Comparison of Plato's The Republic and Hobbes's Leviathan

Modified: 13th Oct 2021
Wordcount: 1963 words

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In Plato's "The Republic" and Hobbes's "Leviathan" share similarities are surrounding government and the role of the state in both works. These two political theorists hold similar political ideologies and beliefs around fundamental political questions. Hobbes and Plato can come to a consensus on a couple of critical areas. Such as government and the role of the state in society. However, many differences arise because of Plato's and Hobbes's conflicting views of human nature and humans' role within society and the state.

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Since these theorists have a drastically different view of human nature and how it helps explain and influences politics, society and culture. Although consensus and agreement are present in their arguments surrounding the requirements for government, the argument around human nature creates dissension regarding their thoughts on equality within the state, which is channelled through how each view human nature.

The central premise of this essay is to examine the differing view of human nature; Plato's more optimistic versus Hobbes's pessimistic outlook, which leads to an immense gap which is irreconcilable. After the examination, I will argue why Hobbes's view of human nature in the context of equality is superior over his court part. Based on two reasons, no man is intrinsically better than anothers, and no one can ultimately know the full truth or real understanding which proves why Hobbes ideal form of government is better than Plato's.

In comparing The Republic and Leviathan both political philosophers' views differ profoundly in the vital area of human nature, this difference is applicable even without viewing humans within the framework of society or the state.

In Plato's "The Republic", Plato's understanding of human nature is quite positive and optimistic compared to his counterpart, Hobbes. He believes and defends the notion that human beings want what is intrinsically good and therefore are good, "even if the person does not realize the true nature of what is good" (Plato, 505d). Although, he does recognize that human can commit acts of horror and violence, however, this is only capable because of appetites and desires. These acts, though do not reflect fundamental defects in humans, but as stated above, reflect appetites and desires that cause such awful acts. Furthermore, Plato argues that human does not only perform good acts just for its consequences but also for their well-being. Human beings pursue being good for health and harmony of their soul, which in Plato's view helps lead further health and harmony within the society.

Due to Plato's positive outlook on human beings, this notion guides Plato's formation of further ideas such as equality; where Plato suggests that because of humans wanting what is intrinsically good. Therefore, they are willing to follow men who can lead society effectively "the desires of the worthless many are controlled by the desires and knowledge of the decent few" (Plato, 431d). Also, in The Republic, individuals serve functions they have a natural aptitude for, which makes them best suited to do specific tasks. At the top of Plato's society are the guardians, who can act morally better than average citizens. The guardians are "strong, swift, high-spirited, and a lover of wisdom" (Plato 376c). These guardians and elites then are needed in

Plato's society because they are the exclusive providers of the ultimate truth and help the average within society not to fall prey to their passions and selfishness. All of this is dependent on the fact that human beings are good and want what is ultimately good for society, which would lead members of society to tune into the higher calling of the good. Peoples good nature is what allows them to listen to the philosophers and then, in turn, affords the philosophers to guide them on the best path of good.

In contrast to Plato, Hobbes "Leviathan" has a very contrasting views of human nature. Hobbes's perspective of human nature is very pessimistic, and he believes that mankind is "a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death" (Hobbes, 47). He defines power as a "man's means to obtain an apparent good", leading to the justification of man's likes and dislikes of their desired power (Hobbes, 41).

Due to humans' obsession with gaining power and keeping power, it ultimately leads to nasty behaviour in the purse of achieving their desires. According to Hobbes, three aspects lead to war, which is competition, distrust and glory. Plus, human beings are inherently saturated with fear. All these behaviours lead to Hobbes pessimistic views of humans because humans will destroy each other and create chaos to acquire more power which is never satisfied. All of the men's interests are a result of their interest in self-preservation.

Furthermore, Hobbes acknowledges that just like Plato humans have strong urges for appetites and aversions; however, Hobbes rejects the notion that humans are seemly good even though they suffer from these impediments. Humans in Hobbes understanding only desire what can give them the best protection or self- preservation. The state of nature; without any formal government or institutions will provide absolute chaos because of peoples appetitiveness.

According to Hobbes, humans act "through vanity or comparison, or appetite" and because of this, they will "provoke the rest" into chaos and heighten aggression which leads to all-out war (Hobbes, 64).

Due to Hobbes negative outlook of humans and their natural state; helps further his belief that individuals are not capable of obtaining truth or having control over other humans. Following this logic, Hobbes then also believes that the state is not capable or qualified to dispense moral or spiritual insights. Along these lines, Hobbes also believes that no human is better than another, which forms his theory of equality which is fundamentally different from Plato. He challenges Plato's idea of superior men "Nature hath makes man so equal in the faculties of body and mind; as that, though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind than another." (Hobbes, 60).

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As a result of his theory on human nature, Hobbes formulates his ideas of the state and government. Unlike Plato, Hobbes seems not to assume that morality (especially religion) has any place within government and he fundamentally rejects this notion. Hobbes states that the role of the state is to emphases the rights of each citizen so that bodily harm is avoided which leads to a peaceful society. The crooks of this political theory are "If two want the same thing and they both cannot have it, they become enemies and endeavour to destroy one another" (Hobbes, 61). This assumption is dissimilar to Plato's; a man in Hobbes view is always in constant battle or war with each other because people are never fully satisfied with themselves or what they have.

Due to the highly conflicting views of human nature between Plato and Hobbes it creates a very complex and multifaceted issue. However, after the analyzation of human nature and how human nature shapes each theorist's views of equality. I believe that Hobbes view of human nature which leads to his conclusion on equality is superior than Plato's. Although I do to a certain extant believe in certain aspects of Plato's equality theory, ultimately Hobbes overall notion of equality is more accurate because of two reasons; his idea that no man is intrinsically better than another and no one can ultimately know the full truth or true understanding, which in the end lead to a better ideal vision of government.

As previously mentioned, Hobbes pessimistic view of human nature helps reflect his idea surrounding equality which helps justify Hobbes ideal form of government which is superior to Plato's ideal government. One reason I believe the Hobbes understanding of equality in the contexts of human nature is better than Plato's is the idea that no man is seemly better or intrinsically superior than another human. Hobbes challenges Plato's idea of superior men "Nature hath make man so equal in the faculties of body and mind; as that though there be found one man sometimes manifestly stronger in body, or of quicker mind than another." (Hobbes, 60).

I think Hobbes makes a stronger argument than Plato because Plato's society is highly hierarchal and suggests that only a few select can guide the society on the right and moral path; i.e. Plato's government guides and instructs people morally. Even though in current political life this idea is disproven; current political leaders who lead different countries are certainly not intrinsically better than the citizens and also, they are not knowers of the absolute truth i.e. the president of the United States. Where, contrastingly, Hobbes, believes that there is no human hierarchal system in where only a select few can bring moral revolution to the rest, which helps back up the second reason that no one can truly ever have the full truth.

Due to this reason, Hobbes creates his ideal form of government where the government only seeks to enforce rather than morally guide. This then helps justify his creation of the artificial citizen, the sovereign. I agree to a certain extent that the sovereign is needed to ensure that life does not become "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (Hobbes, 62). Also, is premise is based on people joining together and submitting their wills to the sovereign. Plus, the the sovereign is appointed by the people and thus in return the ruler would protect their selfpreservation. Therefore, this is seemly more democratic than the government, Plato suggests in The Republic; making Hobbes government better than Plato's since it is done by the will of the people who voluntarily give over their wills, instead of the opposite where people rule over others involuntarily because they are seemly "better".

In addition, I think Hobbes, ideal government is better than Plato's because government should only aim to enforce and maintain the rights of humans and not try to morally guide.

Additionally, Hobbes, also, backs up his remark with the idea that no man is better than others on the basis that even the weakest in society can kill the strongest. While Plato advocates that man be divided where the strong and wise are on the top of society, ruling over its citizens. This is fundamentally flawed thinking because although it may seem that the strongest are on top of society. Although this can be challenged due to Hobbes belief that there is no true division of the weak and strong and that equality due to the fact that even the weakest in society can kill the strongest. Again this notion helps justify Hobbes ideal form of government where government is founded on the standard of law enforcement instead of on moral enforcement.

Although Plato and Hobbes share a few similarities in their political theories, there are also many conflicting ideas, one being human nature. After the analyzation of each understanding of human nature; Plato's positive outlook and Hobbes pessimistic view. These views ultimately helped them shape their theory around equality and ideal forms of government. Leading to the observation that Hobbes theory of equality in the context to human nature was superior to Plato's. On the basis that no man is better than other and no one can ultimately obtain the full truth, which finally lead to the conclusion that Hobbes ideal government is much more preferable than Plato's.


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