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Competition And Conflict: Central To Hobbes' Modern Existence Yet Incongruous To Greek Thought

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Autor:   •  November 4, 2010  •  2,185 Words (9 Pages)  •  351 Views

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One of the fundamental themes governing Hobbes' description of modern life in the Leviathan, is the dynamism between competition and conflict as a central feature of modern existence. Human life, though, hasn't always been an endless battle between individuals for better schools, better marks, better jobs, better salaries or better titles. In fact, as I shall explain in this paper, it is within the modern rejection of the ancient worldview that we find the origins of competition and conflict.

From its birth in Greek teleology and through the Middle Ages (with the help of the Catholic Church), the idea has persisted that people have a specific purpose, or telos, delegated to them by nature. One's role in society was predetermined by birth; a noble was born to nobles, a commoner to commoners. It was not until the Lutheran Reformation and the religious wars that followed, in the second half of the 16th century, that people began separating from the ancient doctrines perpetuated by the Catholic Church. The ideological vacuum left by the Church gave way to a more contemporary mechanistic approach, subjecting laws of nature to mathematical paradigms.

It was this new scientific approach, then, that Thomas Hobbes used to contextualize his definitions of modernity and mankind. In the Leviathan, Hobbes mechanistically dismantles human behavior and concludes mankind to be equal in its drive for physical comfort. For Hobbes, then, we are all equal and free, driven by our appetites and aversions, pursuing what we like and avoiding what we hate. An inevitable outcome of discarding the teleological worldview for the scientific one was the loss of an inherited social identity. While in pre-modern societies, an individual's social role was predetermined by birth, in modern societies, individuals are condemned to perpetual competition, in order to obtain, and maintain, an identity.

Although Greek teleology and modern scientific worldviews can be compared in numerous aspects, I shall concentrate only on the ones necessary for addressing the role of competition and conflict in both. To establish a substantial basis for comparison, I will examine concepts such as equality, freedom, and personal security, and the role each plays in shaping first, the ancient worldview, and then the modern perspective. Moreover, such a comparison will, in turn, help explain the susceptibility of the modern paradigm to competition and conflict.

The Teleological/Ancient Worldview

Before beginning an analysis of the ancient worldview, it is important to first understand the Teleological perspective. Once a teleological foundation has been established, we can examine how certain values prevalent during ancient Greek society were understood within this foundation. In the teleological paradigm, everything has its end purpose; all that exists, exists for a reason. In ancient thought, human conduct, insofar as it is rational, is generally explained with reference to ends pursued or alleged to be pursued.

The first aspect through which we can examine the ancient teleological approach is by understanding the concept of equality among men. For the Greeks, humans are hierarchically ordered and differentiated from one another. One differentiation was that between a slave and a master, based primarily on intellectual capacity . Another differentiation was that between a slave and a woman, where the superiority of the latter was again founded in intellect. More divisions were made between the civilized and the barbarians, the rich and the poor. These differences between people led to the conception of different kinds of people; this fact later served to perpetuate the existence of social classes based on hereditary patterns. In the ancient thought, one who was born to slaves, inherited the natural qualities of slaves, and was therefore befitted for slavery himself. The same was applied to the aristocracy. It was this climate, then, that undermined competition. Divisions between classes would little serve the need for men to compete for what was theirs from birth.

Another crucial aspect needed for our comparison concerns matters of daily life. In the ancient world, the realm of daily life was considered to be an obligation necessary for the achievement of a higher existential meaning. Daily life was concerned with matters of the private household, aiming solely to provide man with the necessary grounds for achieving his true purpose - virtue. Here, the teleological pursuit of virtue as an end can be seen; it was through man's participation in communal politics that this virtue was obtainable. This model was later on reproduced in medieval times to serve the needs of the church. Scholastic Christianity was considered a virtue befitting only a few. The rest were to provide the means necessary for living, and from that daily existence came their salvation (Medieval salvation is analogous to the Greek virtue). It was through fulfilling one's predetermined purpose that virtue was achieved. From the above we learn that individual freedom was confined within the strict boundaries of one's class. If virtue was to be achieved only by abiding to one's true nature, and one's true nature was inherited, personal choice, then, became a strict contradiction with one's quest for virtue . Lacking the choices in life, men were left with a predetermined path that left little to aspire for, and therefore little to contest over.

Perhaps the most relevant aspect to our discussion of the ancient worldview is the matter concerning personal security, as it pertains to security within one's social world. As discussed above, individuals in ancient times had little to worry about determining their social role. After all, one was born into his social class and found acceptance within it regardless of his economical condition. A poor aristocrat would remain an aristocrat no matter what and so will a rich craftsmen remain craftsmen. One could always find encouragement in his alike. This notion of security in one's role in society served to eliminate the need for self determination. Competitive ambition, therefore, would only result in jeopardizing the sense of security one often found in fellow class members.

Although ancient teleology had many more aspects through which it made itself evident over people's lives, equality, daily life, and personal security are fundamental aspects necessary to understand the main motives behind the transition from ancient to modern. As mentioned previously, the Lutheran Reformation and the religious wars that followed in second half of the 16th century, played a key role in shaking the remnants of ancient thought, perpetuated by the Catholic Church. Resentment towards inequality, lack of personal freedom, and contempt for the class oriented

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