handout on thomas hobbes (1588-1679) some important events in thomas hobbes’ life: 1588: hobbes born premature, as the spanish armada head
Handout on Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)
Some important events in Thomas Hobbes’ life:
1588: Hobbes born premature, as the Spanish Armada heads for England.
“Fear and I were born twins”.
1610-1634: Hobbes travels throughout Europe as a tutor to the sons of
various English nobles. This includes a visit to Galileo, then under
house arrest in Florence, shortly after his trial and condemnation by
the Roman Inquisition.
1640: English Revolution begins. Hobbes, “the first of all that fled,”
flees to Paris.
1646: Hobbes tutors the 16-year-old future Charles II, then in exile
in Paris, in mathematics.
1649: Charles I executed by order of Parliament.
1651: Hobbes publishes Leviathan and returns to England.
1660: Parliament restores Charles II as King of England.
1655-1668: Hobbes is involved in several disputes with other English
scholars about mathematics and politics.
1679: Hobbes dies.
Hobbes, Leviathan, or the Matter, Form, and Power of a Commonwealth
Ecclesiastical and Civil (1651):
(definition of justice) Someone is just if and only if in his actions
he observes the laws of his country (IV 8).
“[W]hatsoever is the object of any man’s appetite or desire that is it
which for his part calls good” (VI 7).
“The power of a man… is his present means to obtain some future
apparent good” (X 1).
“The greatest of human powers is that which is compounded of the
powers of most men, united by consent in one person, natural or civil,
that has the use of all their powers depending on his will, such as is
the power of a commonwealth, or depending on the wills of each
particular, such as is the power of a faction or of diverse factions
leagued. Therefore to have servants is power; to have friends is
power; for they are strengths united” (X 3).
“The value or worth or a man is, as of all other things, his price,
that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power;
and therefore is not absolute, but a thing dependent on the need and
judgment of another” (X 16).
A restless desire of power, in all men: “In the first place, I put for
a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire
of power after power, that ceases only in death. And the cause of this
is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he
has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate
power, but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well,
which he has present, without the acquisition of more” (XI 2).
Civil obedience: “Desire of ease and sensual delight disposes men to
obey a common power, because by such desires a man abandons the
protection might be hoped for from his own industry and labor. Fear of
violent death and wounds disposes to the same, and for the same
reason” (XI 4).
Men by nature equal: “Nature has made men so equal in the faculties of
body and mind as that, though there be found one man sometimes
manifestly stronger in body or of quicker mind than another, yet when
all is reckoned together the difference between man and man is not so
considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any
benefit to which another may not claim as well as he. For as to the
strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the
strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others
that are in the same danger with himself” (XIII 1).
Out of civil states [the situation known as the “state of nature”]
there is always war of every one against everyone: “It is manifest
that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all
in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war
as is of every man against every man. For war consists not in battle
only, or the [actual] act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein
the will [or disposition] to contend by battle is sufficiently known…
All other time is peace” (XIII 8).
The incommodities of such a war: “In such condition there is no place
for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and
consequently, no culture of the earth, no navigation, nor use of the
commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no
instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force,
no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no
letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and
danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty,
brutish and short” (XIII 9).
In such a war, nothing is unjust: “To this war of every man against
every man, this also is consequent: that nothing can be unjust. The
notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no
place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law,
no injustice… It is consequent also to the same condition that there
be no prop[erty], no dominion, no mine and yours distinct, but only
that to be every man’s that he can get, and for so long as he can keep
it” (XIII 13).
“The passions that incline men to peace are fear of death, desire of
such things as are necessary to commodious living, and a hope by their
industry to obtain them” (XIII 14).
Right of nature: “The right of nature… is the liberty each man has to
use his own power, as he will himself, for the preservation of his own
nature, that is to say, of his own life, and consequently of doing
anything which, in his own judgment and reason, he shall conceive to
be the aptest means thereunto” (XIV 1).
Naturally every man has right to everything: “And because the
condition of man (as has been declared in the precedent chapter) is a
condition of war of everyone against everyone (in which case everyone
is governed by his own reason and there is nothing he can make use of
that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his
enemies), it follows that in such a condition every man has a right to
everything, even to one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this
natural right of every man to everything endures, there can be no
security to any man (how strong or wise soever he be) of living out
the time which nature ordinarily allows men to live. And consequently
it is a precept, or general rule, of reason that 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. The first branch of which rule contains the first and fundamental
law of nature, which is to seek peace, and follow it. The second, the
sum of the right of nature, which is by all means we can, to defend
ourselves” (XIV 4).
The fundamental law of nature. To seek peace: “From this fundamental
law of nature, by which men are commanded to endeavor peace, is
derived this second law: that 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 law down this right to all things, and be contented
with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men
against himself. For as long as every man holds this right of doing
anything he likes, so long are all men in the condition of war. But if
other men will not lay down their right as well as he, then there is
no reason for anyone to divest himself of his; for that [would be] to
expose himself to prey (which no man is bound to), rather than to
dispose himself to peace” (XIV 5).
Contract: “The mutual transferring of right is that which men call
CONTRACT” (XIV 9).
Covenant: “[O]ne of the contractors may deliver the thing contracted
for on his part, and leave the other to perform his part at some
determinate time after (and in the meantime be trusted); and then the
contract on his part is called PACT, or COVENANT” (XIV 11).
Justice and injustice: “[W]here no covenant has preceded, there has no
right been transferred, and every man has right to everything; and
consequently, no action can be unjust. But when a covenant is made,
then to break it is unjust; and the definition of INJUSTICE is no
other than the not performance of covenant. And whatsoever is not
unjust, is just” (XV 2).
A person: “A person is he whose words or actions are considered either
as his own, or as representing the words or actions of another man, or
of any other thing to whom they are attributed, whether truly or by
fiction” (XVI 1).
Natural and artificial persons: “When they are considered as his own,
then is he called a natural person; and when they are considered as
representing the words and actions of another, then is he a feigned or
artificial person” (XVI 2).
The purpose of a commonwealth, particular security: “The final cause,
end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty and dominion over
others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves in which
we see them live in commonwealths is the foresight of their own
preservation, and of a more contented life thereby; that is to say, of
getting themselves out from that miserable condition of war, which is
necessarily consequent (as has been shown [Ch. XIII]) to the natural
passions of men, when there is no visible power to keep them in awe,
and tie them by fear of punishment to the performance of their
covenants and observation of those laws of nature set down in Chapters
XIV and XV” (XVII 1).
“[T]he agreement of [irrational] creatures [such as bees and ants] is
natural; that of men is by covenant only, which is artificial; and
therefore, it is no wonder if there be somewhat else required (besides
covenant) to make their agreement constant and lasting, which is a
common power to keep them in awe, and to direct their actions to the
common benefit” (XVII 12).
The generation of a commonwealth: “The only way to erect such a common
power as may be able to defend them from the invasion of foreigners
and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such
sort as that by their own industry, and by the fruits of the earth,
they may nourish themselves and live contentedly, is to confer all
their power and strength upon one man, or upon one assembly of men,
that may reduce all their wills, by [majority] of voices, unto one
will, which is as much as to say, to appoint one man or assembly of
men to bear their person, and every one to own and acknowledge himself
to be author of whatsoever he that so bears their person shall act, or
cause to be acted, in those things which concern the common peace and
safety, and therein to submit their wills, every one to his will, and
their judgments, to his judgment. This is more than consent, or
concord; it is a real unity of them all, in one and the same person,
made by covenant of every man with every man, in such manner as if
every man should say to every man I authorize and give up my right of
governing myself to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this
condition, that you give up your right to him, and authorize all his
actions in like manner. This done, the multitude so united in one
person is called a COMMONWEALTH, in Latin CIVITAS. This is the
generation of that great LEVIATHAN, or rather (to speak more
reverently) of that Mortal God to which we owe, under the Immortal God,
our peace and defense. For by this authority, given him by every
particular man in the commonwealth, he has the use of so much power
and strength conferred on him that by terror thereof he is enabled to
conform the wills of them all to peace at home and mutual aid against
their enemies abroad. And in him consists the essence of the
commonwealth, which (to define it) is one person, of whose acts a
great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made
themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength
and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their peace
and common defense” (XVII 13).
The definition of a commonwealth: “And he that carries this person is
called SOVEREIGN, and said to have Sovereign Power; and every one
besides, his SUBJECT” (XVII 14).
“The subjects cannot change the form of governance because… they that
have already instituted a commonwealth, being thereby bound by
covenant to own the actions and judgments of one, cannot lawfully make
a new covenant amongst themselves to be obedient to any other, in any
thing whatsoever, without his permission” (XVIII 3).
1. What’s the state of nature like, and why is it so unpleasant?
2. As the subtitle to Leviathan (the Matter, Form, and Power of a
Commonwealth Ecclesiastical and Civil) suggests, Hobbes conceives a
commonwealth, leviathan, or nation-state, in terms of Aristotle’s four
causes. What are the four causes (material, formal, efficient, and
final) of a commonwealth?
3. Who or what is the sovereign?
4. In Chapter 19, Hobbes discusses governments with “sovereign
assemblies”, i.e., such representative law-making bodies as
parliaments or congresses. What does he think about such forms of
government? Which form of government does he prefer to representative
Sovereign power ought in all commonwealths to be absolute: “So that it
appears plainly, to my understanding, both from reason and Scripture,
that the sovereign power (whether placed in one man, as in monarchy,
or in one assembly of men, as in popular and aristocratic
commonwealths) is as great as possibly men can be imagined to make it.
And though of so unlimited a power men may fancy many evil
consequences, yet the consequences of the want of it, which is
perpetual war of every man against his neighbor, are much worse. The
condition of man in this life shall never be without inconveniences;
but there happens in no commonwealth any great inconvenience, but what
proceeds from the subject’s disobedience and breach of those covenants
from which the commonwealth has its being. And whosoever, thinking
sovereign power too great, will seek to make it less, must subject
himself to the power that can limit it, that is to say, to a greater”
In what cases subjects are absolved of their obedience to their
sovereign: “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood
to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasts by which he is
able to protect them. For the right men have by nature to protect
themselves, when none else can protect them, can by no covenant be
relinquished” (XXI 21).
The sovereign is legislator: “The legislator in all commonwealths is
only the sovereign, be he one man, as in a monarchy, or one assembly
of men, as in a democracy or aristocracy. For the legislator is he
that makes the law. And the commonwealth only prescribes and commands
the observation of those rules which we call law; therefore, the
commonwealth is the legislator. But the commonwealth is no person, nor
has capacity to do anything, but by the representative (that is, the
sovereign); and therefore, the sovereign is the sole legislator. For
the same reason, none can abrogate a law made but the sovereign,
because a law is not abrogated but by another law that forbids it to
be put in execution” (XXVI 5).
The sovereign is not subject to civil law: “The sovereign of a
commonwealth, be it an assembly or one man, is not subject to the
civil laws. For having power to make and repeal laws, he may, when he
pleases, free himself from that subjection by repealing those laws
that trouble him and making of new; and consequently, he was free
before. For he is free that can be free when he will; nor is it
possible for any person to be bound to himself, because he that can
bind can release; and therefore, he that is bound to himself only is
not bound” (XXVI 6).
Public worship consists in uniformity: “Seeing a commonwealth is but
one person, it ought also to exhibit to God but one worship, which
then it does when it commands it to be exhibited by private men
publicly. And this is public worship, the property whereof is to be
uniform; for those actions that are done differently by different men
cannot be said to be a public worship. And therefore, where many sorts
of worship be allowed, proceeding from the different religions of
private men, it cannot be said there is any public worship, nor that
the commonwealth is of any religion at all” (XXXI 37).
5. How much power does Hobbes think that the sovereign should have?
What are his reasons?
6. Under what conditions do subjects (or citizens) no longer have to
obey the sovereign?