Locke versus Hobbes

When you are young you tend to think more in black-and-whites than when you grow older. When I was young I did not much like the novels of John Le Carré because of the many moral grey tones. When you are young you may be able to express yourself more readily on whether humans are basically good or basically bad. The choice between Locke’s perspective that humans are rational and tolerant and that of Hobbes that the life of man is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ seems clearly drawn.

Yet, life teaches that the issue is more complex than that. Surely our species is not always rational and tolerant, the current treatment of refugees is ample illustration, but neither are we all bad, as the great readiness to help the refugees on the individual level shows. The whole idea that humankind can be labelled as good or bad is probably misconceived, and building societal structures based on one or the other view fraught with danger, see the Marxist experiment. We as individuals possess good and bad, but to varying degrees and influenced by life circumstances. We are composites and it can be argued that good might not be possible without bad. I love Nietzsche’s ‘Everything good is the transmutation of something evil; every god has a devil for a father’, and I discuss this extensively in my book.

But my book more specifically holds up the magnifying glass of eternity to our failings, and suggests that in lives without end possibly our failings will be exacerbated rather than cured. This ultimately does not render judgment on the Locke versus Hobbes debate, it only accepts the reality of us being bad as well as good, and examines whether our failings over the longest time will be remedied, as the weaknesses in our tennis backhands, or whether we as persons, and as a society, would become worse.

If it is accepted that humans constitute a continuum of good and bad, the conclusion may be drawn that culture makes us better, more considerate. So societal design is very important. But I also think that our culture is a thin veneer that can dissolve easily, leaving us to become much worse.

I would so much like to say that I am with Locke, yet all I can say is that I rejoice when I see good and that I despair when I see or do bad. But I am with Locke in the sense that I think that the good far outweighs the bad. Let us keep it that way!

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