Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Isaac Asimov

Why I Like Thomas Hobbes and You Should Too

People are sometimes surprised to discover how much I love Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes is the political theorist who wrote Leviathan. He presents a pretty grim account of human nature–for him, people have conflicting desires in a world of scarcity, they don’t know each other’s intentions, but they do know that they can hurt other people and that if they do so other people will be intimidated and might not hurt them. We can’t share thoughts and feelings because each of us is stuck in a different body and words are vague and unreliable, so we’re always alienated from each other and always prone to conflict. Hobbes wants to live, and he wants everyone else to live too, so he proposes that we solve this problem by submitting to the state. The state protects us from each other, and once we’re protected a space for trusting other people opens up.

Most left-wing people hate this. They hate that Hobbes even presents an account of human nature in the first place, much less one so grim as this. They especially hate how powerful Hobbes makes his state–he only allows people to defy the state when it threatens their own lives, and while he’s willing to tolerate a sovereign parliament Hobbes certainly prefers monarchy, because in his view it’s less likely to lead to conflicts about where the sovereignty is, which could end in civil war and death.

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How to be a Good Person Without God

In many western societies, religion seems to be losing influence, particularly among young people. Many religious people argue that this threatens society’s moral frameworks. Without God, on what basis do we distinguish the good from the bad? Secularists often scoff at this question, resenting the implication that only the religious can be moral. And yet, many secularists are also moral subjectivists, who claim not to believe in any absolute sense of right and wrong, arguing that morality is culturally relative or a matter of individual taste. This does seem to imply that as religion weakens, the intellectual foundation of many of our substantive moral beliefs is being eroded, and that to the extent that secularists remain good people, it is often due to socialization and intellectual inertia rather than some truly substantive alternative. But it doesn’t have to be this way–there are excellent secular moral theories that do offer compelling objective alternatives to religious morality.

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Who Matters?

Lately I’ve been thinking again about a question of moral philosophy that has long interested me. This is the question of who matters. Most of the time, when we talk about moral philosophy, we talk about what matters. Answers to that question vary–some propose that happiness is what matters, or suffering, or virtue, or equality, or liberty, or some other value or set of values. But whose happiness matters? Whose suffering? Whose virtue, equality, or liberty? This is something we don’t talk about as often, but different views about these matters have profound consequences for our politics and have serious consequences for ordinary people.

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