Midterm Examination Answers
General Directions: Read both the instructions and the exam questions carefully. Be sure to respond directly to the questions, while at the same time demonstrating your grasp of the readings and the lectures. Please write the numbers of the questions you answer on the cover of your blue book.
Part I: Short answer essays. Write a short (10 minute) essay in response to one question from each of the following four sets of questions. In other words, you will write four short essays. (15 points each)
Swift and Plato A1. Swift distinguishes between the concept of justice and various specific conceptions of justice. What is the difference? What are the central elements in the concept of justice?
The concept of justice consists of those uncontroversial claims about justice that in effect define the term. Crucial features of the concept of justice according to Swift are that justice involves giving someone what they are due, that justice does not exhaust morality, and that there are different sorts of justice.
A2. What is Plato's attitude toward democracies? What are his main complaints? What might be good about democracy?
Democracies have a certain attractiveness because of their freedom and diversity, but they are fundamentally degenerate because they are not ruled by the knowledge of the philosopher. They are consequently not ruled well, and they are anarchic and unstable and likely to degenerate still further into tyranny.
B1. On pages 15 and 16, Hobbes writes, "So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power, but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more." What does he mean? What is power? Is his claim plausible?
Power consists in the capacity to satisfy one’s desires. People seek power not because they naturally want to dominate others, but in order to secure the whole range of those things that they want, and since they want to protect not only their current ability to get what they want but also their ability to get what they want in the future (when their desires may change), they are essentially insatiable for more power. Given Hobbes’ view that what is good is the satisfaction of desires, his claim is plausible – though he does not consider the possibility that the pursuit of power in order to achieve the means for future desire satisfaction may conflict with current desire satisfaction.
B2. Give some examples of what Hobbes takes the laws of nature to be. What does he mean by speaking of “laws of nature”?
The laws of nature are general principles of prudence. Examples are: seek peace, but protect yourself; be willing to lay down one’s rights if others will do so too, be prepared to keep promises if others will keep theirs, don’t take offense easily, pardon offences, limit revenge so as to secure future peace, etc. Hobbes’ laws of nature seem not to be moral laws. He calls them laws, because he regards them as in accordance with God’s will, but they are supposed to guide us in the pursuit of our long-run interest rather than to constrain the pursuit of our interest.
C1. How does Locke's state of nature differ from Hobbes'?
Hobbes’ state of nature is a state of war of all against all, where life is nasty, brutish and short. It is a state of unlimited freedom for individuals to do whatever they choose in order to secure their ends, but which results in a general inability to secure one’s ends and to live well. Locke’s state of nature, in contrast, is governed by a moral law, the law of nature, whose main claim is that the lives, persons and properties of human beings are to be preserved to the greatest extent possible. In Locke’s state of nature, individuals have extensive rights, including especially property rights. Everyone is authorized to enforce the protection of these rights, but they are insecure because individuals will fail as impartial judges.
C2. Locke places tremendous emphasis on property. Why? What does he mean by property?
Locke sometimes uses the term, “property” in a very broad sense, to include an individual’s life, his/her bodily integrity, and those material possessions to which the individual has certain rights. Property matters so much to Locke, because he sees property as essential to freedom (in the sense of independence of or non-domination by others). Property is not mere possession. It is rightful possession, where rights come via acquisition (provided that as much and as good is left for others and nothing spoils) or via exchange.
D1. In contrast to Rousseau's account, anthropologists now believe that for as long as human beings have existed, they have lived together in groups. To what extent does this fact detract from the value of Rousseau's account? What is he trying to accomplish?
Rousseau is concerned to defend a view of human nature as essentially the capacity to develop various psychological traits in particular environments. Although some traits are built in, such as a concern for one’s own well-being, distress at the suffering of other people and animals, and the capacity to acquire sophisticated rational and moral capacities in the right environments, most of the traits we observe are shaped by people’s social circumstances. The fact that humans have never been solitary creatures refutes Rousseau’s hypothetical history, but it does nothing to undermine his basic claims concerning the social and developmental presuppositions of the personality traits we observe in modern man.
D2. Rousseau is concerned with the question of how government can be legitimate. Why does he believe that most governments are not legitimate? Why is it hard for government to be legitimate?
In Rousseau’s view, the domination of some people by others is never legitimate. So most governments will not be legitimate, since most governments involve some people dominating others. It’s clearly going to be hard for any government to be legitimate, because it seems as if ALL governments involve some people dominating others. A legitimate government will be one in which each individual rules himself or herself and thereby retains his or her full moral freedom.
Part II: (40 points) Write a longer (30 minute) essay in response to one of the following questions:
E1. Plato and Rousseau are both concerned to defend small and tight-knit societies. Yet their visions of a good society obviously differ considerably. Compare their views of a good society and explain why they differ in the ways that they do.
Rousseau’s and Plato’s idea societies will both be small, stable, and unchanging. In each, insofar as the government is not corrupt, it should command absolute obedience. But the grounds for this obedience are very different. In Plato’s ideal republic, those who have access to genuine knowledge rule; and they possess an army both for external protection and to enforce their will. In Rousseau’s ideal republic, the general will rules; and the general will can be read off the democratic votes of citizens. Rousseau does not suppose that any have special access to the truth. The general will is the will of each citizen insofar as the citizen is asking the right (collective) questions rather than considering his or her own private interest. For Rousseau the people as a whole are sovereign. For Plato, the philosopher is the sovereign. Both states will enjoy modest affluence. Both Plato and Rousseau regard riches as corrupting. Plato deprives his rulers and soldiers of any private property to avoid corruption. Otherwise he is not concerned about equality. Rousseau, in contrast, sees large inequalities as permitting some people to dominate others and hence as a threat to freedom. Plato is concerned with virtue rather than freedom.
E2. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau all trace the authority of government to a social contract. Yet their views of what the social contract says and what it accomplishes differ. Write an essay comparing their views of the social contract.
The three differ in their view of what a state of nature is, what the state of nature is like, what the social contract is, why it is needed, what it accomplishes, and whether it is revocable.
What the state of nature is:
For Hobbes the state of nature is a permanent possibility waiting to become a reality whenever the authority of the sovereign is shaken. For Locke, the state of nature is a historical or hypothetical vantage point from which to consider whether government is accomplishing what it should (with respect to protecting people’s rights). For Rousseau, the state of nature is a thought experiment for addressing the question of what constitutes human nature and what gives rise to the need for government.
What the state of nature is like:
For Hobbes the state of nature is a state of war. There is a complicated story about why it is inevitably a state of war that depends on geographical proximity, rationality, equality (with a respect to the possibility of killing one another), rational anticipation or threats, “diffidence”, a concern for honor and glory, and so forth. For Locke, the state of nature is insecure but tolerable, governed by natural law, in which individuals have extensive but insecure rights. For Rousseau, the characteristics of the state of nature vary depending on the level technological and cultural development among humans. At stage 2 it is virtually a golden age. But with the development of agriculture and metallurgy, there are great inequalities, incipient property, and something much like Hobbes’ state of war.
What the social contract is.
For Hobbes the social contract is a mutual agreement among individuals to surrender their “rights” (which are really just liberties) irrevocably to a sovereign. The sovereign is not a party to the contract and is not bound by any of its terms. Once in effect, the contract is binding on everyone within the territory of the sovereign regardless of their consent. The contract creates a power that can keep the peace. For Locke the social contract is also a mutual agreement among those who will be governed, but it is only an agreement to surrender certain freedoms and rights, and the surrender is conditional on the sovereign protecting the rights of individuals. The social contract is binding only on those who consent to its terms. For Rousseau, the social contract, as described in the Discourse is somewhere in between Hobbes and Locke. It is more like Hobbes’ in that its main function is to keep the peace, but, as in Locke, it aims to protect incipient property rights and is not irrevocable. In The Social Contract, in contrast, the social contract constitutes the general will and hence morality and moral freedom.
Why the social contract is needed.
For Hobbes, it is needed to secure peace. For Locke, it is needed to render natural rights, including especially property rights secure. For Rousseau there are two answers, because there are really two social contracts. (a) There’s the “trick” that the rich impose on the poor (discussed in the Discourse) that guarantees property rights and in so doing cements the inequalities that permit the rich to dominate the poor. This contract protects rights and secures peace. On the other hand, in The Social Contract, there is the “good” social contract that secures freedom.
What the social contract accomplishes.
For Hobbes the social contract creates an overawing power that can enforce laws and thereby render it rational to behave in cooperative and apparently moral ways. For Locke the social contract creates a legislature and an executive who have monopolies on making and enforcing laws and who thereby secure rights. For Rousseau, the social contract in the Discourse mitigates the mess, but leaves humanity on the path to ruin. The social contract in The Social Contract, in contrast, creates the possibility of moral freedom and the very existence of the rational and moral human being. It shapes human nature and creates a method for interrogating and implementing the general will.
Finally, Hobbes’ social contract is not revocable. Locke’s social contract is revocable when the sovereign violates or fails to protect people’s rights. Rousseau’s social contract (in The Social Contract) is in a sense revocable, when the general will is no longer heeded. But in the revocation is also then pointless.