Hobbes The Fool A covenant is a contracted agreement in which it is trusted that both persons will carry out their responsibility in time. This can be referred to as the keeping of a promise. The mutual transferring of right, is that which men call CONTRACT. This means that when you exchange something in return for something else you are binding yourself to the agreement of the exchange. One of the contractors, may deliver the thing contracted for on his part, and leave the other to perform his part at some determinate time after, and in the mean time be trusted; and then the contract on his part, is called PACT or COVENANT. When a person agrees to do something at a time in the future for someone or to someone they are being trusted to follow through, therefore giving their trusted word, making a promise.
To promise that which is known to be impossible, is no covenant. Therefore, a person cannot be bound to a promise that requires an impossible thing to be accomplished. According to Hobbes, there are two ways in which a person can be freed from a covenant, by performing; or by being forgiven. What I lawfully covenant, I cannot lawfully break. Hobbes explains that no matter what the circumstances, even covenants entered into by fear, in the condition of mere nature, are obligatory.5 Who breaks a covenant? Does a covenant become void if it seems to have a beneficial outcome on a party involved? Hobbes states that only one person reasons that the breaking of a covenant can be beneficial to ones life and that the reasoning that this person uses is false.
Hobbes calls this unreasonable character the fool. To understand why Hobbes believes that the person who believes breaking a covenant could be to ones benefit is a fool, we must understand his definition of justice. Justice is the constant will of giving to every man his own. Meaning that justice is the established idea that you get what you deserve. When there is no own, there is no unjustice.
Justice can be idealized as the keeping of covenant, a rule of reason, by which we are forbidden to do any thing destructive to our life; and consequently a law of nature. Who is the fool? How does he reason that it is sometimes beneficial to break a promise? The fool hath said in his heart, there is no such thing as justice; and sometimes with his tongue; seriously alleging, that every mans conservation, and contentment, being committed to his own care, there could be no reason, why every man might not do what he thought conduce thereunto: and therefore also to make, or not make; keep, or not keep covenants, was not against reason, when it conduced to ones benefit. The fool believes that as long as it is beneficial to you in some way it is okay to break a promise. Hobbes finds that the fools reasoning is false for two reasons with two consequences. The first reason he suggests is that nothing that seems to be accidentally beneficial still tends to ones destruction, even if done reasonably. Seeing all the voluntary actions of men tend to the benefit of themselves; and those actions are most reasonable, that conduce most to their ends. This specious reasoning is nevertheless false.
Hobbes feels that although there is a slight possibility that the breaking of a covenant could be beneficial to ones self, the chances are not in that persons favor, therefore making it a risk not worth taking. Secondly Hobbes explains that in a state of nature, a known deceiver is not welcome amongst a confederation or nor accepted due to the lack of trust established. Wherein every man to every man, for want of a common power to keep them all in awe, is an enemy, there is no man who can hope by his own strength, or wit, to defend himself from destruction, without the help of confederates; where every one expects the same defense by the confederation, that any one else does: and therefore he which declares he thinks it reason to deceive those that help him can expect no other means of safety, than what can be had from his own single power. By this explanation Hobbes states that it is actually self destructive to reason that the deceit of ones covenant is beneficial because he is now without the very safety which allows him to live, therefore the reasoning is void and unjust. The very penalties that bind a person to their promise are not worth the risk of the possible lucky benefit one may receive by breaking their word.
The two major penalties listed by Hobbes include being cast out of society, which in turn will lead to ones destruction, and being cast out of heaven. If he be left or cast out of society, he perisheth. Gaining the secure and perpetual felicity of heaven, by any way; it is frivolous: there being but one way imaginable; and that is not breaking, but keeping of covenant. I believe that Hobbes definitely makes a point in why he feels that a person is obligated to carry out ones covenant, even in circumstances where the covenant is made out of fear or to bargain for ones life. Perhaps his strongest point can be made through his beliefs in justice. Justice therefore, that is to say, keeping of covenant, is a rule of reason, by which we are forbidden to do any thing destructive to our life; and consequently a law of nature.
In his stating this belief that ultimately we have an obligation to ourselves to stay alive and that is our main goal, I would have to agree that in the circumstances he has listed you would definitely be a fool. Taking a risk that tends to the destruction of your own life is illogical, ignorant and done with false reasoning. I do feel that there may be a possible situation in which these laws may apply but in a different sense. This would be in the case of the Martyr, for I wonder if it is unjust to sacrifice your life for a cause greater than your own, or to promise your life in exchange for another persons life, and then break the promise because it is self destruction. Bibliography Note: All quotes taken from excerpt of Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan Ethics and Morals.