There exist many theories concerning the factors which hold it in their power to motivate a human to act in accordance with principles which are customarily referred to as ethical obligations. The most universal of these, which has been called self interest or self-love by many great philosophers, is the most basal of motivations…
Rather, humans are able to determine courses of action which will benefit the sum whole of humanity and to perform those behaviors which, in their assessment, create the greatest general good regardless of the personal good created.
The tendency of humans to perform these actions is called benevolence. Finally, there exists a third motivating factor, which must be taken into account to form a proper moral theory; this third factor will be called obligation. Obligation is the result of the social nature of humans. Suffice to say, for now, that obligations are the motivations to perform actions which result from explicit promises regarding what behavior one will engage in.
Obligations have been a key aspect of many influential moral theories. Several great philosophers have heavily relied on the concept of obligations in their moral theories. Perhaps most notably are the ideas of contracts or covenants in Hobbes' Leviathan and Hume's discussion of promises in Of the Obligation of Promises. Both of these philosophers, as well as many others, have developed theories in such a way so as to incorporate obligations, though they often refer to them by another nomenclature, into them.
Hobbes relies heavy on obligations, or covenants as he refers to them. According to Hobbes humans in the state of nature realize that it is in their best interest to each relinquish rights to others so as to establish some social order to escape from the aforementioned state of nature. These relinquishments of rights by an individual to another individual or to the group as a whole are covenants. Hobbes asserts that these covenants are brought about by two principles he claims to be laws of nature: "[t]hat every man, ought to endeavor Peace, as far as he has hope of obtaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek, and use, all helps, and advantages of War," and, "[t]hat a man be willing, when others are so too, as far-forth, as for Peace, and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself." It follows, then, that in so far as one entering a covenant will foster peace and the person with whom one is entering the covenant is equally willing to relinquish rights the covenant existence of covenants is dictated by the laws of nature.
It is from these covenants that Hobbes seems to believe obligation arise. Hobbes has the following to say concerning the obligation created by entering a covenant: "he that is to perform in time to come, being trusted, his performance is called Keeping Of Promise, or Faith; and the failing of performance (if it be voluntary) Violation Of Faith." It is clear that Hobbes believes that entering into these covenants does in fact create an obligation and that one should endeavor to fulfill one's obligations. (Wilson, 2003) Hobbes puts such importance on the concept of obligation that he offers the creation and fulfillment of obligations as the only way to escape from the nearly unbearable state that is his conception of the state of nature. Despite his being on the right track in placing such importance on ...
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