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Justice in Ethics: Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls Report (Assessment)


Hobbes and Rawls on Justice

Justice often comes out as one of the central concepts in the exploration of moral ethics. Two of the ancient philosophers who paid attention to the concept of justice and considered justice as a definitive force in ethics were Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls. Hobbes looked at justice from the perspective of the behavior and nature of human beings, which constitute the actions by man that can be either classified as ethical or unethical, depending on how these actions are weighed ethically. At this point, it could be meaningful to assert that, “justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body, nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude” (Hobbes 143).

This assertion points at the interplay between and among issues of the law of nature and the pursuance of justice in the society. Based on the analogy of the existence of war in the society, Hobbes opined that human nature permits a man to wage war against another man, which in turn calls for a look at the reasons that are given by a man for waging war against another man. In doing so, it becomes easy to determine rightness and wrongness in actions of people, which is again a leeway as far as the determination of ethical grounds in actions is concerned.

Rawls asserts that, “in justice as fairness the original position of equality corresponds to the state of nature in the traditional theory of the social contract” (381). Perhaps, it is imperative to observe that Rawls sees justice as something that can only be ascertained out of the consideration of all people in the society. The actions of people are considered moral or immoral based on the assessment of the consequences of such acts on the people engaged in the acts and the people who are affected by the acts.

However, it is worth noting that Rawls presents another exciting view to the issue of justice by bringing into attention the critical concept of social contract. While social contract seeks to determine the course of justice by virtue of awarding statuses to people in the society through the categorization of people in classes. Rawls notes that the classes do not hold water when it comes to the true principles of justice. The rationale that supports the observation is that justice is distinct in its own sense and does not pay attention to the attributes of social course developed in the society.

According to Hume (154), “truth is disputable; not taste: What exists in the nature of things is the standard of our judgment; what each man feels within himself is the standard of sentiment.” Here, Hume is quite articulate on the issue of morality in regard to the judgments and actions of people. It makes sense to observe that Hume is one of philosophers who looks at morality from the broad perspective; that is, looking at morality from the sense of sentimentalism and the sense of reason or rationality that is embedded in moral justice. In making distinctions on what constitutes moral rightness and what constitutes moral wrongness, Hume reiterates on the value of open justice that comes about through the rationalization of the position of the parties involved in any development that is related to moral justice in the society.

Therefore, it is imperative to point at the fact that it is important to completely pay attention to either sentimentalism or rationality in determining a just course of a given happening in the society. Based on this argument, it is worth noting that the thesis presented by Hume aligns more with the arguments by Hobbes and Rawls, who opine that the most critical thing as far as the pursuance of any moral course is concerned is the attainment of justice.

Hume offers a vivid explanation of the various means through which people speculate on moral courses in the society. This is in itself an indicator that Hume is not interested in the attainment of happiness or good for human beings, but he pays a lot of attention to the manner in which such justice is attained. As such, it is worth concluding that unlike Aristotle and Epictetus who seem to be utilitarian in their theses, Hume moves away from the utilitarian principles in that he makes attempts to paint the picture of justice from the ethical stance. Aristotle (52) asserts that, “clearly, then, goods must be spoken of in two ways, and some must be good in themselves, the others by reason of these.”

Here, it is worth noting that goodness as opined by Aristotle is, to a large extent, relative. According to Epictetus (90), “men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.” This denotes that a lot of things that happen in the environment affect the way man pursues the course for happiness, other than the embrace of the principles of justice as opined by Hume.

Reply on Hume’s Post

In the post, Hume seems to be very particular on the way people conceive things in the society. Giving the example of the communion water and the normal water, Hume notes that there is no difference between the two and that the only difference that prevails between the two is in the minds of the people in question. To say that Hume was inconsiderate of spirituality in his post would be a harsh judgment because a substantial number of other philosophers have theorized about the human mind and how it may be a deception to human beings when it comes to separating between what is fictions and what is real. Arguing that justice is comparable to superstition as opined by Hume in the post is something that is phenomenal and profound in that justice is something that is better said than it can actually be done.

Human beings are often fond of terming “right” the actions that seems to bring pleasure to them. However, there is no guarantee that “right actions are right” in the sense that what brings pleasure to a person a certain group of people may not necessarily bring pleasure to other individuals or groups of individuals. As such, it is rational to agree with the moral stance by Hume, which points out that right actions to other people can be wrong because they might have been infringed on the right of other people to attain pleasure. The differentiation between rightness and wrongness is a subjective issue as it entails sentiments, feelings, and affections. However, there is a need for objectivity in the moral course, which can only be attained through the elimination of sentiments in pursing a moral or a just course.

Works Cited

Aristotle. “Nicomachean Ethics.” In Gordon Marino, D. Ethics: The Essential Writings. New York: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

Epictetus. “The Enchiridion.” In Gordon Marino, D. Ethics: The Essential Writings. New York: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan: Part I. of Man.” In Gordon Marino, D. Ethics: The Essential Writings. New York: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

Hume, David. “An Enquiry Concerning The Principles of Morals.” In Gordon Marino, D. Ethics: The Essential Writings. New York: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

Rawls, John. “A Theory of Justice.” In Gordon Marino, D. Ethics: The Essential Writings. New York: Modern Library, 2010. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Justice in Ethics: Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls." June 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/justice-in-ethics-thomas-hobbes-and-john-rawls/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Justice in Ethics: Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls." June 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/justice-in-ethics-thomas-hobbes-and-john-rawls/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Justice in Ethics: Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls'. 18 June.

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