The Role of Government Hobbes

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The Role of Government

  • Hobbes

    • Justice only exists though government
    • Life without government is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”
  • Thoreau: “That government is best which governs least”

Political Philosophies

  • Justification of government

  • The nature of justice

  • The individual versus the state

  • Civil disobedience


  • Naive anarchism: people can live in peace without government

  • Militant anarchism: government is unjustified and must be overthrown

  • Theoretical anarchism: government has no legitimate authority, but may be necessary

Robert Paul Wolff's In Defense of Anarchism

  • Authority means the right to command and to be obeyed

  • An autonomous person makes moral decisions and lives by them

  • An autonomous person cannot recognize an outside authority, such as the state

Social Contract Theory

  • Hobbes’ Leviathan

    • Human nature is warlike
    • Peace is achieved by forming contracts
  • Locke’s An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government

The Question of Justice

  • Retributive justice: the proper allotment of punishment proportionate to the severity of a crime

  • Distributive justice: the proper distribution of benefits and burdens

Justice as Merit

  • Justice means people get what they are due according to their merit

  • Plato

    • Meritocracy: political power is proportional to merit
    • Democracy is equivalent to mob rule
    • Intellectual elite should rule society
    • The Republic

Justice as Conformity to Natural Law

  • Natural law transcends human conventions

  • All morally aware people can recognize natural law

  • Aquinas’ Summa Theologica

Justice as Social Utility: John Stuart Mill

  • Principle of utility: a just society will minimize social harms and maximize social benefits

  • Utilitarianism

    • People maintain many conflicting theories of justice
    • Utility should be the deciding factor

Justice as Fairness: John Rawls

  • People possessing merit are just lucky and should not be rewarded

  • Criticism of utilitarianism: majority should not win at expense of minority

  • Justice is accepted only if it is seen as fair

Rawls’ A Theory of Justice

  • Original Position: what if we could create our own society?

  • Veil of ignorance: no one would know one’s social position in advance

  • Principles of justice

    • Equal liberty
    • Fair equality of opportunity

A Feminist Critique of Rawls

  • Susan Moller Okin

  • Justice, Gender, and the Family

The Individual and the State

  • Extreme positions

    • Anarchism
    • Absolute totalitarianism
  • Moderate positions

    • Individualism
    • Collectivism

Classical Liberalism

  • Freedom of the individual

  • John Stuart Mill: On Liberty

    • Power is only justifiable when used to prevent harm to others
    • People must be free to seek happiness by their own methods


  • Economics is the root of human existence

  • Class struggle is constant through history

  • Capitalism exploits the workers

  • History is a dialectical process

  • Capitalism will undermine itself and lead to communism

Marx’s Communist Manifesto

  • Society is based on the struggle of bourgeoisie and proletariat

  • Calls for abolition of private property

  • Philosophies are shaped by material existence

  • Proletariat must wrest all capital from the bourgeoisie

Civil Disobedience

  • An illegal action performed for the purpose of making a moral protest

  • Must be public

  • Protesters generally should be willing to accept consequences

  • Generally nonviolent

The Case against Civil Disobedience

  • A violation of the social contract

  • Majority rule

  • Ends that do not justify the means

  • Other alternatives

Plato's Crito

  • Disobeying the law is exchanging evil for evil

  • A state cannot exist if the laws have no power

  • By living in a place we agree to abide by its laws

The Case for Civil Disobedience

  • Preservation of moral integrity

  • The duty to combat immorality

  • A means of social progress

  • No practical alternative

  • Government may exceed its authority

Mohandas K. Gandhi

  • Opposed discriminatory laws

  • Helped end British governance of India

  • Nonviolent resistance - satyagraha

Gandhi’s Young India

  • If a leader is unjust, the subjects have a duty to disobey

  • Imprisonment is better than freedom won through acceptance of injustice

  • Civil Disobedience must never descend into general lawlessness

Martin Luther King Jr.

  • Helped overturn segregation laws and pass the Civil Rights Act

  • Letter from Birmingham Jail

    • Direct action is used to force negotiation
    • An unjust law violates the moral law or law of God

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