Friday

Hobbes and Rousseau may have started from incorrect premises

I have been reading a book by Cacioppo on Loneliness. It is an interesting book on a subject that does not get enough attention. The author emphasises, as you might expect, that, like our close relations among the apes, we are social beings.

He suggests, as an aside, that Hobbes, the political theorist, started out with an incorrect assumption about the state of man before civilisation. He assumed that human beings were in a brutal state. But he was almost certainly wrong. Even in a primitive state, human beings have surely always been social, group animals with all the compromises and co-operation that that involves. Hobbes’ views started from a false premise. Not a good place to begin.

It occurs to me that the same is probably true of Rousseau. His famous quote is about man being born free but being everywhere in chains. In fact it is all but certain that mankind was never ‘free’ in the sense of doing whatever he or she wanted. At all times for tens of thousands of years, human beings have been in groups and has had to conform to some extent and co-operate to some extent.

I wonder what other political philosophers have started from incorrect premises?

 

  1. A double standard used when judging ‘market failure’
  2. “When I started 35 years ago, things like this would never have happened.”
  3. The welfare state makes us less happy
  4. “fewer than a third of those on incapacity benefit are really too ill to get a job. “When the whole rot started in the 1980s we had 700,000. I suspect that’s much closer to the real figure than the one we’ve got now”
  5. The Moral Maze of ‘I demand my rights!’
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