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The state of nature according to leviathan

References and Further Reading 1. Introduction Hobbes is the founding father of modern political philosophy.

  1. The Laws of Nature Hobbes argues that the state of nature is a miserable state of war in which none of our important human ends are reliably realizable. Many interpreters have presented the Hobbesian agent as a self-interested, rationally calculating actor those ideas have been important in modern political philosophy and economic thought, especially in terms of rational choice theories.
  2. Even after the monarchy had been restored in 1660, Hobbes's security was not always certain. Too often, he thinks, we are too much concerned with what others think of us, or inflamed by religious doctrine, or carried away by others' inflammatory words.
  3. So, in assessing Hobbes's political philosophy, our guiding questions can be.

Directly or indirectly, he has set the terms of debate about the fundamentals of political life right into our own times. Few have the state of nature according to leviathan his thesis, that the problems of political life mean that a society should accept an unaccountable sovereign as its sole political authority.

Nonetheless, we still live in the world that Hobbes addressed head on: We can put the matter in terms of the concern with equality and rights that Hobbes's thought heralded: But what or who determines what those rights are?

And who will enforce them? In other words, who will exercise the most important political powers, when the basic assumption is that we all share the same entitlements? We can see Hobbes's importance if we briefly compare him with the most famous political thinkers before and after him.

A century before, Nicolo Machiavelli had emphasized the harsh realities of power, as well as recalling ancient Roman experiences of political freedom. Machiavelli appears as the first modern political thinker, because like Hobbes he was no longer prepared to talk about politics in terms set by religious faith indeed, he was still more offensive than Hobbes to many orthodox believersinstead, he looked upon politics as a secular discipline divorced from theology.

But unlike Hobbes, Machiavelli offers us no comprehensive philosophy: How is political authority justified and how far does it extend? In particular, are our political rulers properly as unlimited in their powers as Hobbes had suggested?

And if they are not, what system of politics will ensure that they do not overstep the mark, do not trespass on the rights of their subjects? So, in assessing Hobbes's political philosophy, our guiding questions can be: What did Hobbes write that was so important? How was he able to set out a way of thinking about politics and power that remains decisive nearly four centuries afterwards? We can get some clues to this second question if we look at Hobbes's life and times. Life and Times Hobbes's biography is dominated by the political events in England and Scotland during his long life.

Born in 1588, the year the Spanish Armada made its ill-fated attempt to invade England, he lived to the exceptional age of 91, dying in 1679. He was not born to power or wealth or influence: Those intellectual abilities, and his uncle's support, brought him to university at Oxford. And these in turn - together with a good deal of common sense and personal maturity - won him a place tutoring the son of an important noble family, the Cavendishes.

Thus intellectual and practical ability brought Hobbes to a place close to power - later he would even be math tutor to the future King Charles II. Although this never made Hobbes powerful, it meant he was acquainted with and indeed vulnerable to those who were. As the scene was being set for the Civil Wars of 1642-46 and 1648-51 - wars that would lead to the King being executed and a republic being declared - Hobbes felt forced to leave the country for his personal safety, and lived in France from 1640 to 1651.

Even after the monarchy had been restored in 1660, Hobbes's security was not always certain: Thus Hobbes lived in a time of upheaval, sharper than any England has since known. This turmoil had many aspects and causes, political and religious, military and economic. England stood divided against itself in several ways.

Hobbes's Moral and Political Philosophy

The rich and powerful were divided in their support for the King, especially concerning the monarch's powers of taxation. Society was divided religiously, economically, and by region. Inequalities in wealth were huge, and the upheavals of the Civil Wars saw the emergence of astonishingly radical religious and political sects.

For instance, "the Levellers" called for much greater equality in terms of wealth and political rights; "the Diggers," more radical still, fought for the abolition of wage labor.

Civil war meant that the country became militarily divided. And all these divisions cut across one another: We shall see that Hobbes's greatest fear was social and political chaos - and he had ample opportunity both to observe it and to suffer its effects.

Although social and political turmoil affected Hobbes's life and shaped his thought, it never hampered his intellectual development. Intensely disputatious, The state of nature according to leviathan repeatedly embroiled himself in prolonged arguments with clerics, mathematicians, scientists and philosophers - sometimes to the cost of his intellectual reputation.

For instance, he argued repeatedly that it is possible to "square the circle" - no accident that the phrase is now proverbial for a problem that cannot be solved! His writing was as undaunted by age and ill health as it was by the events of his times.

Hobbes gained a reputation in many fields. He was known as a scientist especially in opticsas a mathematician especially in geometryas a translator of the classics, as a writer on law, as a disputant in metaphysics and epistemology; not least, he became notorious for his writings and disputes on religious questions.

But it is for his writings on morality and politics that he has, rightly, been most remembered. Without these, scholars might remember Hobbes as an interesting intellectual of the seventeenth century; but few philosophers would even recognize his name. What are the writings that earned Hobbes his philosophical fame?

Other important works include: Two Intellectual Influences As well as the political background just stressed, two influences are extremely marked in Hobbes's work. The second is a deep admiration for and involvement in the emerging scientific method, alongside an admiration for a much older discipline, geometry. Both influences affected how Hobbes expressed his moral and political ideas. In some areas it's also clear that they significantly affected the ideas themselves.

Hobbes's contempt for scholastic philosophy is boundless. Leviathan and other works are littered with references to the "frequency of insignificant speech" in the speculations of the scholastics, with their combinations of Christian theology and Aristotelian metaphysics. Hobbes's reaction, apart from much savage and sparkling sarcasm, is twofold.

In the first place, he makes very strong claims about the proper relation between religion and politics. He was not as many have charged an atheist, but he was deadly serious in insisting that theological disputes should be kept out of politics.

He also adopts a strongly materialist metaphysics, that - as his critics were quick to charge - makes it difficult to account for God's existence as a spiritual entity. For Hobbes, the sovereign should determine the proper forms of religious worship, and citizens never have duties to God that override their duty to obey political authority. Second, this reaction against scholasticism shapes the presentation of Hobbes's own ideas. He insists that terms be clearly defined and relate to actual concrete experiences - part of his empiricism.

Many early sections of Leviathan read rather like a dictionary. Commentators debate how seriously to take Hobbes's stress on the importance of definition, and whether it embodies a definite philosophical doctrine.

What is certain, and more important from the point of view of his moral and political thought, is that he tries extremely hard to avoid any metaphysical categories that don't relate to physical realities especially the mechanical realities of matter and motion. Hobbes's determination to avoid the "insignificant" that is, meaningless speech of the scholastics also overlaps with his admiration for the emerging physical sciences and for geometry.

It looks rather like a dead-end on the way to the modern idea of science based on patient observation, theory-building and experiment. Once more, it can be disputed whether this method is significant in shaping those ideas, or merely provides Hobbes with a distinctive way of presenting them.

Ethics and Human Nature Hobbes's moral thought is difficult to disentangle from his politics. On his view, what we ought to do depends greatly on the situation in which we find ourselves.

Where political authority exists, our duty seems to be quite straightforward: But we can usefully separate the ethics from the politics the state of nature according to leviathan we follow Hobbes's own division. For him ethics is concerned with human nature, while political philosophy deals with what happens when human beings interact. What, then, is Hobbes's view of human nature? He ends by saying that the truth of his ideas can be gauged only by self-examination, by looking into our selves to adjudge our characteristic thoughts and passions, which form the basis of all human action.

But what is the relationship between these two very different claims? For obviously when we look into our selves we do not see mechanical pushes and pulls. This mystery is hardly answered by Hobbes's method in the opening chapters, where he persists in talking about all manner of psychological phenomena - from emotions to thoughts to whole trains of reasoning — as products of mechanical interactions.

As to what he will say about successful political organization, the resemblance between the commonwealth and a functioning human being is slim indeed. Hobbes's only real point seems to be the state of nature according to leviathan there should be a "head" that decides most of the important things that the "body" does.

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Most commentators now agree with an argument made in the 1960's by the political philosopher Leo Strauss. Science provides him with a distinctive method and some memorable metaphors and similes.

Those ideas may have come, as Hobbes also claims, from self-examination. In all likelihood, they actually derived from his reflection on contemporary events and his reading of classics of political history such as Thucydides. This is not to say that we should ignore Hobbes's ideas on human nature - far from it. But it does mean we should not be misled by scientific imagery that stems from an in fact non-existent science and also, to some extent, from an unproven and uncertain metaphysics.

The point is important mainly when it comes to a central interpretative point in Hobbes's work: Some have suggested that Hobbes's mechanical world-view leaves no room for the influence of moral ideas, that he thinks the only effective influence on our behavior will be incentives of pleasure and pain.

But while it is true that Hobbes sometimes says things like this, we should be clear that the ideas fit together only in a metaphorical way. Likewise, there's no reason why pursuing pleasure and pain should work in our self-interest.

What self-interest is depends on the time-scale we adopt, and how effectively we might achieve this goal also depends on our insight into what harms and benefits us.

  • For Hobbes, it is only science, "the knowledge of consequences" Leviathan, v;
  • Anarchism , the thesis that we should live without government, of course disputes these arguments;
  • Hobbes justifies this way of talking by saying that it is fathers not mothers who have founded societies;
  • And all the time, we will remember Hobbes's reminder that human life is never without inconvenience and troubles, that we must live with a certain amount of bad, to prevent the worst;
  • Unless some effective authority stepped into the King's place or the place of army and police and government , Hobbes argues the result is doomed to be deeply awful, nothing less than a state of war.

If we want to know what drives human beings, on Hobbes's view, we must read carefully all he says about this, as well as what he needs to assume if the rest of his thought is to make sense. The mechanistic metaphor is something of a red herring and, in the end, probably less useful than his other starting point inLeviathan, the Delphic epithet: The other aspect concerns human powers of judgment and reasoning, about which Hobbes tends to be extremely skeptical.

Like many philosophers before him, Hobbes wants to present a more solid and certain account of human morality than is contained in everyday beliefs.

Plato had contrasted knowledge with opinion.

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Hobbes has several reasons for thinking that human judgment is unreliable, and needs to be guided by science. Our judgments tend to be distorted by self-interest or by the pleasures and pains of the moment. We may share the same basic passions, but the various things of the world affect us all very differently; and we are inclined to use our feelings as measures for others.