Over Thanksgiving break, I went to a family dinner at a nice restaurant in my town. As I scanned over the menu, I decided that I was between ordering a hamburger and the ribs and I couldn’t make up my mind. I told the waitress, “Hey why don’t you surprise me and choose my dish for me.” After she left the table, my dad looked at me, smiled, and said: “Jon, you’re getting the ribs for dinner.” With a puzzled look on my face I asked him why he thought that and with no hesitation he responded: “Because it cost 5 dollars more.” My dad believed that the waitress would choose the more expensive dish for me because it would subsequently increase her tip.
In this situation, my dad exhibited classic Hobbesian Social Contract Theory. My dad believed that the waitress, looking out for herself over the wants and wishes of others, would choose to give me the more expensive meal in order to increase her tip. I couldn’t believe this because in my mind, she would have chosen whichever dish she liked best or maybe asked a friend for her opinion. However, my dad being the Hobbesian believer that he is felt the waitress would look out for her own best interest before the interest of her customers.
Hobbes believes that people have a natural tendency to do what is best for them, regardless of others. He thinks that in the state of nature people don’t care about what others want or what serves the group best, but instead what would benefit them most.
Although this came as a shock to me, the more and more I thought about it at the dinner table, the more and more it made sense. It’s not necessarily stealing from customers, but rather taking advantage of them in order to do what is best for the waiter or waitress. A true Hobbesian person would always choose the more expensive meal for a customer because it benefits them the most. If someone believed in Locke’s Social Contract Theory, the idea of mutual assistance would come into play and the waiter or waitress would choose the meal that they believed would best serve the customer whether it be through their own personal experience or the thoughts of fellow waiters and waitresses.
Unfortunately for me, my dad was correct. The waitress brought me the 19-dollar ribs rather than the 14-dollar hamburger. I couldn’t help but crack a smile to my dad as she showed up with the ribs in hand. The inner optimist in me was crushed as I realized Hobbes might have a point. Not all people are sinister and not everyone looks out for themselves over others, but in the case of this waitress, Hobbes would be proud.