Saturday, July 07, 2007

L&S: Hobbesian pancakes

The first lecture is usually an overview of central philosophical issues in libertarian thought. Jan Narveson is currently walking us through a discussion of "Why Rights?" (And he just threw down the gauntlet to Glen and me by suggesting that utilitarians are "misguided"! Game on, Jan, game on.) In doing so, he talked about the Hobbesian state of nature where, if people don't respect each other's rights, life will be "mean, solitary, nasty, brutish, and short."

Every time I hear that, I think back to my political philosophy course in college where Professor Peter Railton got to that point in Hobbes and then noted how it reminded him of, what he claimed, was an old Woody Allen routine where Esther and Sadie are eating breakfast at a restaurant in Miami. The following conversation ensues:

E: Those were the worst pancakes I ever ate.
S: Oy, they were awful. Dry.
E: Tasteless.
S: Overcooked.
E: Terrible syrup.

and finally:

S: And the portions were way too small!!

As Railton pointed out, why did Hobbes include "short" on his list? If life in the Hobbesian Jungle is so awful, isn't the fact that it's short a good aspect of life there? Who'd want a long one with all of that misery?

Who wants big portions of terrible pancakes?


marshall said...

This cost-benefit analysis misses the point. The primary observation of the pancakes were, they were too small. Thus they lacked succulence and a long list of deficits was then supplied.

Similarly it is because life in the jungle is too short, that it is mistaken.

Short and Small are not misplaced afterthoughts but primary perceptual drivers.

Anonymous said...

or, a pancake breakfast is like pizza and sex, even when it's bad, it's good. more, please.