Kant and Hobbes propose distinct theories regarding human nature which shows their different conceptions of ethics. Both philosophers define what it means to be morally “good” in their own way and this leads to their thoughts surrounding human life in its simplest form. Each different representation of human nature can be displayed through different laws and theories presented by each philosopher. There can be similarities found in-between the lines of each method presented but, there are mostly unique ideas separating the two philosophers. While Kant approaches each concept regarding human nature with complete rationality, Hobbes conceives it to be rationally self-interested. Thus, leading to their different perceptions of ethics in regard to human nature.
Hobbes believes that war is the greatest problem to exist among humans and it is thought that this problem arises from human nature. Self-interest becomes the driving force for every human and naturally even though everyone is equal, competition amongst people can arise. Every human needs certain resources to survive and there will never be a proper abundance of these things and this leads to scarcity among human societies. The true perception of human nature starts to unravel with the help of Hobbes’ theories surrounding it. This becomes the defining attribute for Hobbes in relation to human nature because he points out that since everyone wants something that someone else has, they will go to whatever lengths it takes to get that certain thing to fulfill their self-interests. According to Hobbes, self-preservation governs every voluntary human action that takes place and these actions are what define human nature (Hobbes Worksheet). He uses a set of laws to explain this concept of human nature and provides a better understanding of how the behavior of humans is subjective.
Each human can be denoted by this idea of the natural condition as explained by Hobbes. He describes this natural condition to be unique to humans and each characteristic that encompasses human nature can be explained by the concept of possessing a natural right to things. Hobbes defines this right as the “liberty to use anything and everything for self-preservation” (Hobbes Worksheet). This natural right can cause a bittersweet outcome regarding war because if used unregulated, war can ensue. But if used appropriately, peace can be obtained while following the guidelines provided by his Laws of Nature. Hobbes starts alluding to this concept that if the state of nature can alo be considered a constant state of war, people will want to attain peace instead of living in fear of one another. He continues to explain that peace can only be obtained if there is a mutual trust between the affected parties. This is where human nature and the natural condition play a vital role. Since each person is basically fighting for the same resources, it is safe to say that trust can be broken very easily based on this idea of self-preservation. This mutual agreement must be recognized by a common power over all the people. This individual becomes the governed Sovereign of each individual party included in the agreement and this constitutes the social contract (Hobbes Worksheet). According to Hobbes, without a social contract put in place, peace can’t be possible because all future agreements would be meaningless.
Kant believes that with every action, there is an agent leading to that action and a consequence that will follow. He uses this basis to explain his conception of human nature and the ethics that stem from this. Rationality presents itself in his methods as the reason for why humans do the things that we do. Motive and will in this instance have all of the moral worth and the end result lacks moral worth when it comes to human agents. In regard to rationality, Kant believes that all human agents are able to differentiate which end result should be pursued, leading to this possession of freedom in relation to rationality. If the right action for the right motive is chosen and can be supported by the categorical imperative, then that portrays a good will. A good will “is good in all circumstances and in that sense is an absolute or unconditioned good” (Kant pg. 17). Once the definition of good will is presented, Kant’s interpretation of human nature can be examined more closely with the help of his groundwork.
Kant’s basic groundwork can help lead to a better understanding of what good will actually entails. He begins to explain that free will allows the person to choose their own motive and this can relate to what his definition of “good” means. This can relate to his overarching view in regard to human nature because although we may be influenced by our biology or culture, we have the opportunity to use our rationality to make choices. But there are laws put in place that need to be followed. In this context, moral laws are universal and necessary to human nature in general. Motive becomes necessary when figuring out if the act is being acted upon for the sake of duty because its right, or if it has to do with desire. Reason becomes the determining factor when looking at if the duty is being acted upon because it is right or if there is inclination involved driving the person to complete the duty. Desire then becomes orally irrelevant because if the action can be done just for reason and the right reason, the desire to want to do it does not have to exist. Following desires can be seen at best as nonmoral but doing what I wanted if reason forbids thr action is considered immoral. All of these aspects pertaining to the discovery of the categorical imperative is vital when trying to decipher the meaning behind it in general.
Kant’s categorical imperative is considered moral and universal/necessary. He states that “the groundwork of the categorical imperative is rational nature as an end in itself” (Worksheet). The major difference between the categorical and hypothetical imperative is that the categorical imperative is grounded upon rational nature as opposed to want. Therefore, the categorical imperative is moral because the way it operates is rational. Desire is not taken into account when thinking about the categorical imperative. Since the hypothetical imperative is based solely on desire, it is called nonmoral as it is impossible to make such desires universal or absolute. There may be cases where rationality and desire play a role in the decision-making process, but if desire is the only thing that prescribes action, it would fall under the hypothetical imperative. Kant goes on to explain how humans’ matter and this should be a vital role when defining the characteristics associated with human nature. This is why the rational nature of human beings plays a key role in the categorical imperative, because it serves as an end in itself. This gives us a necessary and universal approach to how we need to treat each other. The hypothetical imperative does not operate in this way because it is based on the means of desire. When desire comes into the mix, it becomes a means to an end in itself. The second expression of the categorical imperative can be explained as treating people as an end and never as a means of an end. Rational nature has become quite important here, because if we always treat others as a means to an end, we must do so in such a way that respect is bestowed upon each individual. People cannot be used for personal gain, no matter how much that person might be availing.
Even though there are many contrasting aspects to each philosophers’ methods, there are some similarities. Freedom does play a role behind the scenes in both philosophies because it is not mentioned outright. For Hobbes, freedom of choice conveys itself through the way people are able to make agreements with one another. They may be predisposed agreements, but each party is able to pick which agreement is worth investing trust in. The only catch here is that when the “contract” is set in place, it is not beneficial for either of the parties to go against the trust put in place. Kant approaches freedom in a similar regard. He says that humans are allowed to act on motives, but they do have to be rational and acted upon for the right reason. There are a lot of boundaries and rules to be followed in relation to each of the methods described here. The definition of what it means to be “good” is also a vital role in what human nature means to Hobbes and Kant. They each have their own explanation for it but regardless there is an overarching theme of good will between the two philosophers.
Human nature is a difficult thing to pinpoint even with the help of science to potentially back up each theory. Hobbes and Kant provide very diverse approaches to this concept but maintain a similar style in regards to rationality and how it plays a role in decision making.