Thomas Hobbes asserts that man in his natural state would be purely animalistic and selfish. In the absence of culture and civilization, the world would just be a battleground pitting every man against the rest of mankind. According to him, reasons such as the fear of being rejected by society and fear of afterlife consequences forces man to refrain from negative behavior. In spite of societal conditioning, man still continues to perform brutal acts such as murder, plunder and distrust when forced into a state of fear.
Therefore, self-preservation trumps all other necessities of life. In order to save natural man from himself, Hobbes believes that the law of nature appeals to better side of human nature to seek peace and mutually coexist with his fellow beings. To combat our natural negative urges, Hobbes feels that humans have put in place a contract wherein all of us agree not to harm other people, thereby expecting the same favor in return (1651).
He states the reason is the driving force behind all these laws as it strives to resolve human conflicts such as crime, punishment and sharing resources. The collection of these unwritten natural laws is what makes up our artificial society. He also persists on the need for a sovereign body that reinforces these laws on people, which is known as the Leviathan. This Leviathan may either be a group of people or an individual who takes responsibility to save rest of his people from their natural states and enforce peace.
James Rachels attempts to explain various human behaviors using the theory of cultural relativism, by pointing out the glaring diversities in various cultures (1968). His simple view is that these differences do not reflect moral superiority, but just indicate different lines of reasoning. He points out how one culture could view a practice as acceptable, while the another culture would even despise thinking about it. Since we are all raised under diverse culture assumptions, it would be unfair to judge an action of another culture since it would be hard to relate to their idea of morality.
However, this does authorize a culture to commit any intolerable act under the shelter of cultural relativism. This is because all cultures do share some common ethical beliefs such as prohibiting killing and opposing lying to facilitate the existence of a society. Joel Feinberg’s views are centered on the belief that all humans are essentially selfish beings and all their actions are directly or indirectly linked to self-interest.
Even actions that may seem to appear selfless on the outside are fuelled by man’s selfish need to feel morally right. He employs the theory of psychological egoism to explain why all human actions striving to achieve intellectual or hedonistic pleasure end in vain. He believes that is a paradox wherein all the presumed pathways to pleasure do not lead to true happiness. Only at this point, an individual driven by selfishness and ego comes to the realization that true happiness comes from helping out fellow beings.
Hobbes presents valid arguments with respect to the inert nature of human life and the role of society in shaping man’s actions. Rachels thoughts explain the influence of culture on man’s perception, thereby serving as a way to understand human behavior under varying conditions. However, Feinberg’s theory is more psychological compared to the others, since it explains the true nature behind man’s behavior. Feinberg’s theory is a brutally honest view of the human psyche which justifies ultimately selfish actions as altruistic.