Tuesday Philosophy and Literature Intro Notes Feb 28


Topic: Shaftesbury and the refutation of Hobbes

All quotes taken from Wikipedia.

Hobbes’ Philosophy:

“In some older texts, Thomas Hobbs of Malmsbury, was an English philosopher, best known today for his work on political philosophy.

His 1651 book Leviathan established the foundation for most of Western political philosophy from the perspective of social contract theory.

Hobbes was a champion of absolutism for the sovereign but he also developed some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought:

the right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order (which led to the later distinction between civil society and the state);

the view that all legitimate political power must be “representative” and based on the consent of the people;

and a liberal interpretation of law which leaves people free to do whatever the law does not explicitly forbid.

He was one of the founders of modern political philosophy.

His understanding of humans as being matter and motion, obeying the same physical laws as other matter and motion, remains influential;

and his account of human nature as self-interested cooperation, and of political communities as being based

upon a “social contract” remains one of the major topics of political philosophy.

In addition to political philosophy, Hobbes also contributed to a diverse array of other fields,

including history, geometry, the physics of gases, theology, ethics, and general philosophy.”

Shaftesbury’s philosophy:

“Shaftesbury’s philosophical importance is due mainly to his ethical speculations, in which his motive was primarily the refutation of Hobbes’ egoistic doctrine.

By the method of empirical psychology, he examined man first as a unit in himself

and secondly in his wider relations to the larger units of society and the universe of mankind.

His great principle was that of Harmony or Balance, and he based it on the general ground of good taste or feeling as opposed to the method of reason:

1. In the first place, man as an individual is a complex of appetites, passions, affections, more or less perfectly controlled by the central reason.

In the moral man these factors are duly balanced.

“Whoever,” he says, “is in the least versed in this moral kind of architecture will find the inward fabric so adjusted,

… that the barely extending of a single passion too far or the continuance … of it too long, is able to bring irrecoverable ruin and misery”.

2. As a social being, man is part of a greater harmony, and, in order that he may contribute to the happiness of the whole,

he must order his extra-regarding activities so that they shall not clash with his environs.

Only when he has regulated his Internal and his social relations by this ideal can he be regarded as rule moral.

The egoist and the altruist are both imperfect. In the ripe perfection of humanity, the two impulses will be perfectly adjusted.

Thus, by the criterion of harmony, Shaftesbury refutes Hobbes, and deduces the virtue of benevolence as indispensable to morality.

So also he has drawn a close parallel between the moral and the aesthetic criteria.

Just as there is a faculty which apprehends beauty in the sphere of art, so there is in the sphere of ethics a faculty which determines the value of actions.

This faculty he described (for the first time in English thought) as the Moral Sense (see Hutcheson) or Conscience (cf. Butler).

In its essence, it is primarily emotional and non-reflective; in process of development it becomes rationalized by education and use.

The emotional and the rational elements in the moral sense Shaftesbury did not fully analyse (see Home).

From this principle, it follows:

1. that the distinction between right and wrong is part of the constitution of human nature;

2. that morality stands apart from theology, and the moral qualities of actions are determined apart from the arbitrary will of God;

3. that the ultimate test of an action is its tendency to promote the general harmony or welfare;

4. that appetite and reason concur in the determination of action;

5. that the moralist is not concerned to solve the problems of freewill and determinism.”

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One thought on “Tuesday Philosophy and Literature Intro Notes Feb 28

  1. Very interesting points you have noted, appreciate it for putting up.

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