Hobbs and Rationality

In this essay I am going to comment on Hobbes’s idea of an absolute sovereign or Leviathan as the gate keeper of man’s felicity or human happiness and how this in turn reflects upon his theory of politics. I will start by briefly explaining why Hobbes’s empirical method as applied to epistemology brings about a radical new understanding of man as well as politics, in that man constantly and ceaselessly desires to experience pleasure and avoid pain. This egotistical desiring in turn causes a state in which man is constantly locked in a power struggle with other men in order to obtain and assure felicity. From there I will elucidate the role of the Leviathan in Hobbes’s philosophy by linking the sovereign to a virtual or artificial man. Finally I will briefly comment on evolutionary psychology and how Hobbes’s theory of politics might be compromised by its findings.

In Hobbes’s view everything has a proximate cause and every cause has an effect (Rohmann 2002: 182). This conception of reality leaves little room for ideas such as free will or an autonomous self. Hobbes admired Galileo and Copernicus for applying the empirical method to the study of the planets and in the process does away with metaphysical speculation (Nelson 1996: 162).   Hobbes sought to apply this same empirical method that was used by Galileo to the study of man.  
Hobbes’s conception of politics was rooted in science and not in metaphysical speculation (Malcolm 2002: 146). Hobbes believed in the unity of science not tainted by the metaphysical speculation of God’s or Forms (Rogers & Ryan 1988: 68). Thus the only way to gain any meaningful knowledge is to scientifically study man in an empirical fashion. Due to space constraints I will not be able to go into any detail regarding Hobbes’s application of empirical methods to study man. Instead I will briefly relate that Hobbes believed that man’s behaviour is determined by a single principle namely utility; the maximization of pleasure...