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Kant and Hobbes had different understandings of the issue of morality. Kant took a more rationalistic view of morality, while Hobbes was more empirical in this regard. However, both proceeded from a subjective point. The understandings of these two philosophers differ in terms of reason, understanding human nature, as well as understanding morality. This paper will display the differences between Kant and Hobbes and provide a debate on the topic of punishment.
According to Kant, there is a standard against which morality should be based, and this for him was the Categorical Imperative, a way to put you in to the moral framework. Through this, moral responsibility is put on you as a person, instead of a sovereign in power. This subjective understanding of morality rejects the conventional understanding which sets a framework of behavioral codes. By arguing along these lines, Kant is placing supremacy on reason, as opposed to passions. Kant argued that every person was equal with the other, because each had free will, which was not determined with the other. According to Kant, it was important to act according to what was understood to be right, rather than according to what was understood to be good. Every person has the capacity to choose to or choose not to act in a responsible way. Pure practical reason was central to this understanding. Kant did not want any higher forms of power (government, police, etc) to interfere or have to take force, he wanted the person to be held responsible and to make logical and rational moral decisions. He believed that everyone was to be treated with dignity and respect, no one should be considered a “thing”. Kant also did not believe that anyone is vicious to the core, but commit criminal acts under diress.
According to Hobbes, morality arises out of the Laws of Nature, and discovered by reason. The sole aim of these laws is the preservation of the lives of the human person. Morality is therefore created at the point of the making of a social contract. The understanding is informed by the fact that in the state of nature, before civilization, human beings are totally violent and hostile to each other, being in a state of war at all times. It became important therefore, that persons give power to a central figure, which would regulate the conduct of persons.
According to Hobbes, the reason why it becomes easy for people to come to a consensus regarding morality is that there is an inherent quest for peace, which is a result of an opposition of the contrast conflicts and hostilities, which is the natural state of the human person. The social contract comes as a result of a surrender of some of the natural rights for the sake of peace. Morality as such does not exist before the making of the social contract, what allows people to unify for a common purpose. It is designed to promote survival of the human person and commodious living. He believed that the social contract survives through aggressive enforcement of the law.
Punishment is viewed differently by the two thinkers. Hobbes believed in deterrence, which is the inhibition of criminal behavior by fear especially of punishment. Kant believed in retributive justice, you get what you earn in life, when you do something good you will be rewarded but when you do something bad you will be punished. Kant also believed in proportionality, when you are punished the punishment must fit the crime committed. Kant believed that using deterrence would lead to emotional trauma. Kant separates private and public, while Hobbes would argue that law and morality are one in the same. Kant would say as human beings we have rational autonomy, we have to think about our own duties and act appropriately in moral law. Hobbes argues that human beings should be bound to a social contract. Hobbes said that the social contract survives through aggressive enforcement of the law.
When it came to punishment, Kant believed that the crime would inevitably punish itself in whatever means necessary based on that specific criminal, while Hobbes took a more deliberate approach and brutally punished the criminal in order to scare others into following the law.
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