altruism as major factors that influenced the well-being of the sovereign. Hobbes doctrine has attracted vast acceptance in the world at large, though it was highly criticized by most philosophers as being based on morality. Bibliography historical philosophers. (2006, 6 18). Retrieved 3 17, 2013, from.