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Moral obligation

Moral obligation. What is it? How do we define it? What are the benefits of knowing it? And which philosopher in history best explains its complexity? When we talk of moral obligation, Thomas Hobbes and Plato come first. Their philosophy mostly contrasted each other, which made researchers think – which one is better? Many of the differences they portray are the outcome of how each philosopher sees or analyzes a human being, their function in the society and their views on the nature of man in general.

It is the objective of this paper to compare and contrast their works in order to give a better explanation on the truth about life, change, death, and more. This study is largely based on Hobbes’ work, leviathan and Plato’s Apology. Thomas Hobbes is a political philosopher who is regarded today for his work Leviathan. This book challenges many of his rivals in political writing, some of which are Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Kant, Rawls and Locke. His idea in writing his book mainly came from his perspective on the social contract theory.

Hobbes’ philosophy lies on the idea of natural right which, in extension, comes from the natural desire for self preservation. According to Hobbes’ it is in the nature of man to engage in war. Why? Because they need to survive and in order to do this, they fought one another for material possessions or basic necessities whether this means their property, water, food, etc. “Inequalities create a state of equality among all human beings, since all people desire self-preservation and satisfaction of desires” (Weinstein, 1998, p. 10).

The three most fundamental causes of war are (1) diffidence, (2) competition (3) glory. In other words, people either need to, defend and protect themselves, or challenge one another for power. They tend to feel threaten by each other since they know they have a single desire. As a solution to this, Hobbes said that in order to suppress their fears and prolong their lives, people agreed to submit all their fundamental rights and privileges to sovereign in exchange of safety and security. Hobbes realized that the only way to maintain peace and order among people is to have an authoritarian government.

He greatly believes that only with peace and security can people only bring out the best in them since being relieved from the pressure of decision making is When this occur, a stage of man wherein there are no rules emerge. This stage is characterized by the equality in strength, intelligence and spirit of an individual in the face of society and system. Therefore, thru this, man’s fear in everybody else is gone. According to Hobbes, it is better to fear only the government than to fear the people in it (Weinstein, 1998). On the contrary, the sovereign also had the right to have people killed.

Nevertheless, the people’s right to fight back still remains with them. As long as the sovereign preserves as many people and holds downright power, the society is considered civil and in order. Hobbes’ proposal on social contract is designed to promote common good among the people. As long as people are not fighting and killing each other peace is preserved and the governance is considered a success. Hobbes permit that there are three types of commonwealth: the monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. However, he likes monarchy better since there’s only one leader and it would be impossible for this one leader to disagree with himself.

Furthermore, Hobbes’ idea on senses might be a good basis that reflects his theory as a whole. He believes that man is being controlled by his senses. The validation of truth to him is by satisfying the sense. He thinks that man is composed of material things so it will be normal if we seek material things too. His theory on morality is defined in terms of being taunted or not by desires. He did not accept any other reasonable explanation over the cause of emotion or desire. He summed up the emotions as only Desires, Aversions, Hopes and Fears (Weinstein, 1998).

Good is what we find desirable, while right is what is logical for us to follow. In contrast to this, death is an aversion or an evil thing. It is the minimum pain one can suppress. It is the end of pleasure, of happiness, of everything. Thru this, he argues that there is no soul separate from the body. On the other hand, in relation to human nature, since man desire for things and strive for perfection, they tend to get corrupted by the idea of glory and power. That is why, in order to satisfy their desire, they compete with each other in getting what they want. In this is where Hobbes’ theory on human nature emerges.

This is when people became hell with each other. The presence of one another makes them anxious, to the point that they are ready to eliminate others just to get what they want. Plato had a huge influence on western political and scientific thought. His works covered a variety of subjects like ethics, epistemology, mathematics, metaphysics, natural science, politics and philosophy. He is also well known for being the loyal follower of Socrates and being the chief source of information of the man’s teachings. In his work Apology, he talks about his recollections regarding his mentor’s unlawful death.

The story starts with Socrates being accused by the three representatives of the state of Athens. He’s being accused of impiety, corruption of the youth, evil-doer, and someone who introduces new divinities. His accusers were: (1) Meletus, who is the representative of the poets, (2) Anytus, representative if politicians, and (3) Lycon, representative of rhetoricians. The trial went through a series of dialogues and even after giving a reasonable defence, Socrates was found guilty. He was given a chance to live through several conditions – take back all his teachings, imprisonment, fine or exile.

However, he did not choose any of this and was convicted to death by drinking a cup of hemlock. This event brought a very serious effect on Plato’s writings. Another one of his stories, The Allegory of the Cave, tells of his philosophy on the immortality of the soul and at the same time symbolizing the trial of Socrates. The story took place in a subterranean cave. The cave has prisoners who are chained all their lives. They are forced to see only one side of the cave where shadows and echos are being casted upon by inanimate objects. One prisoner was able to break free and was able to see the fire from which the shadows are formed.

He was able to break free and see the world outside. He decided to go back to the cave and share what he had seen but instead, the other prisoners killed him. This story, though very simple and plain, depicts so many hidden meanings. The character from the story, for instance, pertains to real people. The escapee portrays Socrates and the prisoners were the same with the people of Athens. Socrates having found the light or the knowledge from the outside world or the real world was kind enough to share it to the prisoners or the Athenians, but instead, his idea was rejected and he was sentenced to death.

Certain symbologies among the objects used are present. For instance, the shadows pertain to the truth known by the people; this truth is partial and is pulled by our eyes to blind us from the real truth. The cave symbolizes the world of illusion and the world outside is the world of wisdom or truth. This story is also the basis on Plato’s philosophy regarding the immortality of the soul. According to him, the body and soul are just accidentally united. The things we get from our sensations are really just illusions. When we die, our soul will go to the world of wisdom or truth.

Immaterial things have the soul that no material things posses. Which is why there is a Doctrine of Participation that tells us that everything in this world shares a perfection in the world of wisdom. This perfection is what he considered the soul. For him, the more material a thing is, the more imperfect it is going to be since it is the spirit which denotes its perfection. If we think that what we can feel, smell, taste and see is real, then it means that real is simply electrical signals interpreted by our brain. This is the same with thinking; opinion for him is different from knowledge.

Knowledge is a matter of recollection, not learning. He believed that knowledge is stored in the soul perpetually. So everything we know is not really learned. Its already there, we just need to recall it since it was lost when the soul was reborn. Thus, Socrates does not see himself as an instructor but a midwife who helps in giving birth to the knowledge that was already there. There are many things that are available for comparison when we talk about Plato and Hobbes’ philosophy, but on where they really clash is on their political philosophy. Let’s tackle first all about their similarities.

When it comes to government, both philosophers think that the human race needs a hierarchy that would guide them for without it citizens would be tempted to give in to their vices, desires, aversions, etc. The manner and reason on why this government was set up is also the same. They both give way to a single ruler who, as they required, have the ability to promote peace and order among the people. For Plato, an individual is important to the society because each of them has a certain function in the society. In terms of the ruler, Plato wants a wise ruler since for him the best state is governed by good reasoning not by laws.

Laws are made to protect the people from things that are not even sure to happen, that are why he finds it ineffective. Law provides security, not virtue. This ruler will not just serve as a decision making body but also has the power to make moral choices and give political guidance to the people. Lastly, he considers the government as an essential body for it brings out the best in people. Hobbes, in light with Plato, also wants a single ruler since if there are many ruler, they might tend to argue, and chaos in the government is as bad as chaos among the people.

However, regarding the knowledge of the ruler, Hobbes does not necessarily require a rule to be wise. As long as the people are preserved and in order, the leader is effective. However, if there are similarities, there are also differences. Plato and Hobbes’ philosophy mostly collide when the nature of man is discussed. For Hobbes, man is evil in nature and in war all the time. As long as there are other people, there’s hindrance, there’s chaos. However, for Plato, man has a good nature but tend to be ignorant of the truth.

Though man may be corrupt sometimes, there’s still something good within them but this goodness is too hard to accept so they tend to disregard it. Their definition of truth is is also different. For Hobbes, the truth can be perceived thru the senses. So whatever that is pleasurable is good and true, however, those that are causing pain, agony and grief is evil. For Plato, ultimate truth can only be defined by its soul since for him, the soul is perfect and whatever object that contains a soul has a bit if perfection in it. What we can see from our senses is the partial truth, the one that was made us to believe our lives.

Lastly, in terms of memory, Hobbes believe that the knowledge we have will be gone if new memories will form, therefore erasing the prior knowledge. For Plato, knowledge, like the soul, is eternal. Genuine knowledge is gain thru anamnesis since it was lost when the soul was incarnated. On my views in which of the two is more convincing, I believe that Hobbes got me more assured than Plato. Though Plato showed a more positive outlook in analysing certain matters, specifically the nature of human, Hobbes however is more realistic and practical in his view of things.

Though he may always conclude bad things about men, there’s no denying it that from what we see from the society, it is indeed the truth. When it comes to his study on senses, it is scientifically explained on how the human body works, on how the eyes see, the ears hear, the stomach digests food; the baby grew inside the mother’s womb and many more. This is where he defies Plato for there is no evidence that the soul is real or even its characteristic as perfect. Hobbes used logic in determining human behaviour while Plato just depended on the perfection of the soul which makes it a weak argument.

Plato’s philosophy would have been wonderful and what would others call it a “happy ending”, but it is better to dwell on the reality that life is harsh and cruel, and it will take a lot of challenge before we truly gain happiness. I admire Hobbes for standing up and accepting the fact that life is not simple, that people are evil, that there is a constant war in the world. Reference Weinstein, Jack Russell. (1998). Critical Thinking and the Tradition of Political Philosophy: A Historical Overview. Vol. XVII. No. 1 pp. 5-21. Retrieved from http://www. und. nodak. edu/instruct/weinstei

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