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Political Philosophy: Thomas
Hobbes’ Leviathan
Thomas Hobbes: His Context
Thomas Hobbes was born in Malmsbury,
England, in 1588. As he noted in his
autobiography, he was “born a twin of fear”
because his mother went into premature
labor out of fear that the Spanish Armada
was about to attack England.
Hobbes lived through a tumultuous period in
English history, and his most productive
years as a philosopher coincided with a time
of political turmoil and civil war. Early in the
1640s, when it became clear that
Parliament was going to turn on King
Charles I, Hobbes fled to France. As a
devoted monarchist, Hobbes feared
persecution if he stayed in an England run
by Parliamentarians.
Excerpts from Leviathan
The following is an interactive
exploration of Hobbes’ philosophy.
Please stand up!
During the presentation, read
through the excerpt from
Leviathan and then remain
standing if you agree with the
statement in question.
Let us begin…
(1561)
Theme: Human Equality
Excerpt:
“….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 pretend, as well as he.
For as to the strength of the 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.”
La question :
Croyez-vous qu’en général tout le monde a la même
capacité de faire mal `a autrui? Si oui, restez debout.
Sinon, asseyez-vous et écrivez au moins un
paragraphe qui explique votre raisonnement.
Theme: Human Nature Desire
Excerpt:
“From this equality of ability, ariseth equality of hope in the attaining
of our ends. And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which
nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the
way to their end, which is principally their own conservation, and
sometimes their delectation only, endeavor to destroy or subdue one
another. And from hence come to pass, that where an invader hath no
more to fear than another man’s single power; if one plant, sow, build,
or possesses a convenient seat, others may probably be expected to
come prepared with forces united, to dispossess and deprive him, not
only of the fruit of his labour, but also of his life or liberty. And the
invader again is in the like danger of another.”
La question :
Dans un état naturel, est-il toujours possible pour un homme
(ou un groupe d’hommes de conspires de voler les fruits du
travail d’autrui? Si oui, restez debout. Sinon, asseyez-vous
et écrivez au moins un paragraphe qui explique votre
raisonnement.
Theme: Causes for Conflict
Excerpt:
“So that in the nature of man, we find three principle causes of quarrel.
First, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory.
The first, maketh men invade for gain; the second, for safety; and the third,
for reputation. The first use of violence, to make themselves masters of
other men’s persons, wives, children, and cattle; the second to defend them;
the third, for trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other
sign of undervalue, either direct in their persons, or by reflection in their
kindred, their friends, their nation, their profession, or their name.
Hereby 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, as is of every man, against every man.”
Les questions :
Croyez-vous que la cause principale du conflit et soit l’espoir du gain, de la sécuriité, soit la
poursuite de la gloire?
Si oui, restez debout. Sinon, asseyez-vous et écrivez au moins un paragraphe qui explique votre
raisonnement
Croyez-vous que sans un pouvoir puissant qui tient “men in awe” les gens se batteront les
uns contre les autres pour le gain, la sécuritéeou la gloire?
Si oui, restez debout. Sinon, asseyez-vous et écrivez au moins un paragraphe qui explique votre
raisonnement
Theme: The “State of War”
Excerpt:
“Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man
is enemy to every man, the same is consequent to the time wherein men
live without other security than what their own strength and their own
invention shall furnish them withal. 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.”
Les questions :
Dans un état naturel, l’homme est-il essentiellement dans un “état de guerre”
comme le décrit Hobbes?
Si oui, restez debout. Sinon, asseyez-vous et écrivez au moins un paragraphe qui
explique votre raisonnement.
Dans un état naturel/de la guerre, l’homme est-il damné à une existence qui est
“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” et dans laquelle il ne peut pas jouir des
fruits de son travail?
Si oui, restez debout. Sinon, asseyez-vous et écrivez au moins un paragraphe qui
explique votre raisonnement.
Theme: The Relation of Law
and Power
Excerpt:
“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. Force
and fraud, are in war the two cardinal virtues.”
La question :
Croyez-vous que la justice et l’injustice existent seulement où il
existe une force capable de renforcer ces concepts?
Si oui, restez debout. Sinon, asseyez-vous et écrivez au moins un
paragraphe qui explique votre raisonnement.
Theme: Agreements and Force
Excerpt:
“…covenants, without the sword, are
but words, and of no strength to
secure a man at all.”
La question :
Croyez-vous que les accords majeurs entre les
gens ne seront pas respectés sans une force
physique qui les soutiennent?
Si oui, restez debout. Sinon, asseyez-vous et
écrivez au moins un paragraphe qui explique
votre raisonnement.
Theme: The Necessity of
Government
Excerpt:
“The only way to erect such a common power as may be able to
defend them from 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 plurality of voices, unto one will…”
La question :
Croyez-vous que la seule façon de «s’échapper» à cet
état de guerre qui vient de l’état de nature est céder du
pouvoir personnel à un plus grand pouvoir pour que la
liberté et la sécurité des biens puisse être préservé?
Si oui, restez debout. Sinon, asseyez-vous et écrivez au
moins un paragraphe qui explique votre raisonnement
Debrief: Hobbes’ Key Points
If you remained standing, you agree with Hobbes’ major arguments for giving
power over to a monarch. His reasoning is as follows:
1. People are generally equal in ability to harm one another.
B. With equal ability to harm one another, people can and will harm
one another to gain advantage over each other.
III. People fight for gain, safety, and glory.
*. In a state of nature, people are in a state of war – seeking material gain,
safety and/or glory at the expense of others.
E. In the “state of war” that human nature puts us in, we cannot enjoy the
fruits of our labor because another person or group may conspire to seize what
is ours.
VI. In the “state of war” that human nature puts us in, there is no “right,”
“wrong,” “justice,” and “injustice.”
#. Agreements that are made without the force of arms do not hold.
Ate. People must submit to an authority that keeps men in “awe.” This
authority must have the force of arms. It is the only way people may enjoy
life, liberty, and the fruit of their labor.
Your evaluation of Hobbes:
If you sat down, note which statement
you disagreed with. Where did
Hobbes “have it wrong”? In other
words, what do you disagree with?
Conclusion…
Within Hobbes’ political philosophy one finds an
interesting view of human nature. Ask yourself
whether or not you agree with his view. What
are your answers to the following questions:
キ Without the awesome power of the state, are
people without the ability to gain from their labor
and enjoy peace?
キ Is the only reason people feel compelled to
follow law the fact that they fear the
consequences?

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