Every country in the world has a government that sets laws to keep order and peace. Not every government can be just in its ruling, but what defines a just ruling? And does anyone truly have the right to control others? Throughout time different types of governments have been established. As history progressed most governments were overthrown because of the laws that were imposed. Emperors and Kings changed to Presidents and Prime Ministers.
This was caused by revolutions because the people did not like the way they were being ruled. But should people be ruled in the first place? Who should have the right to do such a thing? Today, the most powerful countries are run by democracy. But what is its purpose? It is supposed to carry out the will of the majority. So this means that someone will always be unhappy. Political philosophy deals with these sort of issues. Great minds such as Plato, Aristotle, Voltaire and Locke have looked at these issues and have tried to find the best possible answers.
In days of old, kings created laws in order to keep peace. Most of the laws were set for selfish reasons. As history progressed people felt that they were being ruled unfairly. So should laws even exist if there will always be someone who is receiving the “short end of the stick”? Is it not the purpose, of laws and rights, to help people live in a safe environment? This is the main purpose of laws; to keep order.
The governments that we have today have so many laws because they keep trying to solve problems by creating more and more laws. There are even laws for creating laws. However, although they are supposed to be in the best interest of the people, laws limit their free will. Laws tell a person what they can or cannot do. Unfortunately, they are still essential because they keep most citizens safe.
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So therefore, set laws, although essential, limit the free will of people no matter how sophisticated or organized they are. To support this, the theories and opinions of John Locke, Hobbes, Voltaire, and Plato will be presented. The first three of these philosophers lived at approximately the same time period and all support the essentiality of laws, although they limit free will. Plato lived much earlier but still has his own views on government and how it should be run.
This paper will use their theories on the state and citizen to support the thesis. One of the first influential philosophers to create an impact, Voltaire was known for his views on independence and freedom. Francois- Marie de Voltaire was born in Paris to a wealthy family in 1694. He lived during the time of the enlightenment, which was a period of new thinking using critical reason to free minds from prejudice and unexamined authority.
Later on in his life, Voltaire was a prisoner in the Bastille and then exiled to England because of a duel with Chevalier de Rohan, an Aristocrat who found Voltaire’s name insulting. Throughout his life he has written both plays and books such as Zaire, Treatise on Tolerance and Dictionnaire Philosophique (Gray, 13).
Voltaire believes that Law is a rational guide in an irrational world. This means that the purpose of laws is to give the citizens a certain duty that must be fulfilled in order for society to function properly. If this is to successfully work through laws then everything else should run by laws including the Crown and Church that have very important duties.
The entire state should be run on duties that everyone must fairly fulfill. Therefore the state exists for the citizen (Gray, 45).
The duties are created to make things safer for the citizens. It is the obligation of the state to create these proper laws and give them to the people for their own good. The state is to provide for the citizen and not the other way around. This is why Voltaire says, ” The character of liberty lies in independence, maintained by force.” (Gray, 47) The state must provide liberty and security for the citizen in exchange for loyalty and support.
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This is supported by the “natural law”, that humans must help each other (Gray, 48).
The freedom that can be created by laws is a freedom that is guaranteed because those who go against the law are punished. The key for a state to function properly is cooperation. The state and people must work together and this is how democracy functions. Therefore, Voltaire’s ideas, when connected with the thesis, imply that Laws only limit people’s free will if the citizens do not support the state or vice versa. The laws in Voltaire’s system would limit people’s free will only in areas where harm and chaos exist.
In any other aspects the citizens will have complete free will to do as they wish. John Locke is another important philosophic figure that was born in Bristol, England on August 29, 1632. He studied medicine at Oxford instead of law, which was intended by his father. His ideas were spread throughout England and the King saw them as a challenge to his authority.
To stay out of danger, Locke fled to Holland. There he wrote his works, mainly on politics, and they were published several years later. Locke was influenced by John Owen and Dean of Christ Church College (Jolley, 6).
To understand Locke’s reasoning for his theories, it should be understood that he thought people were born with reason and the ability to think (Jolley, 57).
He also thought that people has the natural ability to govern themselves. Because of this position of reasoning, Locke decided that Kings and Emperors did not have the “divine right” that they claimed they had.
God did not choose a family or individual to rule over other people (Jolley, 58).
This was the thought in Christianity at least. In ancient times the Jewish kings were chosen by God, or so they claim. Since he rejected “divine right”, Locke supported democracy. He thought that governments were formed in order to carry out the will of the people (Jolley, 60).
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This was similar to the thinking of Voltaire except Locke thought that the people had the full right to rebel against a government that was not serving them properly.
Locke was also similar to Plato because they both thought that women had an equal reasoning power as men. Democracy is the best form of government known to man. It is not perfect because there are always those who will be unhappy. The laws that are set by democracy are in the better interest of the people. This is very different from the laws passed down by a king because many of those laws can be made to suffice the Crown. Since Locke thinks that people can naturally govern themselves then there is no need for a king and all the laws that will be created will benefit as many people as possible with minimal limitation on free will.
A way to show if laws are not completely controlling people is when the citizens can overthrow a government with no complications (such as death).
Although Voltaire and Locke had similar democratic views, Hobbes takes a more harsh and cautious approach. Thomas Hobbes was born in 1588 in England, where his wealthy uncle raised him. His education was received from Oxford in the field of Logic. There, he also worked as a tutor for several upper class citizens. After university he traveled.
In Italy he met Galileo and developed a social philosophy based on the principles of geometry. Among his works, The Elements of Law and Leviathan are the most important. Leviathan is to be considered on of the most important works in history due to its content on the origins and ends of government (Sommerville, 14).
Hobbes saw government as something created by man to minimize aggression (Sommerville, 70).
It was made to stop violence and create defences.
The only entity that can exercise aggression is the government itself. Allowing the authorities to have this ability keeps order. This allows people to spend more time on self-needs and family instead of defending oneself from direct danger. Of course the government cannot abuse this power and the force that is used should only be used to uphold peace. Although Hobbes outlines the importance of laws and how aggression keeps them strong, he also mentions that man does not necessarily need a governing state. The only true reason for the existence of laws and government is to make the lives of people much easier.
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Man would still do fine without a government. It is unnatural, yet rational, for man to put himself under the control of others (Sommerville, 72).
This reasoning is valid because man has proved throughout history that he does not like being controlled (or at least controlled improperly).
Revolutions and other actions were created mainly because of this. Hobbes supported the idea that power cannot be shared. That is why the democratic system is still imperfect, because power is divided between many people.
When Hobbes’ theories are connected to the thesis of this paper, it can be seen that the laws created by the government are necessary and must be upheld through force and aggression. This of course limits the free will of the people because they can no longer kill or harm others without repercussions. However, this harsh area of free will only causes chaos and therefore laws are created for the better of both the citizens and statesmen. The laws also give citizens the ability to exercise their free will by spending their time with their families and excelling in arts and other aspects of life. Excelling in special fields is very important in life. These fields range from doctors to clerks.
However, in the eyes of Plato, to be a philosopher was the ultimate purpose in ones life. Plato, the student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, created a vision of a utopian society based on philosophers being the kings. This was Plato’s version of a perfect government. To be more precise, Plato had several views for a perfect society. It was not a democratic society where laws would be created through voting.
The major decisions would be made by the philosophers because they were “wise and had the required skills” (Paquette, 389).
Therefore the philosophers were considered to be the highest level of society and they would be marked by gold sashes. Next down in the ranks were the soldiers who were responsible for upholding the laws. An issue can be found here. A society cannot be utopian if there are laws and those who must enforce them. Plato’s vision is realistic although it is utopian.
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A society can still function perfectly if violence or aggression is used. This idea can be connected to that of Hobbes and how it is essential for laws to be enforced through aggression. That is why Plato placed the soldiers as second level of his society that would be marked by silver sashes. The last level in Plato’s society were the workers who were the merchants and builders. He saw them as people who did not have the skill to rule and therefore should only do the tasks for which they do have skill. The ruling should be left for the philosophers who did possess the proper skills.
This level of society would obey the laws set by the philosophers. The workers would be labelled by bronze sashes. Plato’s vision is very undemocratic. He immediately assumed that philosophers were the ultimate source of solutions.
His idea of a utopian society creates massive limits on free will. The citizens’ future is already decided at a very early stage and they have no choice in it. A worker has no choice of becoming a philosopher even if that is his will. The same goes for a soldier. This also leads to massive issues with inequality.
This is evident because of the idea of the different sashes. The “better” beings receive gold and so on. The inequality and limits on free will would create many problems in this society. That is probably why there are soldiers. The one idea that Plato had which creates free will is that women are equal to men in mental capacity and therefore should receive equal rights. This allows women to exercise the same free will as men.
Therefore, Plato’s vision is quite preposterous, however, it proves that laws are still essential even though it will limit free will. And this can be seen with the philosopher kings and the other two classes. Throughout this paper the theories of several philosophers were used to prove that laws are essential even though they limit the free will of people. However, many could argue the complete opposite and claim that laws do not limit free will because people are still free to do as they wish; they will just receive punishment.
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And it is the free will of the enforcer to have the profession of being an enforcer. Therefore, the enforcer is exercising his free will to enforce and the murderer is exercising his to murder. The fact that the murder is receiving a punishment has nothing to do with free will at all. Everyone can do whatever they want but there will always be repercussions that will be enforced by someone who is doing what they want. So it is more of an issue of survival and who is exercising their free will in a proper government better. In conclusion, it is evident that laws do limit the free will of people, although they are essential.
This can be seen in a democratic government, which is outlined by Locke, Voltaire and Hobbes. It can also be seen in Plato’s unusual utopian society where the philosophers are the government. The main idea that can be derived from these philosophers is that laws are essential because they make the lives of the citizens much safer and prosperous. It allows people to enjoy life rather than constantly watch their backs. The citizens give up a little of their free will in order to exercise another part of it. Bibliography Alistair Edwards and Jules Townshend.
Interpreting Modern Political Philosophy: From Machiavelli to Marx. New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2002. Dudley Knowles. Political Philosophy. Montreal: McGill- Queen’s University Press, 2001. John Gray.
Voltaire: The Great Philosophers. New York: Routledge, 1999. Johann P. Sommerville.
Thomas Hobbes: Political Ideas in Historical Context. Palgrave Macmillian, 1992. Jonathan Wolff. An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 1996. Michael J.
White. Political Philosophy: A Historical Introduction. Oneworld Publications, 2004. Nicholas Jolley.
Locke: His Philosophical Thought. Oxford University Press, 1999. Paul G. Paquette and Laura Gini- Newman.
Philosophy: Questions and Theory. McGraw- Hill Ryerson, 2003.