Finals Week: Who Will You Be?

It’s the official start of finals week.Your schedule seems like it couldn’t be busier, your classes seem to have assignments popping out of nowhere, and your bed seems like it’s always empty. With this chaotic week beginning, there are many different ways that students handle their stress and time. Some classes offer study sessions (one GSI even held a 12-hour review session this past weekend) where students can work with their peers to help understand the material, while other students prefer the quiet individual studying in their room or a library. Either way, this week is all about time management. When and how you study contributes to your success. So, when my friend texted me the other day asking for my help on one of her assignments, I told her “no” because it didn’t benefit me and my studying. Which got me thinking, “Who would help her in this situation?”

There are two separate options in this example: The friend that helps and the friend that says no, like me. These two different types of people represent the views of two very different philosophers, Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. One would help the friend in a heartbeat, arguing that everyone’s best interest is the most beneficial way to life in this society, where the other would undoubtedly protect their own self interest, with the belief that every man should live for himself. So, during this upcoming week, who will you be?

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes believed that human beings were sophisticated machines and, as a result, all functions and activities could be explained in purely mechanistic terms. However, he also acknowledged the animal nature within human nature, and believed that everyone acted in their own self-interest. They are content with their success, no matter the state of others around them. He emphasizes in his piece, the Leviathan, that people are focused on “competition of riches, honor command, or other power, inclineth to contention, enmity, and war.” A student who follows the Hobbesean ideals would thrive on other’s failures, therefore not looking out for the friend who asks for help when studying.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau, on the other hand, believed in human kindness and pity. He argued the importance of not having a sovereign within society, and that looking out for everyone’s self-interest is the most beneficial to a successful community. He states in his work, On the Social Contract“At once, in place of the individual person of each contracting party, this act of association produces a moral and collective body composed of as many members as there are voices in the assembly, which receives from this same act its unity, its common self, its life and its will.” If a student supports this idea, then they would’ve responded immediately and offered their help to the friend, rationalizing that if everyone looks out for each other, then the entirety of the class would benefit.

The viewpoints are on different sides of the spectrum, but seem to fit the general uncertainty of how to study for finals. Personally, I think that both strategies can form success, it just depends on the person. Either way, here’s to wishing students the best of luck on their finals, and hoping that, as according to Hobbes, their exams don’t result in a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” life afterwards.

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The Grasshopper Inherent? No! The Grasshopper Apparent

Exploring the Grasshopper’s Way of Life [1] (wikimedia)

Imagine the world we live in today. It has poverty, malnutrition, crime, trash, disease, and war. It also has artists, hard-workers, activists, and thinkers. Now, imagine a world with just the positives. In fact, try to imagine a utopia where resources are infinite, your actions have no effect on other humans, and the only impact that you can make is positive.  (All negative impacts are automatically fixed, and there is no human loss because everyone heals and lives forever.) This utopia is a world that YOU should dream of living in. Confused? Let me explain.

The world we live in today requires us to have a job, and earn paper with artificial value (this is money for those who did not get it) to survive and live happily.  Without this and without inherited wealth, we are forced to struggle daily until our deaths for basic food and shelter. Most people who have survival as their goal usually get a job. Those who really understand this concept also understand the benefit of an education. Education gives us the tools we need to survive in this world. One could argue that education allows us to find better jobs, which mean better food, shelter, and a higher chance at survival. (This somewhat supports Louis Menand’s theory 1 about selectivity (selectivity as a test for better survival) in his article “Live and Learn”) All of this shows that our world makes simple survival rather difficult. This is precisely the problem that the utopia proposed above would eliminate to improve everyones life.

In addition to this assurance of survival, this utopia has other benefits. It is a place where you can be what you want to be. A place where you have no restrictions and you can do what you want without consequences. Most importantly, this is a place where the beliefs of Thomas Hobbes from Leviathan simply do not exist since in this world, nobody can get hurt. Without this harm, people have no reason to be unified, and can live in their own self-interest freely. The only asterisk in this world is that it would have be somewhat inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in that anything that an individual creates that benefits the world will automatically be distributed to rest of the world (for mutual benefit). To be clear, everyone works for their self-interest, but if they find something that benefits others they share it in the spirit of Rousseau. With all these positives and the freedom to do what you want (John Locke’s belief in the Second Treatise of Government that freedom is the most important value), it is hard to imagine a world that could be any better. This is the world in which the grasshopper from Bernard Suits The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia would dream of living.

To readers unfamiliar with Suits grasshopper, it is a rather sad story. The grasshopper believed that life should be all play, and that he would only do stuff if he felt that it was play. As a result, the grasshopper decides to not work hard (which is not playing) and decides to play. This leads to his eventual death. The grasshopper, however, believes that what everyone calls work is in many cases play (the grasshopper inherent) since they like to do it (a builder likes to build and this is his way of playing). In the world today, the grasshopper would not survive since there are requirements and mandatory work needed for survival. However, in the utopia, the grasshopper would survive since all necessities are provided for and he could play all day long. In this world full of freedom, self-interest, and play, everyone would be a grasshopper because there are no obligations and there are no restraints. Any action anyone would take would be due to their interest and their own perception of play. This is the world where progress would be made due to self-interest and self-enthusiasm. No company, person, or government could influence people to do work (in theory they may not even exist) and all work would be beneficial in a sense to everyone else (Rousseau’s ideology). By now, I hope you dream of this world as well; a world of grasshoppers apparent.

An Imagination of Utopia [2] (wikimedia)

Being Yourself…?

“That government is best which governs least” – Henry David Thoreau American essayist, poet, and practical philosopher, leading Transcendentalist and author of the book Walden.

Junior year in high school, I discovered Transcendentalism. Its core beliefs center around the inherent goodness of both people and nature. Transcendentalists believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—ultimately corrupt the purity of the individual. People are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent. The concept of community can only come to full fruition when it is composed of such individuals. I soon became passionately interested in the inspiring and empowering messages of individuality that were promoted. Although Transcendentalism was a religious and philosophical movement led by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in the 1830s, it still provides much insight into the continual tension between the individual and an established elected authority. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau are some of the most important figures in philosophy that established and expanded on this tension. They did so by theorizing about the origin of society and the legitimacy of the authority of the state over the individual through social contracts. Through these, they expressed what they thought was the responsibility of government and the role of people within a society.

Meanwhile, all three, HobbesLocke and Rousseau, had differing points, especially when it concerned the advantages of state of nature versus the state under social contracts. Transcendentalists and these philosophers alike deal with the same central question:

How can you remain an autonomous individual while having to surrender some of your own will to govern yourself to an elected authority? The role of the individual and how to preserve that individuality and self-determination is always at war with the common good of society in a state governed by social contracts. Continue reading