PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Wednesday February 19, 2003

Thomas Hobbes



[1.] Background.

·         1588-1679

·         biographical details are in Jean Hampton's introduction, in your textbook (pp.383-385).


The full text of Leviathan is available online at


Reading: Intro (required), 1 (required), 2 (optional), 3 (optional), [4 & 5 are excluded], 6 (optional), [7, 8, & 9 are excluded], 10 (optional), 11 (required), 12 (optional), 13, 14 and 15 (required), [16 is excluded], 17 (required), 18 (required), 19 (required), 20 (optional), 21 (required), [22-28 are omitted], 29 (optional)



[2.] Hobbes on Human Nature.


The following four assumptions about human beings ground Hobbes's political philosophy:


1.       materialism: Man is a wholly physical being whose sensations, emotions and thoughts are all produced mechanically (e.g. his explanation of sensation as nothing but motion, ch.1 (p.387))


2.       We are naturally attracted to some objects (objects of appetite or desire) and repelled by others (objects of aversion) (ch.6, p.393)


3.       psychological egoism: We naturally desire our own contentment above all else and this desire motivates all of our voluntary behavior: "…the voluntary actions, and inclinations of all men, tend, not only to the procuring, but also to the assuring of a contented life" (ch.11, p.399); "...of the voluntary acts of every man, the object is some good to himself" (ch.14, p.405); "...of all voluntary acts, the object is to every man his own good" (ch.15, p.412)


4.       We are all roughly equal in our physical and mental abilities. Despite individual differences, human beings are roughly equal in

·         "body" -- no one is so much stronger than everyone else that the physical strength of others poses absolutely no threat to him

·         "mind" -- no one is so much smarter than everyone else that the intelligence of others poses absolutely no threat to him

For this reason we are roughly equal in our abilities to attain the things we want and need. (Ch. 13, p.402)


Note that Hobbes would disagree with both Plato and Aristotle regarding the natural talents and abilities of humans -- he rejects Plato's assumption that only some individuals are capable of attaining the knowledge that suits them to be rulers, and he rejects Aristotle's division of humans into natural masters and natural slaves. He also rejects the view that women are naturally subordinate to men (ch.20 ¶4, p.427)



[3.] The State of Nature (Leviathan Ch.13).


Ultimately, Hobbes wants to answer our Question 2: What Justifies a Political Society? (I.e., what is the source of political authorityN?) In order to answer this question, he conducts a famous thought experiment: he asks us to imagine what life would be like in a world with no governing political authority, i.e. in a state of anarchy.


A. There are Three "Causes of Quarrel."


Competition for resources

Equality of ability, paired with the fact that no two men can enjoy the same resources at the same time, will lead to competition for those resources.


Because individuals will feel diffidence towards each other (i.e., they will feel threatened by each other), they won't simply defend themselves and their own possessions, but will go on the offensive, conducting preemptive strikes so as to protect themselves.

Desire for Glory

Men desire others to value them as much as they value themselves, and so attempt to extract this value, sometimes by physical violence.


Because of these "causes of quarrel," it's inevitable that in the state of nature, there will be


B. It's a Constant State of War.

And not just any sort of war, but "such a war, as is of every man, against every man." (Ch.13 ¶8, p.403) This doesn't necessarily involve actual combat, but simply the state in which it is known that such combat is likely or possible.


C. Life is Terrible.

·         If each individual is under a constant threat of battle from all others, no cultural or commercial undertakings can occur (no industry, navigation, building, arts, letters... nothing beyond the bare activity needed to live from day to day).

·         Psychological conditions will also be pretty awful: "continual fear, and danger of violent death"

·         Hobbes describes such a life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." (Ch.13 ¶9, p.403)


D. There is No Such Thing as Morality.

In the absence of law, actions are neither just nor unjust, moral nor immoral.


To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequence; 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. (ch.13 ¶13, p.404)


E. Men Attempt to Escape the State of Nature.

People fear death, desire better living conditions, and hope for a means to achieve those conditions. Reason suggests "articles of peace" -- the "Laws of Nature" -- which, if followed, will help to establish a peaceful society in which they can prosper.


Further points about the state of nature:

·         Hobbes anticipates skepticism on the part of the reader; he responds by asking us to think how we ourselves behave under a system of law: we lock our doors at night; any valuables we have we keep locked up in our homes even while we're there; we sometimes carry weapons to protect ourselves while outside our homes...

·         Hobbes doesn't think that there was ever a time when all mankind was actually in such a state -- but he does think that pockets of humanity have from time to time existed in such a state, e.g. certain places in 17th century America.

·         At present (17th c.), various states live in a condition analogous to the individual state of nature, having constantly to defend their own territories (but individuals are not made miserable by this, since they're still left free to pursue commerce and develop culture).


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