The force of circumstances bombards individuals constantly. These may include many things such as family pressures, jobs, relationships, and money. How one responds to these situations demonstrates how just and unjust the person is. In Plato’s writings, Socrates defines the force of circumstances and how others become overwhelmed by them. In the Leviathan, Hobbes also seems concerned with how individuals react to these circumstances. In this paper, I will discuss Plato’s definition of the force of circumstances and how individuals are overwhelmed by this force. Then, I will discuss if Hobbes believes an individual can overcome the force of circumstances and how such an overcoming of circumstances can be achieved. I will use real-world examples to reinforce these concepts.
The force of circumstances, according to Plato, is the situation which causes individuals to falter from doing the just action (Protagoras, pg. 92-93). For example, a student cheats on a paper by purchasing a paper online and not writing it herself. The student felt pressure by the upcoming due date and felt that she could not complete the paper on the due date. Therefore, the force of circumstances, which is the pressure of the upcoming due date of the paper, caused her to falter and give in to these force of circumstances.
In the Protagoras, Plato also states that private individuals are always overwhelmed by this force. In the Protagoras, it states, “Now whom does the force of circumstances overpower in the command of a vessel?-not the private individual, for he is always overpowered; … the force of circumstances can only overpower him who, at some time or other, has resources, and not him who is at all times helpless” (Protagoras, pg. 92-93). Since private individuals or the “helpless” are always concerned about their own self-interest and do not have the “resources”, such as wisdom or knowledge, they are always overpowered by the force of circumstances. For example, two employees work at a clothing store. One employee always lies on her timecard and receives extra money she did not earn. Plato would claim that this individual could not overcome the force of circumstances because she is always overpowered by her own self-interest. Another employee never lies about the hours she worked in the store. However, she was coming up short on money for the rent of her apartment. Therefore, she lies for one week to receive extra money to pay for her rent. Plato would claim that this individual, although usually using her wisdom or knowledge to overcome the force of circumstances, allowed the force of circumstances to overcome her.
As stated before, the private individual does not have access to resources such as wisdom and knowledge to overcome the force of circumstances. In Book IV of the Republic, Socrates explains that certain individuals have certain strengths and values in society. He divides society into three classes: guardians, auxiliary, and the bronze. The guardians are considered to be the just individuals of society. Their reason rules over all other drives and their spirit supports their reason. Their appetite is suppressed under their reason and spirit, thus causing them not to give into the force of circumstances. The auxiliary, which guard the city, are ruled by their spirit, while their reason and appetite are equally in check under their spirit. The bronze, which is the common person in society or the private individual, are ruled by their appetite, and their spirit supports their appetite. Their reason is suppressed under their appetite and spirit, thus causing them to give into the force of circumstances (Republic, pg. 413-453). With their reason suppressed under appetite and spirit, the private individual is not able to gain the wisdom and knowledge to overcome the force of circumstances.
Hobbes understands Plato’s concept of the force of circumstances by his view of human nature. Hobbes believes that people struggle with strong appetites and aversions, which causes the natural state of humans to be in chaos because people are constantly striving to please their appetites (Leviathan, pg. 64). The main object of mankind’s appetites and aversions is power, and all of mankind will fight to their death to receive power. This battle for power is called the State of Nature. In the State of Nature, people are in a constant war amongst themselves and must do whatever necessary to protect themselves. Hobbes believes that in the Natural Condition, every action to preserve one’s life is just, so there is no unjust action. Lying, stealing and murder are all just if they are for self-defense (Leviathan, pg.93-97). In the State of Nature, the force of circumstances always overwhelms the individual because the individual is only concerned with their own self-interest. This is very similar to the private individual discussed in Plato’s Protagoras.
In Hobbes’s view, the only solution to the State of Nature is the sovereign. In order to end violent disputes between all people, Hobbes believes that one must give all of their rights to the sovereign. With power and authority, the sovereign creates laws that protect its members from each other and determine what is just and unjust in the state. The members of this state would also create a contract with each other not to harm each other, and to break this contract would be considered unjust. For example, if there were governing power to prohibit breaking into other people’s homes and stealing their possessions, people would be robbing other people’s homes constantly to feed their wants and needs. However, under the sovereign, people must follow the rules of the sovereign and the contracts established with each other not to steal from each other (Leviathan, pg. 125-138).
Hobbes’s solution to the State of Nature shows that one way to overcome the force of circumstances is to create a more powerful form of these forces. The sovereign, which protects the citizens of the state through laws, prevents the citizens from acting on their own needs and desires which could be harmful to others and the state as a whole. However, this then makes the sovereign part of the force of circumstances. The citizens must abide by the sovereign because of the fear of the consequences if the law is broken. For example, a man is forty-five minutes late for work and could get fired if he does not show up on time. He could speed over the speed limit to make it on time, but there is a police officer following him. Out of fear of getting a ticket, the man did not speed to work and arrived late. This example shows how the sovereign becomes part of the force of circumstances for the individual. If the police officer was not following the man, the man would have given into the force of circumstances of being late and would have gone over the speed limit to get to work. The force of circumstances also included the cop following the man, causing him not speed out of fear of getting a ticket. The man never truly overcame the force of circumstances. The man is self-serving, and does not have the wisdom and knowledge to know that speeding is unjust, such as the private individual described by Plato. As shown in the example, the citizens of the state would only follow the laws out of their own self-interest and fear of the consequences if the law is broken. Therefore, it is impossible to overcome the force of circumstances under Hobbes’s solution to the State of Nature.
There are some implications to Hobbes’s solution in the state of nature. In Hobbes’s civil society, the natural condition never leaves, and the individuals are all purely private individuals and driven by their appetite, such as earlier described by Plato. Therefore, the individuals of the society would never leave the private realm, because they would be serving their own needs and appetites; furthermore, the individuals would never enter the public realm to discuss political and social matters, because these matters have already been determined by the sovereign.
In conclusion, Socrates defines the force of circumstances and how others become overwhelmed by them, and Hobbes shows how individuals react to the force of circumstances, which are everyday issues that everyone deals with in everyday life. Plato claims that private individuals, who are self-serving, are always overcome by the force of circumstances, thus causing them never to be swept away by the force of circumstances at any given moment because they are self-serving. However, individuals who are just and possess wisdom and knowledge may be overcome by the force of circumstances at any random time when their judgment falters. Plato believed a small portion of people in his society, the guardians, possessed these proper resources, such as wisdom and knowledge, and were driven by their reason. However, Hobbes believed that no one has the resources to overcome the force of circumstances. In Hobbes’s State of Nature, the force of circumstances overwhelms all individuals because all individuals are self-serving, such as the private individuals Plato describes. Hobbes’s solution to the state of nature, which is a state of total chaos, shows that it is impossible for individuals to truly overcome the force of circumstances because the sovereign becomes just another factor in the force of circumstances.
Hobbes, Thomas, and Marshall Missner. Leviathan. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. Print.
Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. The Portable Plato. New York: Penguin, 1979. Print.