Issue Eight

•August 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Publisher/Editor: Eli Kanon

Reviewers: Amelie Benedikt, Jo Ann Carson, Carrie Crisp, Anthony Cross, Bob Fischer, Jenifer Garcia, Peter Hutcheson, Vincent Luizzi, Russell Moses, Burkay Ozturk and Nevitt Reesor.


Kenyan Medley, Texas Tech University, Judas’ Kiss: A Problem of Free Will

Joe McGreal, Austin Community College, Our Bark Is Worse Than Their Bite

Mary Margaret Herring, Trinity University, Rationality, Desire and the Good Life: The Role of Rationality in Aristotelian Psychology and Ethics.

Nathaniel Clapp, Texas State University, State of Nature Theory: A Contemporary Western Analysis of Early Modern Approaches

Judas’ Kiss: A Problem of Free Will

Kenyan Medley

Texas Tech University

“For speaking absolutely, our will is in a state of indifference, in so far as indifference is opposed to necessity, and it has the power to do otherwise, or to suspend its action altogether, both alternatives being and remaining possible. . . . It is true, however, and indeed it is certain from all eternity, that a particular soul will not make use of this power on such and such an occasion. But whose fault is that? Does it have anyone to blame but itself?” Gottfried D. Leibniz Discourse on Metaphysics, §30 (as cited in Burnham)

According to Gottfried Leibniz, Judas Iscariot had no one to blame but himself. This may be why he sought to give back the thirty pieces of silver he received for betraying Jesus Christ and subsequently why, according to Matthew 27:1–10, he hung himself after discovering that the rabbi would be crucified. I seek to show the flaws of the great German philosopher’s argument for free will and prove, in the context of his argument, why Judas did not have a choice in betraying Christ.

Leibniz is a proponent of compatibilism, or the harmony of determinism and free will. Leibniz writes that “the notion of an individual substance includes once and for all everything that can ever happen to him,” but urges the reader not to contend that “there would be no place for human freedom, and that an absolute fatalism would rule all our actions as well as all the other events of the world.” (Ariew, R. and Watkins, E. (eds.) 2009, pg. 230)  To reconcile the concepts of determinism and free will, he argues that we must discern what is necessary and what is contingent. Leibniz continues to say that actions are contingent, and that what is contingent, while certain due to God’s will, is not necessary. Judas, therefore, could have not betrayed Jesus, as this action was not necessary, but contingent. Leibniz argues that properties of a being do not necessitate its being. In terms of the subject of this paper, Judas’ actions do not constitute his existence. While the notion of a substance incorporates all that will happen to him this does not necessitate that each event in his life is an a priori proof of said event. Judas existing does not require the betrayal of Jesus. The property of Judas, “betraying Jesus” is not a necessary property of Judas. Judas not betraying Jesus is not the same as the logical statement, J is not J. J is J is logically true because Judas’ existence proves his existence. J is J with or without the betrayal of Christ. Burnham uses the example of Caesar crossing the Rubicon to explain Leibniz’ argument. “Leibniz claims that Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon is not necessary in the sense that “A is A” is necessary. Because while “A is not A” is a contradiction, Caesar’s deciding not to cross the Rubicon does not imply a contradiction.” (Burnham)

This theory of free will is problematic. If we are to believe the accounts found within the Christian gospels, then Judas had no choice. God’s plan was always to send his son or corporeal form to die on the cross. If we are to seriously consider Leibniz’ own logic concerning the perfection of God, this remains true. The reason I contend that Leibniz’ distinction between necessary and contingent actions is not sufficient for his view of free will is due to his account of the creation of our world.

“Whence it follows that God, possessing supreme and infinite wisdom, acts in the most perfect manner, not only metaphysically, but also morally speaking…” (Ariew, R. and Watkins, E. (eds.) 2009, pg. 224)

Leibniz suggests that all events or happenings, whether good or evil, in this world are pre-determined due to their creation by a perfect God who had to, by definition, create a perfect world. It is his explanation for how events and actions are determined by God which leads me to believe that free will simply cannot exist in the Leibnizian perfect world. If we live in a perfect world, meticulously crafted and arranged by God through envisioning all possible worlds and events within, there must be one set of events that has to take place and actions that have to be performed; therefore, an individual cannot possibly have the free will to act as he or she chooses.

“In the beginning…” or in a “place” wholly separate from our universe and totally independent from what we know as space and time, God pondered all the possibilities of the universe He was about to create the way an artist imagines potential landscapes before a blank canvas. Except God, in His all-knowing wisdom, was able to formulate all the possible worlds or timelines, depending on how a god would actually run world simulations, and see them all play out before his eyes or maybe in his mind, if He did indeed possess eyes or a mind. Regardless of how God would envision seemingly infinite possibilities for his creation, He ultimately chose one set of outcomes and possibilities to constitute what we know as our universe the way the painter would eventually decide upon a solemn snow laden hillside or a still lake beside a misty mountain. This universe would have to be the perfect world made by the perfect God. He was able to see Judas kiss Jesus on the cheek consequently betraying him to armed Roman soldiers. He foresaw the fall of Lucifer. He watched Caesar cross the Rubicon. He foresaw the writing of Leibniz’ Discourse on Metaphysics and the writing of this essay. He chose one perfect world to create, and that perfection necessitates certain events happening. If this is the one true perfect world, the events that have taken place are the ones that had to take place. The world where Caesar does not cross the Rubicon is not this world. The world where Judas does not betray Jesus is not this world. If we are to accept that the betrayal did occur in the history of our world, then we must acknowledge that it was necessary, as it is one of potentially infinite events made certain by the will of God. Judas had to betray Jesus.

“It is here, then, that we must apply the distinction concerning connections, and I say that whatever happens in conformity with the set predeterminations [avances] is certain but not necessary, and if one were to do the contrary, he would not be doing something impossible in itself, even though it would be impossible  [ex hypothesi] for this to happen. […] But this would not show that it was necessary in itself nor that the contrary implies a contradiction.” (Ariew, R. and Watkins, E. (eds.) 2009, pg. 231)

I contend that Leibniz’ argument is not tenable. If God only planned the perfect world insofar as its perfection necessitates particular beings, then the argument of actions being contingent is satisfactory; however, if we view each being as the summation of all of the actions he or she will take throughout life, in effect imprinting on the world around him or her including other beings, then the actions taken have to have been necessary. Leibniz posits that actions are certain because God foresees them, yet they remain contingent. I argue that regardless of the individual’s lack of precognition, the action he is certain to perform must be necessary due to it being the only possible outcome of his or her supposed choice. That is, the choice that became predestined by God’s creation of the one, perfect world and made certain by His will. Like the painter, God envisioned a scene for his canvas. This canvas is the perfect world and the actions of men are what is painted on the canvas. The artist’ painting includes specifically placed trees and clouds just as God’s canvas includes certain and necessary actions. Remove a tree or star from Van Gogh’s Starry Night and it is no longer the same painting. The betrayal of Christ or the crossing of the Rubicon are the same as trees or stars in Van Gogh’s painting of the French countryside. Judas’ betrayal and his non-betrayal, so to speak, were apparently both possible in this perfect world, hinging on a monumental choice. I do not believe that this choice actually existed if we are to believe Leibniz’ argument for the existence of the perfect world. Either the perfect world necessitated a Judas that would betray Jesus or not. The concept of contingent actions is incompatible with Leibniz’ view of God and his argument for the omniperfect God. Leibniz even says that an individual performing an action that was not the action proscribed to him and made certain by God would be impossible. Hence, it was impossible for Judas to have not betrayed Jesus. Either of the following are true, but one surely has to be false: A) We do not live in a perfect world and actions are contingent; or, B) We live in a perfect world and actions are necessary. I posit that Leibniz’ compatibilism is not conducive to his argument for a perfect world created by a perfect God.

This is where I present the conclusion I necessarily had to have written. According to Leibniz, God is perfect and, perforce, had to have created the perfect world. Before making the perfect world he pondered all possibilities. One such possibility was one in which Judas betrays Jesus. This has to be the possibility chosen by God or else this essay would not exist. Arguably, neither would Christianity in the form in which it exists today. The betrayal of Jesus is certain at least to God and, thus, Judas betraying Jesus is a necessary condition for the perfect world. Therefore, Judas Iscariot did not actually have the free will to choose whether or not to kiss Jesus Christ on the cheek because the perfect world God chose before creation necessitates the betrayal.

Work Cited

Burnham, D. Gottfried Leibniz: Metaphysics.

Ariew, R. and Watkins, E. Modern Philosophy: An Anthology of Primary Sources. Hackett Publishing Company, 2009. Print.

Our Bark Is Worse Than Their Bite

Joe McGreal

Austin Community College

The muzzle of a dog holds an eager, insatiable tongue, enough slobber to go around for everyone, and, practical to their species’ survival through the ages, a formidable set of teeth. When an interaction between human and canine diverts from the typically genial relationship we’ve cultivated over thousands of years and results in a dog bite, victims have seen it as a betrayal of trust. With the prevalence of media-reported attacks by pit bulls and their use in dog fighting beginning in the 1970s, the idea of a “dog bite epidemic” became real for some communities. In a way to address the supposed issue, breed-specific legislation (BSL) targeting the pit bull was established creating different standards for different breeds, judgments based on genetics rather than actions, and essentially discrimination written into law. What statistics say, however, is that no discernible link exists between the institution of these laws and decreased dog bites. In essence, the end result of enforcing these laws is merely a false sense of security (“Are Breed-Specific Laws Effective?”). But beyond acknowledging that BSL is ineffective, I will consider two of the more common approaches to animal ethics in utilitarianism and Regan’s deontology, before considering two under-utilized approaches, Levinas’ and Nussbaum’s, all of which reveal such policy to be a moral failing. I will argue that such legislation denies animals their dignity, causes far more suffering than it will ever prevent, reduces our relationship to animals to immoral lows, and attaches both physical and emotional chains around their way of life.

A notable supporter of BSL is the animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which sees any effort to ban breeds, especially pit bulls, as an act of mercy, or “breed-specific protection,” given the number of dogs exploited or abused every day (Newkirk). What this position fails to acknowledge is the detrimental effects these laws place on all pit bulls, even those who are well-behaved and living in loving homes or devoted shelters. Simply banning breeds does not address what many consider the underlying problem of the pit bull’s reputation for aggressiveness: poor ownership. Indicating that we cannot lessen the instances of animal aggression if we don’t address the circumstances that make them aggressive, a study conducted by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association has shown that dog bites consistently result from dogs who’ve received negligent care like owners failing to be present when their dogs are around strangers and the physically vulnerable, failing to neuter in order to reduce hormone levels and subsequently aggressive behavior, withholding affection, keeping dogs isolated, and not taking into account a dog’s general behavior when around others (Bradley 4).

Those who advocate against all such policies do so for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, any imposition on dog ownership will keep more dogs in shelters and more from ever making it out. Such laws ignore that all dogs can bite, and all need proper care to limit aggressive behavior. Similarly, it allows humans to feel the problem is solved, when all, especially those at a young age, must learn how to behave around and treat any dog they come into contact with. Furthermore, it absolves humans of their responsibility for dangerous dogs who are often the result of abuse and neglect.

One problematic aspect to these laws is how the term “pit bull” essentially applies to a general appearance, not genetics, and can be attached to a variety of breeds. For clarity, breeds typically considered pit bulls include the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier, the American bully, and the Staffordshire bull terrier. In other words, broad legal, and often lethal, judgments about disposition are drawn against a pool of diverse breeds on the basis of a nebulous smattering of common physical traits. This is why some are trying to remove the bias and barriers of breed labels from the adoption process altogether (Auerbach). From a practical perspective, shelter workers cite breed identification as mostly a speculative task dependent on visual identifiers that often get muddled through mixed breeding, but they emphasize that a breed label says nothing about whether it can coexist with your family. Simply consulting with shelter staff about its temperament and having basic interaction with the animal offers the best insight into the chemistry between potential adopter and dog. Such a perspective regards each dog as an individual with its own personality and history, otherwise we “discount their socialization, training, genetics, and environment” (Auerbach).

Along with uncontrolled breeding, these laws and the prejudice that fuels them impede what should be a top priority in the realm of animal rights and welfare, making every animal shelter reach no-kill status. Reversing this way of thought and treatment ought to be our duty if we believe it right to uphold life. What the following approaches will reveal is that breed-specific legislation immorally denies pit bulls the capability to function.

The application of a utilitarian calculus proves most beneficial in showing the dramatic disparity between how harm and pleasure is distributed when BSL is enacted and when it’s not. Recognizing that the interests of animals and humans merit equal moral consideration on the basis that each has an equal capacity to suffer, we can determine whether enacting these laws is right or wrong from this perspective by measuring the happiness of all involved parties. This includes pit bulls, dog owners, shelter operators, and members of the community. The option that elicits the greatest good for the greatest number is then deemed the most ethical and guides our next action.

If breed-specific legislation is put into place, there is little benefit other than a fragile sense of security for members of the community that support it, and is easily punctured by evidence that such laws have little material effect on the frequency of dog bites (Bradley 13). The pain however, is substantial across every party. Dogs feel the greatest loss in higher pleasures when their bodies are restricted, areas are closed off, humans treat them with disdain, and the threat of being surrendered and potentially euthanized increases. Owners can suffer consequences that make owning the dog prohibitive, such as mandatory procedures, strict apartment regulations, or unexpected insurance complications. Even when owners follow the rules, they must deal with the stigma of giving a pit bull a place in their community. Shelter operators are then strained managing an influx of dogs that are difficult to place in homes and from devoting resources to reversing this unsubstantiated prejudice. Even members of the community suffer in this scenario when their city is regarded as backward and cruel both locally by dog owners and nationwide. Furthermore, the community pays taxes in order to enforce these laws and prosecute owners, but with no beneficial end this can only be seen as a waste of money.

The story would be much different without governments targeting specific breeds. The pit bulls are much more likely stay with their owners or be adopted when the demands of ownership are the same as any other breed, they’re naturally treated better when their existence isn’t a matter of legal debate, and the threat of having their lives taken from them go further down (“Breed-Specific Legislation”). Owners face fewer harmful rules to follow, they no longer have to worry about what dog they fall in love with at the shelter, and easier pathways to new or continued ownership even means healthier humans (“Having a Dog Can Help Your Heart — Literally”­).  Clearly shelters can operate more efficiently and can gear more of their rescue efforts to other vulnerable groups. The community as a whole will have to deal with the anxiety of a problem seemingly not being addressed, but more energy and money can go toward efforts that everyone agrees on. Discord between owners and others will ideally be softened with responsible, positive interactions rather than forced separation.

However, this needn’t be a binary choice between doing nothing to address dog bites and pressuring pit bulls out of communities. Another alternative is to choose policies that encourage responsible ownership of all dogs, not just specific breeds. This places more of the emphasis on owners providing humane care and following standard laws already in place like licensing and leash laws that are proven to lead to public safety and happier dogs (“Effective Policies”).

Only through raising the standards by which every owner is judged, rather than lowering the worth of every pit bull indiscriminately, can we enjoy a responsible and just relationship between species. The utilitarian approach, in its goal of limiting suffering, understands that the restriction on higher pleasures that results from the often cruel enforcement of BSL is an end not justified by the means.

If BSL is seen through the prism of deontology, we must begin by acknowledging Kant’s limited regard for animals and how he saw dignity, or a sense of intrinsic worth, belonging only to rational beings. But another Kantian theorist, Tom Regan, argues animals hold an inherent value as well, granting them rights as inviolable as those of humans. He does this by identifying all humans and at least some animals as being “subjects of a life.” This shared status among humans and animals highlights the similar conscious experience between them; namely, that every subject of a life cares about its own welfare for its own sake. Each acts and wants in a manner that may offer the best quality of life, independent of how they may benefit others. BSL, however, casts away entire breeds to suit human needs and can only be considered a very cynical view toward interspecies cooperation. Regan’s view, by maintaining dogs as ends-in-themselves and not mere means subject to our whims, can only regard such laws as unjust, as any harm we’d find immoral for humans would likewise be immoral for an animal.

That said, it is clear these laws aren’t arbitrary. They’re an attempt at remedying the problem of aggressive dogs violating the rights of humans. While we must accept that some rights must be overridden in order for a problem to be resolved, two principles within Regan’s rights view offer guidance. These are called the mini-ride principle and the worse-off principle. The mini-ride, short for “minimize overriding,” argues that if the harm is comparable on both sides, we should choose the option that affects the fewest number of beings (Regan 305).

The worse-off argues that if the degree of harm among both sides is disparate, we should choose the option that will prevent the greater harm (Regan 307). When one in 91,558 human deaths are attributable to dog bites while 670,000 dogs are euthanized annually, the statistics bear out that both principles argue in favor of abandoning laws that are more likely to put dogs into the shelter system.(Bradley 6; “Pet Statistics”) With the likelihood of euthanasia for dogs much more significant than a fatal dog attack for a human, we can determine from the mini-ride principle that it would be more ethical to override the rights of humans. And given that the odds of any dog bite, much less a serious one, are so low, the worse-off principle says we shouldn’t favor alleviating the misplaced distress of a community over the thousands of dogs and owners who would have to deal with the potential loss of resources, relationships, and freedoms that come with breed-specific policies.

Discarding a breed because it is deemed no longer fit to be around humans is the definition of treating dogs as means to an end. To put pit bulls in that position is a failure of respecting rights on two fronts: (1) they’ve been criminally mistreated and abused, and (2) as a result, they’ve become devalued to the point of giving humans the justification for erasing their existence. This is intolerable under the rights view, and only treatment of the same degree of respect we have for humans avoids this speciesist mindset.

The ethics of Emmanuel Levinas proves to be useful when regarding the needs of pit bulls by avoiding the strict reason-based nature of the previous approaches and introducing an element of care centered around a face-to-face encounter. Levinas believed that failing to interact with those affected (the Other) by a problem risks seeing them distorted by our own preconceptions, or what he called totalitarian thinking.  The prejudice that pit bulls endure reflects this concern. By deeming each individual dog with certain physical characteristics as identical to the vicious image they’ve conjured as a result of sensationalist headlines, they disregard its vulnerability and fail to acknowledge the demands of the Other to be recognized as a living creature all its own. These dogs, no matter their history, then become dangerous objects subject to our anxieties.

If we follow Levinas’ steps to avoid this result (as outlined by Katherine Kirby), we must first see in the Other a being separate from ourselves and always at least partly inscrutable. We are forbidden from assigning its character and experiences to the simplistic and flawed framework of our prior assumptions. During this process, the Other reveals their suffering and we are commanded to not meet it with further harm or judgment. Here we attempt to grasp “the teaching that only the Other can provide” (Kirby 164). Upon opening ourselves up to the Other, “[our] attention and [our] concern become oriented toward [them] as [we] receive what [they] reveal to [us]” (Kirby 164). A pit bull once kenneled is never more vulnerable. Separate from physical and emotional warmth, the freedom to play, and from being with those who surrendered it or may one day care for it just as any other dog, the command “thou shall not kill” speaks not only literally, but to not be prejudged as being unworthy of life based solely for what it is.

After stepping back from this encounter, it is necessary to recognize how its needs suitably fit within the social framework and meet our obligations to society. From an objective standpoint, its desire not to be harmed is in direct conflict with the overarching sentiment that its mere presence is worthy of scorn and fear. However, the rational basis for such fear is discounted by the fact that there is no noticeable decline in dog bites where BSL is put into law (Bradley 13). Furthermore, added legal considerations for owning targeted breeds create barriers for their adoption and deny these dogs opportunities for caring relationships. To add insult to injury, these laws can include measures such as mandatory muzzling that shroud and restrict their face. It is not only a betrayal to their needs, but their ability to interact is severely impaired and reinforces the separation that enables prejudice. For these reasons, we should put greater emphasis on responding to the suffering of the individual animals we encounter and reject sweeping laws that only amount to identifying a scapegoat.

If we acknowledge the history of pit bulls in our culture, we can fairly assume the tendency for people to categorize the image of a pit bull in the past few decades as a threat results from the availability of fearmongering in the media, rather than actual face-to-face experiences. Levinas’ theory allows for the moral agent to consider the possibility that a pit bull can be regarded the same as any other dog, a challenge, whose companionship has the same potential to instill personal growth and satisfaction once the distance between human and dog is bridged.

Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach builds on key aspects of the previous approaches including Regan’s dignity of the individual and Levinas’ care for the other by asking the question, “what are people actually able to do and to be?” (Nussbaum, “Defense of Values” 26). In forming a basis for political and social justice, she identifies ten core entitlements that must be supported in order for humans and animals alike to flourish. These include: life, bodily health, bodily integrity, senses-imagination-and-thought, emotion, practical reason, affiliation, other species, play, and control over one’s environment. Given that the goal of breed-specific legislation is to restrict the way of life for certain dogs in order to improve public safety, it is questionable whether these breeds can still meet the minimum threshold for living a whole life, much less a flourishing one under this approach, when these regulations are enforced.

The capabilities approach finds harm whenever individuals are obstructed from carrying out natural functions and makes special considerations for capabilities that influence the quality of life of each species most. Dogs, being natural social beings, endure significant harm when looked at from this perspective given that BSL policies consequently separate dog from human (“Chaining and Tethering: FAQ”). By muzzling, dogs can’t convey affection. By restricting access to certain areas, they limit the amount of time they spend with other humans and breeds. By outright banning, the bond between owners and their companions is never more vulnerable. How can pit bulls have sufficient capabilities in a culture of suspicion and excommunication? Virtually each one Nussbaum outlines is impaired in some regard.

First and foremost, the capability of life is fundamentally threatened by such laws. Every added obligation placed on the prospect of owning a pit bull increases its odds of entering the shelter system, and it’s clear that the prejudice that brought them there will most likely keep them from leaving alive. The capabilities of emotions, affiliation, and other species are disregarded immensely by how these laws attack the idea of pit bull having a normal relationship with any other living creature. Being shunned by its community leaves little opportunity to engage fully with the world around it. The capability of play and practical reason is hampered when they’re no longer able to visit parks or use their mouth for innocent interaction with the world. Capabilities of senses, imagination, thought, and control over one’s environment is impossible when elimination of their presence is prioritized. The capabilities approach also applies to the flourishing of pit bull owners, both current and prospective, as well albeit to a lesser degree. They are similarly harmed in not being able to own a pit bull without unnecessary sacrifice, nor having free interaction or recreation with them.

The solution lies not in making laws that restrict what pit bulls are allowed to do or feel, but by enforcing existing laws that respects any breed’s right to these capabilities. It would stand to reason that dogs cared for under these principles grow up happier, more trusting, and less likely to bite. As Nussbaum suggests, for a mutually beneficial coexistence, domestic animals deserve an “intelligent paternalism [that] would encourage training, discipline,” but still maintains that they are ends, “not merely objects for human beings’ use and control” (Nussbaum, “Beyond Compassion” 313). Essentially, humans ought to responsibly cultivate an environment that promotes the flourishing of all creatures. In the interest of addressing public safety, if a dog has had its needs met and been given the opportunity to be its best self, it will be unlikely to stray toward aggressive tendencies.

The effects of pit bull prejudice and the efforts to reject it can be seen in the work done by the animal shelter, Austin Pets Alive!, a Central Texas institution known for revolutionizing the region’s animal shelter system. Beginning in 2008, they made it their mission that the prevention of unnecessary euthanasia of companion animals would carry as much of a priority as the prevention of unnecessary births. The founders noted which animal populations were least likely to be adopted in time, such as those that dealt with treatable diseases or behavioral issues, rescued them from other shelters, and developed programs that reduced their suffering and found homes that could not only accommodate them, but see them thrive and be loved. With the coordinated time, effort, and resources given to APA!’s programs, Austin has been rewarded with the distinction of being the largest no-kill city in the country by saving over 90% of animals processed through the shelter system on a monthly basis (“No Kill in Austin”).

I personally gained firsthand experience with the organization while conducting a pet supplies drive at my college campus. APA! funds their services “partly from fees for service (adoptions) and mostly from public support including grants, sponsorships, and individual contributions” making any help from the community, including a small supplies drive, a crucial part of their sustainability. An inquiry into APA!’s basic needs gave me details into what items they were currently low on and what must be on-hand continuously for their organization to function smoothly, along with an invite to get a feel for their facility and the day-to-day operations. A successful solo wander around the grounds allowed me to witness volunteers coming and going for walks, dogs being given time in the play yards, and even the “matchmaking” process where trained staff members conduct one-on-one interviews with visitors to personalize the adoption process in hopes that a good fit on paper between dog and adopter will lead to lifelong relationships. Volunteers and staff share detailed descriptions online after significant engagement at the shelter or their home for each animal learning their likes, dislikes, limitations, and special qualities. There’s a wealth of work beyond the kennels such as providing medical treatment to animals with health issues that would have doomed them in traditional shelters. Every step APA! takes is in line with Levinas’ approach of listening to and being responsible for the Other in that they help prevent each potential care provider from committing the “ethical violation” of “entering into a relation with the Other with the assumption that [they] already know what is good for her,… for it reduces her to [their] conceptions and categories” and reflects how “the Other is acknowledged to be the most reliable source of information” (Kirby 1). What being around APA! instills is how an adequate ethic of care can only be applied if we consider the entirety of the individual and utilize personality and history in determining the best methods for handling and training. Every shelter dog arrives at the same place, but how and why they got there is each its own unique story.

A chart of the dogs currently residing at APA! can be found hanging outside each row of kennels at their facility. It contains names like Papaya, Button and Spanky, recommendations for handling procedures, and color labels that dictate how experienced a volunteer must be before interacting with each dog, but no specific breeds are listed at all. What this highlights is the rejection of the often-misguided cultural weight attached to breed labels and the embrace of both the deontologist’s view of dignity and the utilitarian’s equal regard for the interests of every group. Pulling dogs off of euthanasia lists from surrounding shelters no matter the desirability of their genetic makeup avoids what Regan declares as the fundamental wrong of our treatment of animals, namely, the belief that they’re “a resource whose moral status in the world is to serve human interests” (Regan 380). Additionally, the goal of the prevention of suffering occupying every facet of the organization agrees with Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian reasoning for the equal consideration of animal interests (Bentham 203). The staff and volunteers extend themselves everyday knowing, on balance, the effort they put forth and the exhaustion they endure is no great sacrifice when lives would otherwise be lost.

Furthermore, APA!’s philosophy highlights just how crucial and necessary the capabilities approach is to care. Rather than being content with upholding their duty to respect life as a no-kill shelter, APA! employs a paternalism supported by Nussbaum that “thinks carefully about the flourishing of [animals] and what habitat that requires, and then tries hard to create such habitats” (Nussbaum “Beyond Compassion” 313).  Every dog they accept is technically saved, but what ensures each life worth living is their emphasis on building an environment of interaction, training, and play to counterbalance the necessary time they spend in kennels. Dogs that have lost or been denied so much can enter behavior programs to reverse maltreatment and revive capabilities such as forming loving attachments and engaging with the world. This holistic approach that relies on constant movement, selfless labor, never-ending concern, while respecting the uniqueness of who and what each animal is, is a pure distillation of ethical care. It is a heavy burden knowing lives are in your hand and their capacity to suffer is a constant, but APA! shows a devotion to a just treatment of dogs regardless of breed that should be seen in our response to every unjustly persecuted and vulnerable group of any species. Only by taking others as they are and trying to meet their needs as much as possible can we exhibit the care morality requires.

What these approaches tell us is that we should ban behavior rather than breeds and respect the sanctity of the lives of our most trusted companions. Dangerous dogs who’ve learned to feel threatened by anyone must certainly be taken seriously, but no law can be ethical when the well-behaved are lumped in with them. And while dog bites are clearly harmful and we should do what we can to limit their occurrence, what gets lost when people are motivated by fear is how maltreatment and irresponsible ownership is wrong as well, and is linked to only negative outcomes. Through the repeal of any targeted laws in favor of breed-neutral laws and supporting shelters like APA!, we can not only fortify the bonds we have with dogs, but also see them flourish as individuals. If we as a species stress the exercising of our best behavior, including providing domesticated animals with the physiological and psychological needs we agree to give them when we take them into our home, we can actually address this issue.

Works Cited

“Are Breed-Specific Laws Effective?” ASPCApro. 2018. cruelty-animal-fighting/are-breed-specific-laws-effective. Accessed 24 April 2018.

Auerbach, Kristen. “Removing Breed Labels.” Animal Farm Foundation. 2017. Accessed 28 April 2018.

Bentham, Jeremy. “Classical Utilitarianism.” The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature (6th ed.) Eds. Louis P. Pojman and Lewis Vaughn. New York: Oxford UP, 2017. Print. pp. 199-209

“Breed-Specific Legislation.” ASPCA. 2018. Accessed 17 May 2018.

Bradley, Janis. “Dog Bites: Problems and Solutions.” Animals and Society Institute. 2014. http://www.national pp. 1-35. Accessed 28 April 2018.

“Chaining and Tethering: FAQ” The Humane Society of the United States. 2018. chaining_tethering/facts/chaining_tethering_facts.html. Accessed 26 April 2018.

“Effective Policies.” National Canine Research Council. 11 April 2016. public-policy/effective-policies. Accessed 24 April 2018.

“Having a Dog Can Help Your Heart — Literally” Harvard Health Publishing. 2018. staying-healthy/having-a-dog-can-help-your-heart–literally. Accessed 24 April 2018

Kirby, Katherine E. “Encountering and Understanding Suffering: The Need for Service Learning in Ethical Education” Teaching Philosophy 32:2. June 2009. Print. pp. 153-176

Newkirk, Ingrid. “Pit Bulls Deserve Breed-Specific Protection.” Huffington Post. 6 December 2017. Accessed 27 April 2018.

“No Kill in Austin.” Austin Animal Center. 20 Oct. 2016. Accessed 24 April 2018.

Nussbaum, Martha. “Beyond ‘Compassion and Humanity’: Justice for Nonhuman Animals.” Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. Eds. Cass R. Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print. pp. 299-320.

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Rationality, Desire and the Good Life: The Role of Rationality in Aristotelian Psychology and Ethics

Mary Margaret Herring

Trinity University

Aristotle begins his Metaphysics with the powerful statement, “All humans by nature desire to know” (Met 980a20). This claim presupposes that humans are rational beings and are capable of gaining knowledge. Unlike other species of animals such as dogs or horses who are merely capable of perceiving things with their senses, humans are able to reason theoretically because of their rational capacity. However, Aristotle explains that human beings’ desire for knowledge is evident in their “liking for the perceptual capacities” (Met 980a21). This is problematic because Aristotle believes that “the good of a human being must have something to do with being human; and what sets humanity off from other species” (Kraut). It would seem that Aristotle should appeal to humans’ unique rational capacity when discussing humans’ desire to know. However, by appealing to the perceptual capacities, which are common to all species of animals, Aristotle suggests that humans desire to know because of something other than their capacity to reason. I will address this issue by appealing to Aristotle’s writing in Metaphysics as well as using Johnathon Lear’s argument that we must use our senses to know what we desire. Next, I will distinguish between the apparent good and the good as demonstrated by Jessica Moss and discuss the role that rationality plays in distinguishing the two. After examining Aristotle’s writings on the intrinsic goodness of understanding, I argue that humans desire to know because they want to find eudaimonia or happiness.

While Aristotle’s bold statement “All humans desire to know” is short in length, it is a quite complex statement that requires some unpacking (Met 980a20). First, I will examine Aristotle’s notion of the three different types of desire: epithumia, thumos, and boulêsis. Then I will discuss his conception of a human being. Finally, I will look at the different kinds of knowledge Aristotle believes that humans must desire.

Aristotle believes that desire is a function of the soul that plays a role in ensuring that living things will survive and flourish (Shields). In his book, Aristotle on Desire, author Giles Pearson creates a substantial account of Aristotle’s three types of desire. First, Pearson discusses the desire for what is pleasant, called epithumia. In this discussion, Pearson creates two categories of epithumia: the narrow and the broad notion of epithumia. The narrow notion includes pleasures of sense perception, such as the pleasure that results from eating or drinking (Pearson 92-100. In an elucidating review of Pearson’s book, Krisanna M. Scheiter writes that Pearson’s narrow notion of epithumia is generally accepted by scholars. However, Pearson’s more controversial idea of the broad notion of epithumia includes simple, non-bodily pleasures like the pleasure of learning something new (100-101). Next, Pearson discusses thumos or the desire for retaliation (111). Pearson concludes his summary by examining boulêsis, the desire for the good (159-168). Boulêsis, which belongs to the rational part of the soul, is distinguished from epithumia and thumos which are parts of the non-rational soul (Pearson 170). We will return to the discussion of boulêsis while examining the differences between the good and the apparent good.

Now that we have differentiated between the three types of Aristotelian desire, we may inspect the human aspect of the phrase “All humans by nature desire to know” (Met. 980a20). Aristotle essentially defines human beings as rational animals. Composed of the difference or aspect that differentiates humans from other animals and the genus, an essential definition has an explanatory quality. As a species of the genus animal, humans possess a rational capacity that other animal species lack. This rational capacity allows humans to excel in areas that other animal species cannot. For example, the rational capacity of humans explains a human’s ability to excel in abstract and theoretical fields such as math or physics. As Christopher Shields states, in the same way that “the having of sensory faculties is essential to being an animal, so the having of a mind is essential to being a human.”  Because it is essential for other animals to be able to perceive with their senses, an animal that lacks sense perception, according to Aristotle, would not be an animal. In this same way, a human that is incapable of rationalizing would not be a human. Therefore, the rational capacity of human beings is essential to their being human.

Finally, we must examine the object of humans’ desire: knowledge. Only humans are able to enter into the states of knowledge because of their rational capacity. To illustrate this point, consider a dog who is told to “sit” and gets a treat if he obeys. Aristotle believes that this dog may know from past experience that he will get a treat if he sits, but the dog probably is not theorizing about what might happen if he does not sit. So, while animals are able to have varying forms of sense perception such as a single perception, a memory of a single perception, or an experience, humans are able to form theories about things they have not experienced.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that there are three forms of knowledge: productive, practical, and theoretical knowledge. For the purposes of this paper, I will combine the practical and productive forms of knowledge into knowledge that leads to a good consequence. I will refer to this category broadly as productive knowledge in the remainder of this paper. For example, a doctor has the productive knowledge of how to heal a patient. Healing the patient brings about the good consequence of health for the patient. Unlike productive knowledge, theoretical knowledge is valued in itself. For example, theoretical knowledge results when someone studies purely theoretical metaphysics or mathematics. When a mathematician reflects on an abstract mathematical theory, no good consequences arise from him or her having contemplated this. Because theoretical knowledge is valued for its inherent goodness, rather than its consequences, Aristotle believes that it is superior to productive knowledge (EN VI 5-6).

As previously demonstrated, in order for an animal to gain knowledge, they must possess a rational capacity. So, when Aristotle states “All humans by nature desire to know,” he is presupposing that humans are rational beings (Met 980a20). Because Aristotle suggests that it is the nature of human beings to be rational, it seems odd that he would then state, “An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight” (Met 980a21). After discussing how this idea is problematic when viewed alongside the first sentence, “All humans by nature desire to know,” I will expand on Johnathan Lear’s argument to suggest that Aristotle believes that even the non-rational portions of the soul are superior to those of other species of animal (Met 980a20).

After presupposing that humans are rational beings, Aristotle strangely claims that humans desire to know is evident in their perceptual capacities. He says, “An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness, they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight” (980a21). Because Aristotle believes that animals must be rational to enter into the state of knowledge, it would seem to make more sense if Aristotle said that humans delighted in their rational capacity rather than their senses. The statement is further complicated because all animals, according to Aristotle, have sensory faculties. Due to the other species lack of a rational capacity and inability to enter into the state of knowledge, it appears odd that Aristotle would support his claim about humans’ desire to know by appealing to a capacity that seemingly has nothing to do with the acquisition of knowledge. This raises the following questions: Why would Aristotle appeal to the senses when stating that humans desire to know? What is the relationship between rationality, the perceptive capacities, and knowledge?

In order to answer these questions, I will turn to Johnathan Lear who suggests that humans must use their senses to know what is pleasurable. In his book, Aristotle: The Desire to Understand, Lear states, “One does not know the content of desire unless one knows what ultimately satisfies it. By its satisfaction, we learn what the desire is a desire for. That is why Aristotle speaks of the delight we take in our senses” (1).  Here, Lear seems to appeal to epithumia, the desire for sensory pleasure, when explaining why humans desire to know. However, if we utilize Pearson’s broad notion of epithumia which includes simple non-bodily pleasures, Lear’s argument becomes clearer. In the broad notion of epithumia, non-bodily things, such as the pleasure that results from learning, are desirable as well. For example, a human might be motivated to learn more about a subject because it brings about the pleasurable feeling of understanding. This feeling of understanding is not good because of its consequences, but rather it is good intrinsically. So, it seems that the delight that Aristotle and Lear refer to is the intrinsic goodness that comes from our senses.

Aristotle explicitly comments on the intrinsic goodness of the senses in the last two phrases of this complicated sentence: “An indication of this [human’s desire to know] is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight” (Met 980a21). In the same way that Aristotle believes theoretical knowledge to be superior to practical knowledge, he suggests here that the senses are not only instrumentally, but also inherently valuable. This is further demonstrated when humans utilize their senses in ways that other species cannot. For example, humans use their sight to appreciate a beautiful scene in nature or a work of art while dogs and cats do not. While no instrumental consequences arise from a person reflecting on a piece of art or a nature scene, the act of doing so is pleasurable in itself. This notion of the senses’ inherent goodness is further supported when Aristotle concludes this mysterious second sentence by appealing to humans’ love of sight. Because humans value their visual capacity in a way that other animals do not, it seems that Aristotle is referencing a human-exclusive form of non-bodily intrinsic pleasure that results from using the senses.

Due to the fact that humans receive pleasure from their senses in ways that animals do not, it seems natural to examine the relationship between a human’s sense perceptive capacity and their unique rational capacity. As previously mentioned, boulêsis is the desire for the good that belongs to the rational part of the soul. Because desire is a function of the soul which is composed of rational and non-rational parts, we can examine the role that rationality and sense perception play in desire. While discussing the relationship between reason and desire, Jessica Moss states “only reason can work out that something is good, as opposed to merely pleasant, and therefore only reason based desires can be good” (6). So, it seems that only desires that are rooted in reason can be good. Desires that are based in the promise of sensory pleasures, according to Moss, are merely apparently good. If we return to the example of a human viewing art, the role of rationality in their desires becomes true. When looking at a work of art, humans and animals may not receive any form of sensory pleasure. Because they lack the rational capacity, animals will not appreciate art in the same way that humans do. Rather, humans use their rational capacity to determine if the work is inherently beautiful and good. Because it seems that the rational capacity enables humans to desire things that other animals do not, the rational aspect of the soul is important when examining desire.

Rationality also plays a large role in Aristotle’s ethical inquiries. As Richard Kraut argues, Aristotle believes that living a good life involves achieving excellence by using a capacity that is exclusive to that species. Because humans have a unique rational capacity, we can assume that humans must excel at an activity which involves their rational capacity. I suggest that humans must desire to know because entering into the state of understanding is crucial to happiness. This argument is supported when Aristotle’s notion of understanding is examined. After discussing the role of understanding in the lives of gods and humans, we will look to Aristotle’s notion of leisure to demonstrate the inherent value of understanding. These examples will hopefully demonstrate that reason traverses Aristotle’s psychological and ethical inquiries as he seemingly argues that humans desire to know to be in the state of understanding, which leads to happiness.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle claims, “For not only is understanding the most excellent element in us, but also, of knowable objects the ones that understanding is concerned with are the most excellent ones” (EN X.7 1177a20). Naturally, this raises a few questions. What is understanding and why is it superior to other virtues?

Aristotle argues that understanding is the state that results from completely mastering a field of theoretical knowledge, or entering into contemplation of theoretical knowledge. Because theoretical knowledge is required for understanding, the species must have a rational capacity in order to enter into this state. Therefore, only human beings and gods are capable of entering into the state of understanding.

According to Aristotle, the gods are immaterial actualities that are constantly in the state of understanding. As immaterial actualities, Aristotelian gods are purely spiritual beings that are capable of rationalizing. Gods are able to be in a constant state of understanding because they do not have bodies made of matter, like humans. Because humans are made of matter, they must leave the state of understanding to complete mundane human tasks such as feeding themselves or sleeping. However, Aristotle believes that humans can temporarily enter into this state of understanding and challenges them to do so, saying “If then understanding is something divine in comparison with the human element, so a life in accord with it is divine in comparison with human life” (EN X.7 1177b30). So, it seems clear that Aristotle believes that humans should want to enter into the godlike state of understanding. But, why is understanding superior to other virtues?

Aristotle seems to value understanding because of its intrinsic goodness. Just as theoretical knowledge is inherently good, and has no good consequences, so too is the state of understanding. He praises understanding’s intrinsic goodness when he states, “this activity [contemplation], and only this, would seem to be liked because of itself (alone). For nothing arises from it beyond having contemplated” (EN X.7 1177b1). Aristotle’s emphasis on the value of things that are loved because of themselves seems to be a recurring theme. Like theoretical knowledge and the good, Aristotle argues that leisure is valued because of its inherent goodness.

Aristotle states that humans’ desire for things that are inherently good can be demonstrated in their love of leisure. He states, “happiness seems to reside in leisure, since we do unleisured things in order to be at leisure, and wage war in order to live in peace” (EN X.7 1177b5).  Leisure is significant to Aristotle because people value it for itself and not for its consequences. While people fight in wars to bring about the instrumental consequence of peace, people are leisurely solely because they want to be leisurely. Similarly, people who are leisurely are not preoccupied with the practicalities of life such as making money or wondering where their next meal will come from. They are solely happy to be in a state of leisure. This view of leisure is also reminiscent of Aristotle’s notion of the gods who are unbothered by material demands. Like the state of leisure, the state of understanding is inherently good because humans value it itself and it resembles the lives of the gods.

The link between rationality and the good life seems to be found in the state of understanding. Therefore, we can argue that humans desire to know so that they can enter into the divine state of understanding. However, another problem arises if we interpret Aristotle to believe that being in a state of theoretical understanding is the way to live a good life. The goal of ancient ethics was to determine how to live a good life. So, we can state that Aristotle’s inquiry up to this point has been ethical. Because ethics brings about the good consequence of knowing how to live a good life, one could say that ethics is a productive science. This becomes complicated because we are suggesting that theoretical wisdom is the answer to a practical problem. While I will not be able to entertain this problem fully in this paper, I can give a short solution to this problem. Aristotle seems to make the productive decision to think theoretically. In his ethical works, Aristotle is seeking a productive way to live a good life. Due to the fact that rationality is exclusive to the human species, enables them to understand, and is in accordance with the gods, entering into the state of understanding must lead to a good life. Therefore, Aristotle decided (productively) that entering into the state of understanding (which comes from entertaining theoretical ideas) would give him a good life. In this way, it is clear that Aristotle practically decided to think theoretically.

Throughout this paper, I have attempted to demonstrate the relationship between rationality, desire, and the good life. Aristotle values the rational capacity for many reasons including the ability to distinguish between the good and the apparent good and the way that it allows human beings to enter into the state of understanding. By examining Aristotle’s statement “All humans by nature desire to know,” and its relationship with the following sentence that states that this desire is evident in the delight that human beings’ take in their senses, it becomes clear that Aristotle believes humans are able to appreciate things, like art or a nature scene, in a way that other animals cannot (Met 980a20). Furthermore, by presupposing the rational nature of humans in this phrase, Aristotle suggests that the rational capacity of humans better enables them to distinguish the good from the apparent good. Because rationality is a quality that is exclusive to humans, Aristotle believes that achieving excellence in this capacity will result in a good life. In order to strengthen this argument, Aristotle draws on the idea of leisure as something that is valued in itself, and the lives of the gods to demonstrate that we too should want to enter into the state of understanding. After examining these aspects of Aristotle’s philosophies, it seems that we can interpret his phrase, “All humans by nature desire to know,” to suggest that because of their rational nature, humans desire to enter into the state of theoretical knowledge or understanding. Humans have this desire because they are able to use their rational capacity to distinguish the good (understanding which leads to happiness) from the apparent good (things that are merely pleasant). In this way, we can see how Aristotle’s notion of reason, desire, and the good life are closely connected.

Works Cited

Aristotle. De Anima: Books II and III. Translated by D.W. Hamlyn. Oxford University Press, 1968. p. 68.[1]

Aristotle. “De Anima.” Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle. Ed. S. Marc Cohen, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C Reeve, 5th ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2016. pp. 512-530.

Aristotle. “Metaphysics.” Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle. Ed. S. Marc Cohen, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C Reeve, 5th ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2016. pp. 536-577.

Aristotle. “Metaphysics: Book 1” The Internet Classics Archive. Translated by W.D. Ross. MIT UP.

Aristotle. “Nicomachean Ethics.” Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy: From Thales to Aristotle. Ed. S. Marc Cohen, Patricia Curd, and C.D.C Reeve, 5th ed. Indianaoplis: Hackett Publishing, 2016. pp. 577-623.

Kraut, Richard. “Aristotle’s Ethics,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Summer 2017, edited by Edward N. Zalta.

Lear, Jonathan. “The Desire to Understand” and “Ethics and the Organization of Desire: Happiness and Man’s Nature, Virtue.” Aristotle: The Desire to Understand, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 1-15, 160-174.

Moss, Jessica. “Evaluative Cognition: Desire and the Good,” “Perceiving the Good: Practical Cognition and Pleasure,” and “Phantasia and the Apparent Good: Phantasia in Action.” Aristotle on the Apparent Good: Perception, Phantasia, Thought, & Desire. Oxford UP, 2012, pp. 1-9, 22-29, 48-51.

Pearson, Giles. “Species of Desire I: Epithumia (Pleasure-Based Desire),” “Species of Desire II: Thumos (Retaliatory Desire),” and “Species of Desire III: Boulêsis (Good-Based Desire).” Aristotle on Desire. Cambridge UP, 2012, pp. 92-170.

Shields, Christopher. “Aristotle’s Psychology.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Winter 2016, edited by Edward N. Zalta,

Scheiter, Krisanna M. Review of Aristotle on Desire, by Giles Pearson. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2013.4.32.

[1] This source contained a portion of De Anima that was not included in the edition by Cohen, Curd, and Reeve.

State of Nature Theory: A Contemporary Western Analysis of Early Modern Approaches

Nathaniel Clapp

Texas State University

The question of which state of nature theory is the most persuasive, remains a perennial puzzle for political philosophy. In this essay, I will argue that according to a contemporary western analytic approach, Hobbes has the most persuasive state of nature theory. I will construct my argument by comparing and contrasting the theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. Emphasis will be placed on a conceptual analysis of the state of nature and applying it through the lens of each theory.


The state of nature concept has a plethora of possible definitions. It can be discussed as having either a hypothetical or factual basis. As I will show, any discussion of the concept as being based in fact is not warranted. The state of nature can be something that could have never occurred, occurred in the past, or could occur in the future. It can be defined as either the absence of a government or as the absence of social interaction. For example, one can define the state of nature as a hypothetical state in the past that is pre-social or pre-political. That would be the standard approach. Alternatively, one could discuss a society that has devolved into a post-social or post-political state. A post-political example would be a state of political anarchy after a revolution. On the other hand, it seems that a post-social case would be impossible. Since a political body is considered an evolved form of a social body, a pre-social theory entails a pre-political theory.

If the state of nature is considered pre-social and anti-social, then to speculate about its structure, one cannot draw from any historical human examples because there are no examples from the past or present. Hermits would not count because although they are anti-social, they departed from society. They are a product of society and subsequently they cannot give insight into a pre-social state of humanity. Feral children could be a possible source of inquiry, but such cases are rare and controversial. The best chance to have empirical data would be other animal species that are anti-social. But then the problem would be whether such instances have any value for mapping their behavior onto humans. Therefore, the discussion of a pre-social state of nature theory must be a purely hypothetical thought experiment.

If the state of nature is defined as pre-political, then one needs to further distinguish what one means by ‘political’. Is one considering political to include only a state level government? Do tribal and chiefdom level governments count as well? In cultural anthropology, there is a hierarchy of socially organized government systems based on size and complexity. State government is at the top of the hierarchy. If I mean state level government when I say ‘political’, as is common, then I can find examples of pre-political societies such as tribes. Examples of tribal behavior, such as ethnographies, are common within the field of anthropology, but ethnographies are a modern phenomenon – a long historical record does not exist. There is also the problem of whether such examples are valuable, because in the process of entering into a tribe and recording their behavior, the tribe is no longer pre-contact and the ethnographer is affecting their behavior. Cargo cults are a good example of the inherent difficulty for making pre-contact tribal accounts. Therefore, discussing a pre-political state of nature is also hypothetical. Ergo, a state of nature theory is always hypothetical. It is a conceptual mistake to attempt to establish the historicity of a state of nature.

This leads to another important dichotomy between the original state of nature and actual political states of affairs that have features which resemble the hypothetical conditions of the original state of nature. Such an example will be discussed later in the essay. When such factual political states are described as ‘states of nature’, it is meant in a purely figurative sense to denote relations within or between political states which are reminiscent of a particular state of nature theory. Throughout this essay, when I refer to the state of nature, I am referring to the original state of nature unless otherwise noted.


For Hobbes, the state of nature is a tragic place filled with, “Mutual fear [that] consists partly in the natural equality of men, partly in their mutual will of hurting”. ( Hobbes (1991), 113) The three primary features are fear, equality, and violence. Hobbes defends how the equality of men is largely an equality of ability to hurt by stating,

How easy a matter it is, even for the weakest man to kill the strongest: there is no reason why any man, trusting to his own strength, should conceive himself made by nature above others. They are equals, who can do equal things one against the other; but they who can do the greatest things, namely, kill, can do equal things. All men therefore among themselves are by nature equal; the inequality we now discern, hath its spring from the civil law. (Hobbes (1991), 114)

Resultingly, because of all the violence, life would be, “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”. (Hobbes (1994), 76) Clearly, these conditions are to be avoided if possible. It is hard to imagine why a rational person would voluntarily choose to stay in the Hobbesian state of nature.

A critical presupposition for Hobbes is that our natural human capacity for reasoning still exists while we are in the state of nature. It will lead us to infer that we have a right of nature. Our right of nature, according to Hobbes, is that we are entitled to whatever we need or want to preserve our life. The individual demands the preservation of their life at all costs. To put the right of nature in Hobbes’ words,

Nature hath given to everyone a right to all; that is, it was lawful for every man, in the bare state of nature, or before such time as men had engaged themselves by any covenants or bonds, to do what he would, and against whom he thought fit, and to possess, use, and enjoy all what he would, or could get. Now because whatsoever a man would, it therefore seems good to him because he will it, and either it really doth, or at least seems to him to contribute towards his preservation. (Hobbes (1991), 116-117)

Hence, through the utilization of reasoning, the initial inference in the state of nature is that there is no legislator or executor apart from nature and each individual. Nature dictates that each individual has the equal capacity do whatever it takes, violence or otherwise, to secure the resources necessary for survival. That is to say, “By the right of nature those things may be done, and must be had, which necessarily conduce to the protection of life and members, it follows, that in the state of nature, to have all, and do all, is lawful for all”. (Hobbes (1991), 117)  Ergo, violence is permitted. With reflection, it becomes clear that the right of nature paradoxically entails a negation of itself. The conundrum is that, “For the effects of this right [of nature] are the same, almost, as if there had been no right at all. For although any man might say of everything, this is mine, yet could he not enjoy it, by reason of his neighbor, who having equal right and equal power, would pretend the same thing to be his”. (Hobbes (1991), 117) But if there would be violence, to what degree?

For Hobbes, the right of nature entails more than simply a state of violence with occasional localized skirmishes, as if that were not bad enough. A violent battle would perpetually ensue for the resources. For this reason, the state of nature according to Hobbes, is more than just violent, it is, “A war of all men against all men. For what is war, but that same time in which the will of contesting by force is fully declared, either by words or deeds?” (Hobbes (1991), 118) For Hobbes, the state of nature is equivalent to a state of war. Mass violence would be the modus operandi. It would be irrational to not want to escape such conditions.

Hence, the endgame inference in a Hobbesian state of nature is to realize that living under the right of nature is counterproductive. The right of nature appears prima facie to preserve life, but it does not – it undermines the preservation of life. Once this is realized, it follows that, “Peace is to be sought after, where it may be found”. (Hobbes (1991), 123) This is what Hobbes calls the first law of nature. This law compels us to form a social contract so that a state can be developed where we are peacefully protected from the violent state of nature. Thus, for Hobbes, the state of nature is pre-political and ahistorical at the very least. One can argue that it goes further and that it is actually pre-social.

There are some interesting examples of states of affairs that resemble a Hobbesian state of nature. An interesting example on a large scale would be the relations between nation states. They seem to be in a quasi-state of nature since they do not have a legal enforcer that presides over them. This explains why a state of war is a constant theoretical threat amongst nations. Possibly, the United Nations or NATO can be considered examples of global enforcers of law. The question would be whether they have the physical potential to actualize enforcement. It is important to note, as mentioned earlier, that this would not be the same as the original state of nature that Hobbes was primarily interested in analyzing, since the original state of nature is purely hypothetical. It would simply bear some hypothetical resemblance to the original state of nature.


Locke’s state of nature theory is similar to Hobbes, in that both argue for a natural state of equality and the only law is natural law. The contrast is that Locke defines equality and natural law in a different sense. He states, “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions”. (Locke, 9) It is immediately clear that this is a drastic departure from Hobbes. Locke defines reasoning as the law of nature, whereas Hobbes defined peace-seeking as the law of nature. Locke believes that equality, independence, and reasoning lead to the normative moral realization that no one ought to harm each other. What is the effect of these differences and who is correct?

The answer is clearer when one looks at what Locke says next; “Being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another”. (Locke, 9)  But what authorization is there for us to not destroy one another? As Hobbes makes explicit, if one realizes that they are not subordinated to a superior executive power, then what reason do they have to stop themselves from killing and stealing? In other words, there is no way to enforce effectively when everyone is an enforcer. For Locke, an appeal to natural law will somehow self-enforce natural law. This approach is begging the question. If reasoning were all one needed for enforcement of law, then enforcement would not be necessary. In fact, all law except for the natural law would be pointless. One need only take a cursory glance at the legal state of affairs around the world and throughout history to see that people commit all sorts of crimes, despite their reasoning telling them otherwise. It is also strange, in light of Locke’s argument, how he discusses deterrence justice at length. If it is part of human nature to not harm each other, then why is deterrence so important for Locke? For Hobbes, the answer is clearer – when one makes the realization that they are in danger of the possibility of being exploited due to our equality, the logical recourse is to transfer our right of nature over to a powerful enforcer.

An executive branch that enforces law is essential, but the reasoning that leads to this realization comes after experiencing a state of nature where individuals are vulnerable – a Hobbesian state of nature. In other words, Hobbes and Locke come to the same conclusion – the need for peace-seeking – but Hobbes makes this the conclusion of his argument and Locke makes it a premise of his argument. The argument for this is given by Locke when he states that,

The law of nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of nature is, in that state, put in to every man’s hands, whereby everyone has a right to punish the transgressors of the law to such a degree, as may hinder its violation: for the law of nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this world, be in vain, if there were no body that in the state of nature had a power to execute that law. (Locke, 9)

Locke argues that the execution of the law is not a problem because we can all take an equal role in executing the law of nature when it is transgressed. Thus, he still does not see a conflict between enforcing law among those who are equals. Yet, he then claims, against equality, “In the state of nature, one man comes by a power over another; but yet no absolute or arbitrary power”. (Locke, 10) This is an attack on Hobbes’ theory of absolute sovereignty. For Locke, the person executing the law is supposed to maintain rational discretion. The amount of faith that Locke places on the potential for moral and legal rationality seems impressive, but then it all comes tumbling down when Locke admits that human nature may not be such a rational and faithful executer of the law. In fact, possible conflicts of interest between individuals and equal enforcers of the law is part of the justification that Locke offers for the establishment of a social contract. He states this in the following way,

It is unreasonable for men to be judges in their own cases, that self-love will make men partial to themselves and their friends: and on the other side, that ill nature, passion and revenge will carry them too far in punishing others; and hence nothing but confusion and disorder will follow, and that therefore God hath certainly appointed government to restrain the partiality and violence of men. (Locke, 12)

The problem is that this negates his definition of the law of nature. He is stating that we cannot properly enforce law because we are biased due to our spiteful and egotistical nature. This is to affirm Hobbes, and to deny that equality entails rational justice.

Another major point of departure is the way Locke defines natural rights. In the state of nature, one has a natural right to property. This differs from Hobbes because, for Hobbes, the right of nature gives everyone an equal right to everything. That is to say, no one has de jure private property – only de facto private property. The preceding argument regarding Locke’s law of nature exposes why Locke’s appeal to private property rights is flawed. How can someone have a right to the property that they mix their labor with, when they do not have a legitimate system of justice to enforce such rights? The answer is that in a state of total liberty, Hobbes is correct – rights are a paradox and essentially meaningless. Hobbes pointed out that everyone has a natural right to everything, but this is tantamount to saying that everyone has a right to nothing. This is because anyone can come along and claim their right to that which someone first claimed a right to. Does it make sense to say that two or more people can claim property rights to the same thing? Perhaps, with certain rare instantiations, such as time-share condos. But with most things, such as food, it is an absurdity.

The last thing that will be mentioned regarding Locke, is his frequent use of the term “mankind” and doing things for the sake of “mankind”. (Locke, 13) If he was arguing for a pre-social state of nature, then mankind would not be a part of someone’s conceptual scheme. One would occasionally cross paths with another person for the sake of procreation, but that would be the extent of socializing – as is clear with many, if not all, anti-social animals. Thus, Locke is arguing for a pre-political theory. An example of this is his assertion, “Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature. But force, or a declared design of force, upon the person of another, where there is no common superior on earth to appeal to for relief, is the state of war”. (Locke, 15) This attack on Hobbes’ state of war theory, by Locke’s own implicit admission, is superficial since the former state of nature devolves into the latter state of war eventually. Thus, Locke unwittingly continues to confirm Hobbes in his attempt to refute him.


Rousseau argues that as we gain more knowledge collectively as a society, we move further away from our ability to apprehend what our state of nature was. (Rousseau, 33) He then goes on to posit a state of nature. To put it mildly, this is a very strange move for him to make. If an epistemological smokescreen precludes our ability to hypothesize about the state of nature, then why is Rousseau doing just that? He states that the state of nature has never existed and probably never will. (Rousseau, 34) From these two initial remarks, it is safe to say that Rousseau envisages the state of nature as a pre-social state. Thus, some might find it dubious to compare his theory to Hobbes’, since their theories differ in kind and not merely in degree. However, blunders within Rousseau’s dubious approach indirectly defend Hobbes.

Rousseau posits that a modern turn in legal semantics has occurred, and it has redefined ‘law’ in a prescriptive, rather than descriptive sense. Prescriptive laws are normative and define what individuals should be doing. A paternal example would be seat belt laws. Descriptive laws define what will occur naturally. An example would be self-defense laws. Prescription presupposes agency, and therefore, it is only possible for a rational mind to obtain ‘laws’. (Rousseau, 34-35) He goes on to say that the justification for most theories of natural law are formed in an arbitrary manner with the sole intent of having a “good” result from their “universal observance”. (Rousseau, 35) Surely, this is not the way that one would characterize the natural law theory of Hobbes. This is because Hobbes does not construct his state of nature argument in a way that has any clear goal of achieving good results – Hobbes has a pessimistic and misanthropic perception of human nature. Hobbes’ theory, unlike Locke’s, seems less interested in a prescription based in wishful thinking, and more interested in a description of the instrumental reasoning for the original adoption of a political system and jurisprudence. Hence, Rousseau’scritique of the arbitrary construction of natural law theory can be generalized to self-referentially subsume his own state of nature theory. The irony reaches its zenith when Rousseau immediately follows his critique with a discussion of two features of human nature.

Rousseau writes, “I believe I perceive in it two principles that are prior to reason, of which one makes us ardently interested in our well-being and our self-preservation, and the other inspires in us a natural repugnance to seeing any sentient being, especially our fellow man, perish or suffer.” (Rousseau, 35) His first rule, the rule of self-preservation, coincides with Hobbes’ right of nature – so much for Rousseau’s attempt to untangle the web of his predecessor’s arbitrary natural law theory. His second rule, the rule of pity, is a contradiction since he is making a pre-social state of nature argument. Why would someone who is in a naturally pre-social state be capable of, much less interested in, feeling pity for others? Pity is inherently a social emotion, with the exception of self-pity. Furthermore, it is not logical to argue that the emotions of pity and empathy should be construed as essential features of human nature when there are so many counterexamples of schadenfreude and cruelty. To take just two harsh cross-cultural examples, filicide and child exposition are common historical and contemporary practices among humans. Of course, examples of such behavior are not limited to humans or social animals only. Thus, the rule of pity appears to be an arbitrary and baseless supposition.

Hobbes decision to take a minimal set of axioms and derive ethics and laws from them is more compelling. The only cognitive features that Hobbes’ posits are rationality, egoism, and violence. The logic of such an approach is not whether human nature is actually good or bad. Hobbes’ point is that a philosopher should take a minimal set of pessimistic axioms and see where logic takes them. If such an approach does not lead to a reductio ad absurdum, but instead they derive ethics, laws, and the state, then they have achieved a defense of such institutions despite being given the direst of possibilities. Indeed, it is easy to argue for the formation of ethics and laws if one assumes that human nature is good – but what does such an approach accomplish? In fact, why even bother making the argument at all since the justification of law is a moot point if humans are naturally good and cooperative. Hence, the Hobbesian project attempts to defend a cooperative society against any possible counterargument. If one wishes to disprove Hobbes, then their only recourse will have to be questioning whether humans are inherently rational, whether humans have an inherent individualistic sense of self, or both. Although possible, such dispositions are deeply entrenched in many theories of human nature.

This leads to another interesting facet of Rousseau’s argument. He notes that his two principles are prior to reason. This seems to argue that the state of nature is not only pre-social, but also pre-reasoning. This would be only slightly odd, if it were not for him claiming that, “Reason is later forced to reestablish on other foundations, when, by its successive developments, it has succeeded in smothering nature. In this way one is not obliged to make a man a philosopher before making him a man.” (Rousseau, 35) This pre-reasoning argument is in direct contrast to both Hobbes and Locke. Rousseau is arguing here for a developmental stage theory for reasoning. He is famous for creating the groundwork for developmental psychology, such as influencing Piaget’s genetic epistemology, with such arguments. It is not that I disagree with Rousseau’s theory for reasoning developing through social and political progression. I find this type of continuous process argument appealing. The problem I have is that he is explicitly arguing for a stage where humans were cognitively classified as pre-reasoning – devoid of the faculty of reasoning. Yet, this is contrary to the process development approach. He can say that at one-point humans were operating with a negligible degree of reasoning, but there is still a hint of reasoning taking place – it is a difference in degree. Ergo, the existence of a pre-reasoning stage of human development does not withstand scrutiny.

Lastly, Rousseau mentions that the inequalities of men are a negative result of the creation of society. (Rousseau, 37-38) His thesis is in opposition to Hobbes, who believes that society, namely, a society within a socially contracted state, is a useful edifice since it delivers us from the state of war. Rousseau’s anti-society argument is self-defeating. To illustrate why, take the example of an anti-philosophy philosopher. He implores people who are beginning their academic philosophy journey to cease. He insists that philosophy will not bring them closer to wisdom. After all, he believes he is living proof. The paradox is that he would not have been able to know this if he had not embarked on a long journey through philosophy. The knowledge that something appears to be of value, but is in reality not of value, is something that can only be apprehended by actually going through the experiential process. Thus, the anti-philosopher, did acquire wisdom – the paradoxical wisdom that there is no wisdom to be found in the search for wisdom.

Similarly, Rousseau makes a normative argument against society, from within society. He may very well be correct that society corrupts. The problem is that he needed his experience of society to be able to come to that conclusion, and without society there is no way that he could have known. Furthermore, if Rousseau argues for a process of developing cognition, and this developmental process eventually results in society, then Rousseau is arguing against much more than society. He is arguing against what human nature inevitably becomes. Thus, given Rousseau’s developmental argument, it is not clear how, or even if, humans can close the Pandora’s box that is society. Everyone will have to wait and see what develops next.


I have compared and contrasted the state of nature theories of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. It has been argued that Hobbes’ state of nature theory withstands his critics and offers a persuasive theoretical framework. When I use the term ‘persuasive’ it is meant that a text contains a quantity and quality of arguments in favor of accepting its conclusions by a rational individual. The notion of ‘rational’ is to be understood as allowing that claims utilized in an argument are coherent; it is not an assumption that such claims are true but rather that one can conceive of a system of beliefs that allow the conclusion to be supported by such claims. It has also been argued that Hobbes’ critics have not given persuasive alternatives. In consideration of these reasons, within the hypothetical and speculative realm of state of nature theory, one can abduce that the Hobbesian approach is the best explanation

Works Cited

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994.

Hobbes, Thomas, Man and Citizen, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana: 1991.

Locke, John, Second Treatise of Government, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana: 1980.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, The Basic Political Writings, Donald A. Cress (trans.), Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana: 1987.