Do you often ask yourself, ‘why am I behaving in this civil way, when I could be gaining a lot more by behaving in a different way?’ Some claim that we are born with morals, and that it is a priori knowledge, however other philosophers argue that morality is in fact an agreement between humans.
The idea that morality is a convential agreement for our own advantage is a very interesting theory. Many believe that we are all egoists, which means we act in order to maximise our own self-interest rather than the interest of others. However, some believe that we are ‘enlightened egoists’ which is a person who realises that there are consequences to their actions. They have desires and interests but often choose not to act on them because they realise that by doing so, they could lose the things they really value. This ‘egoism’ idea then leads to Social Contract Theories. This is because man is essentially self-interested, we must all behave morally in order to maximise and gain plus’ in our lives, than acting irresponsibly and loosing things. The idea of a social contract between humans started with Glaucon, who believed that morality is a social construction, whose source is the desire to maintain ones reputation for virtue and honesty; when that sanction is removed, moral character would disappear. Hobbes agreed, and stated that we as humans live in a society with rules because we are concerned for our own safety. Yet again, self-interested – any concern for others simply hides a concern for ourselves. Contracts simply secure some happiness or self –gain but as a result, some compromises of personal freedom will have to be made.
A way of illustrating the theory that morality is a conventional agreement is to look at Thomas Hobbes’ idea of ‘the state of nature’. He believes this is what we are constantly trying to escape and what we would decline into, if we weren’t to have social contracts. This ‘State of Nature’ is described as a ‘war of all against all’ and that ‘the life of a man would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. This is because resources are scarce; there is a fear of death, along with no rules or laws. An example of why people in the state of nature would create a social contract is this:
There is a man with limited resources, however he acquires a pig. When he goes for a nap, his next door neighbour takes the pig. This is because he is self-interested and wants the pig for himself. However, both of them realise that when he goes to sleep, the original owner…