Philosophical Classics  Spring 2015  Third Paper Topic  Dr. Hauptli

         Copyright 2015 Bruce W. Hauptli

     In his Leviathan Hobbes says:

no man is bound by the words themselves, either to kill himselfe, or any other man; And consequently, that the Obligation a man may sometimes have, upon the Command of the Soveraign to execute any dangerous, or dishonourable Office, dependeth not on the Words of our Submission; but on the Intention; which is to be understood by the End thereof.  When therefore our refusall to obey, frustrates the End for which the Soveraignty was ordained; then there is no Liberty to refuse: otherwise there is.1 

What is he saying here?  In asking this question I have in mind the fact that there are certainly going to be dangerous situations wherein the sovereign needs to call upon the strength of citizens in order to provide the protection which all of us seek.  But if the situation is dangerous, what rational egoist would wish to risk his or her neck to offer the protection?  If we don't follow the sovereign's command, however, the state becomes an impossibility--there is no protection and we are forced back into a state of nature.  This is bad since we wish to avoid such a state so that we may live a good life.  If we do follow the sovereign's command in such dangerous situations, we may well forfeit our lives however--this is a price no rational egoist should be willing to pay.

Some rational egoists seem to have to be willing to risk a price which no rational egoist should be willing to pay if the protection which the state is to provide is to be possible.  We seem to have a dilemma here--or, at least, Hobbes appears to have a dilemma here.  You are to write a paper in which you either rescue Hobbes from the problem here or wherein you show that this sort of difficulty shows  that Hobbes' view is problematic.  If you decide there is no way to render Hobbes consistent, indicate whether the problem is a serious one for Hobbes and indicate whether that means we must accept that a state of nature is inevitable.  In writing the paper you might find it good to consider whether or not the degree of danger makes a difference to the rational egoist. 


Write a critical analytical paper on the above topic.  Such a critical examination and analysis should: (1) clarify the position being examined; (2) elaborate the argument(s) for or against the position in question; (3) carefully assess the adequacy and strength of the argument(s) by considering possible responses, counter-arguments, or counter-examples; and (4) offer your own overall assessment of where the arguments for and against the position being considered leave us—should we accept, reject, or remain neutral regarding this orientation, view, or position?   

As the first and second paper assignments indicated, one of my purposes in requiring you to write these papers is to offer you the opportunity to perfect your ability to describe carefully a complex position and argument to others.  Another of my purposes is to provide you with the opportunity to push beyond the level of reading and mastering the required material for the course.  Here my goal is to provide you with an opportunity to engage in critical reflection upon the readings (or upon related readings and issues), and to provide you with feed-back on your critical scrutinies. 

One of my vehicles for accomplishing these goals is to require that you write several papers.  While your next paper will be on a different topic, many of the comments I have made on your first two papers could be helpful to you in perfecting your expository and critical abilities.  These comments will only be useful, however, if you give them some serious scrutiny.  I strongly encourage you to look over both the typed comments and the marginal comments throughout the earlier papers.  Few students have such an exceptional ability that they can not benefit from such an examination, and to encourage you to take the comments seriously, I want you to know that before I read your next paper I will be reviewing my file with these comments on your first two papers.  I will expect that your editing of your drafts of this paper will be done in light of these comments.  You should seriously endeavor to avoid any of the sorts of compositional errors I have identified, and to the extent that it is called for, I also encourage you to work to make your next exposition and critique yet clearer and more forceful. 

Your papers should be approximately 2000 words long (equivalent to eight double-spaced typewritten pages of 250 words per page).  This indication of length is meant as a guide to the student—papers much shorter than the indicated length are unlikely to have adequately addressed one of the assigned topics.  Papers may, of course, be longer than the indicated length.  I will be happy to read rough drafts and to discuss your ideas for your papers with you (of course I can not be much help to you in this manner if you don’t allow sufficient time, and so I will not read any rough drafts submitted after 3:30 on Friday, April 3.  The papers should be typed and are due in my office by 4:15 P.M. on Monday, April 6. If you plan to wait till the last moment to write your paper, I recommend you review the Course Syllabus regarding penalties for late papers.  Please review my policy on extensions, late papers and plagiarism (contained in the course syllabus).  Please also review my Guide to Writing Philosophy Papers


1 Thomas Hobbes, in Chapter 21 of his Leviathan [the class hand-out on Hobbes, pp. 9-10], from the Project Guttenberg version of Hobbes’ Leviathan ( ), accessed on 10/23/14.  p. 201.  Back

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File revised on 03/16/2015