In the history of philosophy, two of the most prominent philosophers were Hobbes and Hume. Both made important contributions to the world of ethics. One of the main important things they differed on is reason. Hobbs felt that reason is way to seek peace but Hume felt the reason is only a slave to passions. In the following paragraphs, you will see how Hobbes and Hume explain their different views on reason the theories of the two philosophers are analyzed in depth, so that we can have a comprehensive understanding. Thomas Hobbes, an English philosopher published his masterwork, the Leviathan, in 1651.
This book influenced western philosophy with its view on the Social Contract theory. A social contract theory is an act by which individuals agree to establish a government by the people who unite to achieve some goal. This contract importantly binds people into a community that exists for mutual protection and preservation. In this condition everyone is involved in making the contract together to gives up their rights. People who agree to the contract retain only those rights over others that they are content for everyone else to retain over them.
In his moral psychology, one of the important areas discussed was the innate selfishness of humans. The theory of psychological egoism in which our actions are selfishly motivated held that some of our actions are caused by selfish desires even if an action seems selfless. If, for example, if somebody is volunteering at a local hospital or donating to charity it may have an underling selfish motive like to get references to get into med-school or to get rid of guilt respectively. Likewise, according to Hobbes “the true doctrine of the Laws of Nature is the true Moral philosophy” (pg 66).
He says in his laws of nature that human beings live in a miserable state of nature and where everyone is at war with one another. When everybody is fighting, basic needs are not met. So we all should work together and as rational beings, strive for peace whenever possible. Hobbes also says that, “peace is good, and so are the means to achieving peace. ” When we all work together and shun vices like inequality, being ungrateful, being evil and vices like that. Hobbes believes that by being rational beings, and reasoning out things, we can all live a little more peacefully.
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher known for being an empiricist and for being skeptical of religion. Like Hobbes, he was also a big influence on western philosophy. Among his many works, his major writing include, treatise of human nature and enquiry concerning the principles of morals. In an enquiry concerning the principles of morals, Hume introduces his fovarism towards the role of sentiment. He argued reason solely cannot be a motive of any action and that reason can never resist the motive of passion “reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions,”(pg 415).
He explains that Moral distinctions are developed from the moral sentiments such as feelings of approval and disapproval felt by an action. Hume believes that pleasure and pain are the causes of the passions that drive our actions. According to Hume, it is the pleasure and pain that are the causes of the passions which drives our actions. He claims that it is the actual experience of the pain or pleasure, not the reason we adduce to their causes that drives us to act. ” Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions.
Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason”(pg 457). It’s about expressing one’s emotions about some specific behavior that makes them approve or disapprove. Reason’s role in guiding actions is limited to its utility in helping by fulfilling the desire to the passions. From these passages, we can see that though they were similar on some aspects, their teachings were mostly very different. Hobbes felt that we should all strive towards peace as rational beings with the ability to reason.
And that we should “treat people as we would have wanted to be treated” and shun vices like cruelty, inequality and other things. Although Hume also says that we have to show “sympathy” towards our fellow humans and that we can be selfless and put others’ needs before ours through empathy, he feels that reason is only a “slave to the passions. ” He feels that virtues and vices are natural and that justice is “artificial. ” Hobbes says that the natural state of man is very miserable but we can get out of it through altruistic means like cooperation, compassion, etc and by thinking with reason.
And to him, the doctrine of The Laws of Nature is the true moral philosophy. But Hume feels that passions, strong, original perceptions, are responsible for moral distinction, rather than reason. The passions like desire, happiness, and sadness arise directly from “good or evil” or pain and pleasure. He doesn’t mean that reason doesn’t play any role in moral distinction but that passions are much more dominant than reason. Hume says that Reason can give us a list of choices we have based on facts but what choice we make is directed by our passions.
Thus, we can see that although they were both great philosophers, they had very different teachings. The major thing that they both differed on was reason. Hobbes felt that as rational human beings, we should be guided by reason and try to achieve peace. But Hume felt that passions are more important than reason when it comes to people making choices, and that moral distinction is based more on our feelings of approval and disapproval about something, rather than reason. And thus, to Hume, reason was not something that brought people out of the state of nature into a better life but nothing more than a “slave to the passions. ”