The Motivation of Fear Or Punishment

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Many philosophers have disputed the motivations and reasons as to why we should follow moral norms, perhaps for religious reasons or to fit into society. For me, I believe simply that by following moral norms I will treat others as I would want to be treated myself. Thomas Hobbes evaluates his own theories regarding why we should act morally in his book ‘Leviathan,’ published in 1651. He claims, what he considers an undisputed truth, that human-beings fundamentally and wholly prioritise their own self-interests above moral obligations. 

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Hobbes suggests that human-beings aren’t able to naturally follow moral norms without being bound by the motivation of fear or punishment, contrastingly to the theories of moral motivation presented by Catherine Macauley. In this essay I will be comparing Hobbes’ theories to Macauley’s responses and objections presented in her didactic works, “Loose remarks on certain positions to be found in Mr. Hobbes’ Philosophical Rudiments of government and society,” published in 1769. It’s important to note that many people believe she was working from an unauthorised edition of the Thomas Hobbes' ‘De Cive’ (1647) entitled ‘Philosophicall Rudiments of Government and Society,’ printed in 1651. Nonetheless, Macauley plausibly critique’s Hobbes’ ideas to impose an “absolute monarch and despotic regime” which is why I think that her challenges to Hobbes’ theories on why we are motivated to obey moral norms are more persuasive.

Additionally to refuting Hobbes’ support for monarchism, I will discuss her analysis of Hobbes’ contradictions regarding the people’s ability to reason and the Law of Nature, her claim that love and nurture are a more substantial motivator for moral behaviour than fear and punishment, as well as, her arguments against Human-beings as being fundamentally not fit for civil society. Since, if it’s possible for Hobbes that humans aren’t able to conform to moral behaviour unless there is some assurance that other’s are being moral only by an agreement or “covenant” to comply, then how does he explain human’s capacity for altruism and self-sacrifice for another person? Or rather that human’s aren’t able to naturally experience trust and love unless it is implemented by a sovereign under laws and punishments?

Challenges to Hobbes monarchism since it doesn’t necessarily mean we will obey moral norms, motivated by fear and punishment. Without a supreme power and state Hobbes depicts, in his philosophical device called the State of Nature, that humans are creatures unfit to live in a civil society because they will inherently pursue their own self-interest. This leads to the State of Nature (humanity existing in liberty of the Laws of Nature) wherein the relative equality of humans breeds cycles of war and conflict between man as they attempt to “destroy or subdue the other,” in order to achieve a certain “Ends.” 

This reflects Hobbes’ conjecture that rationality is therefore instrumental and moral obligation is conditional on the circumstances in which people are placed in. From this assessment Hobbes argues that it is due to a lack of a common power and sense of law and punishment that leads to this immorality. From these minimal assumptions he believes that by enforcing the power of a monarchy within society you can break the relative equality of power and use the fear of punishment to motivate people to obey moral norms. 

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